Cherokee wildlife management area sign

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I have been planning to check out a campground in the Cohutta Wilderness for horse camping. When I lived in Florida, I just showed up at a new campground with my horse in tow. In the mountains, it is best to scout these things without the trailer to see if you can even get your trailer through the roads. So, I was off on my Cottonwood Patch adventure.


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Cottonwood Patch Campground

This campground is located in Georgia, just south of the Tennessee state line, on the Conasauga River. The campground is shady and attractive. The following amenities are available:

  • Vault toilet
  • Watering troughs for horses
  • Hitching posts
  • Highline posts (without rope)
  • Hand pump for potable water
  • Fire Rings
  • Picnic Tables
  • Direct access to the Iron Mountain Trail (multi-use) from the campground
  • Day use parking area
Highline Posts
Highline posts…I love this post
Horses prohibited sign
Sign at camp in front of the river

Though the campground is open year round, they do not supply water from November through mid-April. You would need to bring your own water supply for humans and horses. Horses are prohibited from the river edge in he camping area.

The trails are rocky, so it would be a good idea to use shoes or boots on most horses. The following trails are accessible from Cottonwood Patch:

  • Beech Bottom (4 mi)
  • East Cowpen (7 mi)
  • Hickory Creek (8 mi)
  • Horseshoe Bend (3.5 mi)
  • Iron Mountain (12 mi)
  • Rice Camp (4 mi)
  • Sumac (12 mi)

Trailhead directional sign

The cost is $8 per vehicle, per night, with a maximum of two horse trailers and five people per site. No reservations are accepted; you pay at the kiosk. All dogs must be on a leash. Alcohol is not allowed.

For the most current information about the campground, visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests website.

Warning sign about the burn zone
This is from last year’s wildfires

The Trip In and Out

I read a few reviews about Cottonwood Patch on Horsetraildirectory.com before heading out on this trip. One of the horse trail reviewers mentioned that the ride in from the Georgia side was very difficult and that her truck driver husband had a difficult time keeping the trailer tires on the road around some of the hairpin turns. This made scrutinizing the roads the main focus of my outing.

One thing I would have like to have known, that the reviewer did not mention, was the length of their rig. I pull a trailer that would be considered 16 1/2 feet on the floor. However, it is a bumper pull and tends to follow the wheels of the tow vehicle a bit better than a gooseneck. I could easily pull my rig through. My friend with a two-horse, weekender package, gooseneck could likely get through. But I can see someone with a larger rig struggling to keep the wheels from straddling over a drop off on some of those sharp curves.

Cohutta wildlife management sign

Rickety Bridge
I didn’t even want to think about pulling my horse trailer over this

The entrance from the Tennessee side has only two hairpin curves. I lost count of the low-angle curves on the Georgia side. The roads are in better condition on the Georgia side with one large exception, which was a super rickety-looking bridge. The bridge made me say I would never trust it to take the weight of my loaded horse trailer. But just as I was standing there shaking my head and taking photos, two large electrical utility trucks drove over it with no issue. So, maybe that is all in my head. I will say that the Georgia side had a wider road with more opportunities for oncoming traffic to pass without anyone having to back up.

What I would recommend is that if you want take your horse to the Cottonwood Patch Campground, make the drive without the trailer from both directions. Decide for yourself if you are comfortable doing it before you get stuck with no way to move forward with a fully loaded trailer.

View a video of the road here.

My Cottonwood Patch Adventure

Despite my original plan, I ended up on the Tennessee mountain roads after dark. It was okay without the trailer, but I think it would have been a bit unnerving if the horse had been in tow behind me. This is probably best left for a daylight arrival. It is still nothing compared to the drive into Cataloochee, which is treacherous.

When I arrived, I was the only person there. I took a midweek trip and the predicted low for the night was 38°F; I am sure this influenced the lack of campers. This was such a relief after my overcrowding experience at Fall Creek Falls a couple of weeks ago.

My Campsite
My campsite

I settled in quickly, built a fire, and made some dinner. I downloaded two horror movies from Netflix before I left the house; so after dinner, it was time for scary movies around the campfire. Perhaps that may not have been the best idea, but even the owls didnt spook me, so it worked out okay.

Desiccant package
Do not eat – I think I have that part figured out
Prepared rice with chicken
This is still one of my camp favorites – Mountain House rice with chicken

I slept very well since it was so quiet. I did have one post-scary movie nightmare, but slept for 10 hours. Even though the actual temperature dropped to 39°F at my campsite, I was toasty warm using my new underquilt for my hammock as a top quilt for my cot. In fact, it was so toasty I had to kick a leg out for a short while. For more information about the cot setup, see “Do You Need Ultralight or Ultrafast?”.

Morning started with breakfast and ended with a very short hike on the Iron Mountain trail. The hike didn’t last long enough because I forgot to lock the truck. Camp may have been deserted, but it is hunting season, so there are people moving around the mountain.

Polenta and Italian sausage
Polenta and Italian sausage
Kale and mango smoothie
Kale and mango smoothie
Iron Mountain trail
Iron Mountain trail
Conasauga River
Conasauga River from the trail

 

Once I ended up back at camp, it was hard to get motivated to hike back out. I packed up camp and headed home. I had accomplished my real goal, which was to scope out the drive in and the campground.

My Review of Cottonwood Patch Campground

The Good

The campground was pretty with just enough trees to make it shady, but not so many that you would have a hard time maneuvering your trailer. The layout was relatively convenient. I like the distance between campsites better at Lost Corral, but this one wasn’t bad. I might change my mind once it is full, but I don’t predict any problems for a future horse camping trip. The one thing I would change would be to centralize the toilets.

I love the secluded location. You get a backcountry feel, with the convenience of camping by your trailer.

The campground is bordered by the Conasauga River in the Alaculsy Valley. The area is stunningly beautiful.

Hand Pump

 

Water coming out of the hand pump
Water coming out of the hand pump

The Bad

The first thing I noticed at my campsite – even in the dark – was the trash left by other campers. Trash on the ground. Trash in the fire pit. Trash by the bathroom. Manure around the high ties.

I guess I never knew that Florida kept up their trails and campgrounds so well until I moved to Tennessee. What is up with leaving garbage and manure in this area of the country? People…you live in one of the most beautiful locations in the world; have some pride. Stop littering. Pack it in; pack it out. For crying out loud, there was room inside your vehicle, saddle bag, or backpack when you brought it in. It takes up less space and weighs less taking it back home. Don’t be lazy. Hmmmm…I hopped on a soapbox on my way by there, didn’t I? I can’t even bring myself to apologize for that. Okay, one more thing on that topic: Your trash will not burn in the fire pit; don’t put it there. Gross!

Conclusion

I will definitely bring my horse along for an overnight here. The campground is nice and the road in is not that bad. There are enough miles of trails to keep you busy for a few days. Having ridden the Jacks River area before, I know that the trails are technical and lovely even though I did not bring my horse on this trip. I recommend this campground…just bring a trash bag with you.

And as always, leave no trace.

Leave No Trace

Never forget to leave no trace. We enjoy the great outdoors; let's keep it pristine.
  • Pack out what you pack in.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Respect the wildlife, including the plants.
  • Keep you campfire impact low.
  • Use biodegradable soap at least 200 feet from camp, the trail, and water sources when cleaning up or bathing.
  • Strain and scatter your dishwater.
  • Do not bathe in water sources.
  • Keep your feet and your campsite on durable surfaces.
  • Visit in smaller groups.