Cherokee National Forest Ranger Districts

Cherokee National Forest vicinity map including North and South Ranger Districts.The Cherokee National Forest is separated along the eastern border of Tennessee by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There are four districts.  The Ocoee and Tellico Ranger Districts are on the South Cherokee NF.  The Unaka and Watauga Ranger Districts are on the North Cherokee NF.


Cherokee National Forest South

Ocoee Ranger District

Photo of Ocoee Ranger District OfficeThe Ocoee Ranger District (94,628 acres) is the southernmost ranger district in the Cherokee National Forest (CNF) in the extreme southeastern corner of Tennessee. This district offers camping, boating, fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, picnicking, and swimming. The district contains Chilhowee Recreation Area, Rock Creek Gorge Scenic Area, Little Frog Wilderness Area, Big Frog Wilderness Area, and Cohutta Wilderness Area.

Tellico Ranger District

Tellico Ranger District OfficeThe Cherohala Skyway, a 52-mile scenic highway, connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee with Robbinsville, North Carolina. "Cherohala" is a combination of the names of the two national forests—the Cherokee and Nantahala—that the highway links. The skyway, one of only 20 Federal Highway Administration Scenic Byways in the nation, begins at an elevation of 900 feet just east of Tellico Plains and follows the Tellico River gorge for 5 miles. Then it rises with the Unaka Mountains to an elevation of 5,390 feet at Santeetlah Gap before descending toward Robbinsville. Twenty-two miles east of Tellico Plains is the highest major bridge in the southeastern United States. It is 700 feet long at an elevation of 4,000 feet. The 26-mile mark is near where the Trail of Tears that forced thousands of Cherokee Indians to Oklahoma began.

The Tellico Ranger District contains 123,372 acres in Monroe County with its highest peak, Haw Knob, reaching 5,472 feet above sea level. Although there are many undeveloped areas available for camping, there are eight developed campgrounds. Hikers may trek 150 miles on 29 trails, and equestrians have access to 31 miles along 8 trails. If touring by automobile is more appealing, the Cherohala Skyway is a unique drive providing many grand vistas with parking at prominent overlooks. The Tellico River Road (FR 210), North River Road (FR 217), and Citico Creek Road (FR 35) are the other popular scenic routes.

 Ocoee Whitewater Center

Ocoee Whitewater CenterThe Ocoee Whitewater Center (OWC) site was constructed for the purpose of holding the 1996 Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom competitions. This was the first time these events were held on a natural river and it was appropriate the Ocoee should be chosen as the site as it was already one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the world. Constructed using 60,000 tons of native rock, individually placed and cemented into position along the banks of the river, the riverbed itself was narrowed to create the spectacular rapids necessary for the competition. Those same rapids are the draw for the thousands of people who come each year to raft or to test their kayaking skills on the Olympic course.

Since the Olympic events, the Ocoee Whitewater Center has evolved into a highly visible and much used venue. Touted by athletes as having the best whitewater course in the world, the OWC hosts both national and international whitewater competitions on the 500-meter course. As part of the National Forest system, the Ocoee Whitewater Center is managed by the Forest Service as a multiple use recreational and educational complex.

Consisting of a four-acre recreation area, the OWC offers water play, picnicking, hiking, biking, a nature-oriented gift shop, environmental education programs, a 7,200 sq. ft. visitors center, year-round special events, and provides the playground for whitewater rafting and kayaking. Hosting approximately 300,000 visitors each year, the OWC is a favorite spot for those who wish to take advantage of these activities or just sit back and relax and watch these activities occur around them.

With a 30-mile trail system the OWC is quickly earning a reputation as having one of the premier mountain biking trail systems in the southeastern United States. The Tanasi Trail System consists of trails ranging from easy to difficult in traversability. Whether you like a leisurely ride on a level double-track trail or a blistering high-speed race down a single-track trail aptly named Thunder Rock Express, the Tanasi Trail System at the OWC offers something for everyone.

Recreation isn’t the only activity occurring at the Ocoee Whitewater Center. Each year, the OWC hosts approximately 30 weddings and receptions as well as numerous business retreats and conferences. Situated on the banks of the Ocoee River and nestled between two wilderness areas, the OWC boasts the natural beauty of the Cherokee National Forest as a showy backdrop for outside weddings and events. If an indoor location is more to your liking, the unique architecture of the OWC building with its native stone, glass, and wood construction provides a breathtaking setting for smaller gatherings.

Cherokee National Forest North

Unaka Ranger District

Photo of Unaka Ranger District OfficeThere are a little over 180,000 acres in the Unaka Ranger District located in Cocke, Greene, Unicoi, and Washington counties. Primitive camping is allowed anywhere in the district year-round unless otherwise designated. Other camping opportunites with more amenties are available in several developed campgrounds throughout the district. There are over 250 miles of trails, including several accesses to the Appalachian Trail, over 30 miles of horse trails, and a 12 mile trail designated for ATVs, side-by-sides, and motorcycles. Unaka district also offers outstanding commericial and private whitewater experiences along the Nolichuckey, Pigeon, and French Broad Rivers.


Watauga Ranger District

Watauga Ranger DistrictThe Watauga Ranger District (approximately 170,000 acres) is mountainous, with elevations ranging from 1,500 feet in the river valleys to 4,321 feet on Holston Mountain, 4,880 feet on Rogers Ridge, and 4,329 feet on Pond Mountain. This district contains two wilderness areas, two scenic areas, developed campgrounds, 177 campsites, 181 miles of trails, including 20 miles of horse trails, 300 miles of U.S. Forest Service roads, seven developed picnic areas, three developed swimming areas, four boat ramps, and two shooting ranges. All this falls within the three northeastern counties of Tennessee: Carter, Johnson, and Sullivan.