Special Places

View of Sill Branch Falls in Cherokee National Forest

The Ocoee River, Tellico River, Unaka Mountain and Watauga Lake are just a few of the special places located in the Cherokee National Forest. 

There are fifteen different zones highlighted below, each offering recreation opportunities and experiences that are as unique as the mountains and waterways that define each zone.

See additional national forest "Highlights" in the right column menu. 

Enjoy your visit to the Cherokee National Forest and please do your part to conserve these special places.

Highlighted Areas

Watauga Lake Area

View of Watauga Lake in Cherokee National Forests

Water recreation is abundant in this area, featuring Watauga Lake; the Doe, Elk and Watauga rivers;  several streams and seven waterfalls.

Highly developed recreation areas along Watauga Lake provide facilities for fishing, picnicking, swimming and boat launching. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail runs through the area's backcountry.  Camp on the lakeshore at Cardens Bluff or in the backcountry along Laurel Fork Creek at Dennis Cove.

Iron Mountains

View of Osborne Farm in Cherokee National Forest

Rugged mountain solitude can be experienced throughout this area. Long distance backpacking, trout fishing and the shortest tunnel in the world are a few features you can find here.

The Osborne Farm offers a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.). From there, take a multi-day backpack trip along the A.T. and Iron Mountain Trail.  Try your hand at trout fishing in Beaverdam and Laurel Creeks.  Camp at Backbone Rock Recreation Area and explore what is known locally as the shortest tunnel in the world.

Bald Mountains

View from Appalachian Trail on Big Firescald Knob

Most of the area is remote backcountry, including Bald Mountain Ridge Scenic Area and Sampson Mountain Wilderness.  Roads are limited, but forty-plus miles of trail access the forest.

The area is known for its diverse populations of wildflowers and a number of waterfalls, including 60-foot fan-shaped Margarette Falls and Sill Branch Falls.  Try fishing Nolichucky River, Horse Creek, Dry Creek and Clark Creek.  Horse Creek and Old Forge Recreation areas offer picnicking, water play and camping.

French Broad River Area

View of Paint Creek in Cherokee National Forest

This area’s wooded mountainsides and creek gorges are linked by an extensive road and trail system.  Activities include fishing, hiking, horseback riding, creek play and camping. 

At Paint Creek, camping, fishing, swimming and picnicking are popular activities.  Other water-based opportunities include driving along scenic Brush Creek or exploring warm-water Allen Branch or Paint Creek ponds.  Enjoy the scenery from horseback on 35 miles of multi-use trails, also open to mountain bikers and hikers.  The Appalachian Scenic Trail lies along the eastern edge of this area.

Holston Mountain Area

View of Holston Mountain from South Holston Lake in Cherokee National Forest

Holston Mountain provides a scenic backdrop for South Holston Lake and is a venue for boating, water skiing, swimming, fishing and horseback riding.

A horse trail complex winds for more than 30 miles along both sides of Holston Mountain.  Visit the scenic Blue Hole waterfall located off TN Highway 91.

Camp on the lakeshore at Jacob’s Creek and Little Oak Recreation Areas.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Cherokee National Forest - Appalachian Trail Stretching over 14 states and crossing more than 60 federal, state, and local parks and forests, more than 150 miles of The Appalachian National Scenic Trail traverse the Cherokee National Forest south of the Virginia border. High-elevation grassy “balds” grace the trail here.  The trail offers views of some of the state's most diverse and stunning ecosystems as it continues to meander along the Tennessee-North Carolina border’s mountaintops, including the Iron Mountains, Roan Mountain, Unaka Mountains, and the Bald Mountain Recreation Zones.  The Appalachian Trail inspires courage and endurance and promises to plant the seed of adventure in the heart of all it's visitors.

Appalachian Trail Limits of Stay

The U.S. Forest Service has established new limits of stay regulations at all Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Appalachian Trail) shelters, as well as one campsite and two overnight sites within the southern region.  Overnight stays at all of the southern region Appalachian Trail shelters, Davis Path Overnight Site, Davis Farm Overnight Site, and Wayah Bald Shelter Camp are now limited to three days within a 30-day period. 

For more detailed information about this regulation, refer to: 

Get more maps and GIS data from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

If you're looking for information to help you plan a long distance hike, here's a good overview from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.


Starr Mountain Area

View from Starr Mountain in Cherokee National Forests

Starr Mountain is a popular area of the national forest for horse riding & camping with nearly 20 miles of trails and a number of roads available for riding.  Lost Corral Campground & Trailhead provides the easiest access to the area.

This zone also features Gee Creek Wilderness and the Gee Creek Trail #191 trail that only gets more challenging the further you hike.  Access is located off US Highway 411 near the Hiwassee River and state managed Gee Creek Campground.

Unaka Mountains

View of Nolichucky River in Cherokee National Forests

Backcountry trails, scenic driving and the Nolichucky River provide opportunities for outdoor adventure.  High elevation balds along the Unaka Mountain Range offer spectacular views.

Look for Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower located on the crest of Buffalo Mountain.  The zone is rich with Civilian Conservation Corps history:  view their legacy at Laurels, Rock Creek and Unaka Mountain Road.  Enjoy picnicking at Laurels, Limestone Cove, Rock Creek and Chestoa or camp at Rock Creek Recreation Area.   

