Cool off river snorkeling; connect with nature
In clear, cool streams across the national forest, visitors are viewing wildlife in a whole new way by freshwater river snorkeling. Any clear river will do- just bring a swim suit, a snorkel and mask, and your sense of adventure.
Where can I start?
For first time snorkelers, the abundant aquatic life on the Conasauga River is a great place to start. Near the Georgia-Tennessee state line is a premier snorkeling area known as the Conasauga Snorkel Hole. Several thousand fish will be present on any given day. The experience is like swimming in an aquarium full of fish. Turtles, tadpoles and salamanders are all usually present. Freshwater drum as large as 6 pounds swim in schools in the deep pools; sporting fish, such as bass and bream, are seen in their natural habitats. Colorful darters and shiners may be seen spawning and feeding. Remember, enjoy the wildlife but do not harm them or take them home with you.
A forest visitor snorkels on the Conasauga River near Cisco, Georgia. Credit: USFS/ Holly Krake
Why so special?
The Conasauga Watershed contains 76 native fish- more than the Columbia Watershed and Colorado Watershed combined! The ancient age of the Southern Appalachian Mountains has enabled aquatic species in small watersheds to attain extreme levels of diversity compared to the much larger western watersheds. Salamanders, mussels, snails, crayfish and other invertebrates show similar levels of diversity to fish. Additionally the Conasauga River provides clean drinking water for numerous communities and businesses. Check out ‘A Deeper Creek- The Watchable Waters of Appalachia’ for a short video about the Conasauga Snorkel Hole and the importance of clean water.
Map of the fish diversity of the Conasauga Watershed compared to larger, western watersheds.
A restroom (vault toilet) is located at the parking area. Eight designated campsites are available near the river at the Cottonwood Patch Campground. To find this and other amazing places -including snorkel and swimming holes--check out the forest's free mobile app on iTunes or GooglePlay by searching for Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.
What do I need?
Most river snorkeling requires only a swim suit and a snorkel with a mask. However a few additional items can make your trip more enjoyable:
- Water shoes or sandals with a heel strap
- Dry towels
- Sack lunch and water
- A change of clothes and sunscreen
The Bronze Darter is one of many fish you may see at the Conasauga River. Credit: USFS/ Adam Blair
From Atlanta: Take I-75N to exit #293 toward Chatsworth. Keep right at the fork and merge onto US 411 N. Stay on US 411 N for approximately 52 miles. In Cisco, GA there will be a small gas station on the left and the Cisco Baptist Church (stone building) on the right. Turn right off US 411 immediately before the church onto Old Highway 2. Old Highway 2 will turn to a maintained gravel road with two bridge crossings that weaves through the forest. You will pass several private residences and Hopewell Church. After Hopewell Church stay to the left to continue onto Forest Service Road (FSR) 16/ Chable Road. Shortly after a metal arch bridge, take a left turn onto FSR 221/ Sheeds Creek Road. Continue on FSR 221/ Sheeds Creek Road for a ½ mile. Turn left into the parking area where you will see a restroom. The Conasauga River snorkel hole is a very short walk from the parking area. Travel time from Atlanta is approximately 2 hours.
Always make safety first in your great outdoors adventures. Top safety tips here: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/outdoorsafety/
How can I help protect watersheds?
River friendly conservation practices include encouraging/planting native grasses, shrubs, and trees within 50 feet of any waterway, fencing livestock out of streams; mulching and seeding promptly after land disturbance such as clearing, grading, or filling; maintaining septic systems in good repair; and slowing and filtering rainwater runoff from parking lots and roads.