Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
1755 Cleveland Highway
Gainesville, GA 30501
HIGHLIGHTS: The Chattahoochee National Forest is one of two National Forests in the State of Georgia, and it takes its name from the Chattahoochee River whose headwaters begin in the North Georgia mountains. The River and the area were given the name by the English settlers who heard it from the Indians that once lived here.
The Chattahoochee National Forest was created when the Forest Service purchased 31,000 acres in Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin and Union Counties from the Gennett family in 1911 for $7.00 per acre. In the beginning, the Chattahoochee was part of the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests in North Carolina and Tennessee, but eventually the Forest Service made additional land purchases and expanded the Chattahoochee to its current size of nearly 750,000 acres.
Springer Mountain is located in the Chattahoochee, and it is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Every spring, 2000-3000 thru-hikers (or individuals that plan to hike the entire A.T. in a single year) leave from the summit of Springer to attempt a 2100+ mile journey to the northern terminus at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Springer Mountain (3,782 feet) has a bronze plaque (showing a hiker facing north) that is set in stone next to the first white blaze marking the Appalachian Trail. There is also a terminus plaque set in a rock behind the blaze that has a compartment with a trail register of entries from day hikers, backpackers, and thru-hikers that have visited the area. A shelter located about 0.2 miles north of Springer on a blue blazed side trail provides overnight accommodations and has a nearby water source from a mountain spring.
Springer Mountain is crisscrossed by three trails: the Approach Trail (a blue-blazed access trail that heads down the mountain to Amicalola Falls State Park), the Appalachian Trail (which runs northbound to Maine), and the Benton MacKaye Trail (which runs northbound for 100 miles to the Oconee River in Tennessee). The area is popular with both day and overnight hikers, and it gets a fair amount of trail traffic.
I’ve camped near the Springer Mountain shelter a number of times, but the most memorable night was in April 1998. I drove my friend Slawdog to USFS 42 near the southern terminus of the A.T., and we hiked to the bronze plaque at Springer Mountain to celebrate his start on the Appalachian Trail. Fog rolled in at dusk, so we headed back to the shelter to cook up some dinner but a major thunderstorm hit around 10pm. The storm ravaged North Georgia over the next five hours and the heavy winds and lightening were terrifying. The Dunwoody suburb of Atlanta had major tornado damage during the night, but Springer Mountain was sparred for the most part.