Citico Creek Area

View of Citico Creek in Cherokee National Forest

This area provides opportunities for solitude and backcountry experiences.  You will find ample opportunities for fishing, horseback riding, camping, and hiking.

With more than 20,000 acres of Wilderness in Citico Creek and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, this area provides ample opportunities for solitude and backcountry experiences. Catch both native and stocked trout in Citico Creek and its rugged tributaries, and fish for small-mouth bass and catfish in the creek’s lower reaches.

Backbone Rock Recreation Area

View of Backbone Rock Recreation Area in Cherokee National Forest

Backbone Rock Recreation Area is located along Beaverdam Creek in northern Johnson County. Backbone Rock gets its name from a spur ridge on Holston Mountain that abrubtly ends at a bend in Beaverdam Creek.

A tunnel was drilled through the rock in 1901 to allow railroad access between Shady Valley and Damascus, VA. Motorists pass through what is known as "The Shortest Tunnel in the World" as they travel along TN 133. In the 1930s The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the recreation area for day use, constructing two picnic shelters and hiking trails that incorporated native stonework. The campground was added in the 1960s and rehabilitated in the mid 1990s.

Pigeon River Area

View of Wasp Community Area in Cherokee National Forest

Favorite activities in this remote area include whitewater rafting, hiking and camping.

Located between the French Broad and Pigeon Rivers, this area offers pockets of backcountry nestled among the rural communities of Cocke County, TN.   This area is home to Catherine Marshalls’s novel Christy and the historic Wasp Community. Hike a section of the Appalachian Trail and other forest trails.  Camp at Round Mountain, rated as the number one tent campground in Tennessee.  Explore Martha Sundquist State Forest and contact local outfitters to help guide your whitewater adventure. 

Roan Highlands

View of Roan Mountain Highlands in Cherokee & Pisgah National Forests

This area's steep rugged mountainsides, high-elevation balds and hollows are richly diverse, home to unique and rare plants and animals.

Look for rock outcrops, lush wildflower displays and high-elevation mountain balds and spruce-fir forests.  In June, experience some of the most prolific Rhododendron bloom in the region. Hike for one day or several on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Tellico River Area

View of Bald River Falls in Cherokee National Forests

This area provides outstanding opportunities for fishing, camping, hiking, and scenic driving.  It is also home to the popular Indian Boundary Recreation Area and the Cherohala Skyway.

Nearly 30,000 acres of remote backcountry surround three rivers and their tributaries, where fishing for brown, rainbow and brook trout is excellent. Cherohala Skyway (TN 165/NC143), a 43-mile National Scenic Byway, winds between Tellico Plains, Tenn. and Robbinsville, N.C. Tellico River Road (FR 210) offers intimate views of the river and 90-foot Bald River Falls.

Spend the night at the historic Donley Cabin and check out CCC structures at Tellico Ranger Station and Dam Creek Picnic Area. Hike across the area on the Benton MacKaye Trail. Camp at sites along Tellico River or in Indian Boundary Recreation Area just off Cherohala Skyway.

Big Frog Area

View of Big Frog Mountain Area of Cherokee National Forest

This area is known for solitude and backcountry adventure, with Big Frog Wilderness being a destination for backpacking, day-hiking and hunting.

The area offers about 35 miles of backcountry trails, some of which climb to over 4,000 feet. In addition to the backcountry hiking opportunities, the area is also managed as a Black Bear reserve.  Try snorkeling at Conasauga River, renowned for remarkable fish viewing. Pitch a tent at Tumbling Creek or Sylco Campgrounds.

Ocoee River Area

View of Parksville Lake in Cherokee National Forest

World class whitewater, mountain biking trail systems, environmental education programs, highly developed camping, and scenic byways are a few activities featured in the Ocoee River area.  

Local outfitters offer rafting excursions in the Ocoee River’s world-class whitewater. The Ocoee Whitewater Center is a hub for outdoor adventure and offers regional information, environmental education, trails and picnic sites. Bike the 30-mile Tanasi Trail complex and trails at Chilhowee Recreation Area or take a scenic drive along the Ocoee Scenic Byway (US 64 and Forest Road 77). Popular camping areas include Parksville and Thunder Rock Campgrounds, as well as Chilhowee Recreation Area.

Coker Creek Area

View of Coker Creek Falls in Cherokee National Forest

Heritage and culture experiences are the primary emphasis in this area.  It is home to the nationally recognized Millennium Trail, The Unicoi Turnpike and gold panning opportunities.

Looking for a cultural heritage excursion? Pan for gold in the community of Coker Creek. Hike a portion of the Unicoi Turnpike, an ancient travel route once part of the Trail of Tears and now a nationally designated Flagship Millennium Trail. Visit the waterfalls in Coker Creek Scenic Area and drive along Hiwassee Scenic River on TN 68.

Hiwassee River Area

View of Hiwassee River from Hood Mountain Overlook in Cherokee National Forest

Forested hillsides and pastoral river bottoms complement the beauty of Hiwassee River Gorge. Fishing, rafting, canoeing and hiking are popular activities.

The 21-mile John Muir National Recreation Trail , a section of the longer distance Benton MacKaye Trail, meanders along the river. Camp at the nearby state campground at Gee Creek.

Fish Your National Forests: This site can be accessed by Passenger Car; Fish available include: Trout; Types of fishing available include: Wade, Shore, Motorized boat, Fly; Boat Launch available

Recreation Areas