Take on the 7.5-Mile Emery Creek Hiking Trail in North Georgia’s Cohutta Mountains

emery creek hiking
The 7.5 mile trail crosses Emery Creek several times. Photo by Jason Ireland, YouTube

TRAIL SUMMARY Name: Emery Creek Hiking Trail; Location: Western Blue Ridge, Cohutta Mountains, Cohutta Wildlife Management Area; Features: Streams, waterfalls, overlook view; Distance: 7.5 miles; Difficulty Rating: Moderate to strenuous; County: Murray; Nearest City: Ellijay (SE), Chatsworth (SW); Maps: Crandall and Dyer Quads (GA); Cohutta Wilderness map; trail map available from ranger district; Blazes: None; Campsites: Mile 7.5: open, grassy meadow at the Group Camping Area; Water Sources: Abundant for the first 5.0 miles; Ranger District: Cohutta

Description of the Emery Creek Hiking Trail

Although the Emery Creek Hiking Trail is primitive – unblazed and usually without signs –  it is scenic and now, for the most part, easily followed.

The first 0.2 mile of the trail follows an old road, now closed to traffic, that starts at an elevation of approximately 960 feet, high above Holly Creek. This section of Holly Creek, with its deep pools, cascades, and huge boulders, is beautiful and popular. Soon after it descends to stream level, the trail narrows to a rocky path and reaches the convergence of Holly and Emery Creeks. As you face upstream, Holly Creek is to the right, Emery to the left. The trail continues along the left bank of Emery Creek. You can either cross Holly Creek alone below the fork, or you can cross both just above their confluence. In high water, this crossing becomes a hazardous ford.

Beyond this initial crossing, this path becomes less traveled as it parallels Emery Creek through a forest dotted with tall eastern white and shortleaf pines and thick, uninitialed American beech trees. It becomes more interesting and isolated as it moves farther away from Holly Creek’s swimming holes. Shortly after its fifth crossing at mile 1.3, the trail turns right onto a gravel road and then left onto another old road before crossing Emery Creek. Follow trail signs at these junctions.

Forty yards beyond the eighth crossing (most can be made dry-shod) at mile 2.2, a wide spur trail to the left leads 125 yards to the first waterfall. Surprisingly loud and powerful for the stream’s size and 45 to 50 feet high, the fall drops from wide ledge to wide ledge to a small green pool at its base. Emery Creek Falls is both higher and longer than you might first guess. Below most of the ledges, the fall slides into a narrow pool which pours over the lip of the next ledge.

To reach the second falls, continue on the main trail as it bends to the left and ascends very sharply for 0.1 mile. At mile 2.7 the trail comes to a point where you can scramble down the hillside to explore a series of four cascades. The highest of the cascades is a 20- to 25-foot waterfall.

The trail crosses Emery Creek three more times and remains level or slightly uphill to a closed Forest Service road. This road marks the place where the trail used to end. In 1994 it was extended up to Little Bald Mountain during a service project led by Recreational Equipment, Inc. Turn left onto the road, walk about 50 feet, then turn right onto another old woods road. The trail follows this roadbed as it meanders along a main tributary of Emery Creek to about mile 4.5. Here it leaves the roadbed, crosses the creek, and climbs above the creek.

From this point on, the trail becomes strenuous, following a narrow, ascending path as it cuts its way across steep, boulder-strewn slopes in an isolated forest of pines and hardwoods. At mile 7.2 a beautiful overlook opens on the left with a south-southwest view of Fort Mountain. The trail

ends at the primitive Group Camping Area, which is essentially a large grassy field on Little Bald Mountain (3,640 feet) just off FS 68. The Cherokee once used this field for tribal games and ceremonies.

Highlights of the Emery Creek Hiking Trail

  • Mile 2.2: Spur trail to Emery Creek Falls, a 50-foot, two-ledge drop.
  • Mile 2.7: Hillside scramble down to a four-tiered cascade.
  • Mile 7.2: Overlook with a south-southwest view of Fort Mountain.

Directions to the Southern Trailhead

To the southern trailhead of the Emery Creek Hiking Trail at Holly Creek: From the GA 52-US 411 intersection in Chatsworth, travel US 411 North approximately 4.2 miles to the town of Eton. Turn right at the stoplight in Elan, following the sign for Lake Conasauga. This route is signed as CCC Road farther away from Eton. Once it becomes gravel and enters Forest Service property, it becomes FS 18, also known as Holly Creek Road. Continue straight on CCC Road for approximately 7.3 miles (after 6.0 miles the pavement ends). As you start a sharp curve to the right and uphill away from the creek, look for the trailhead and parking lot on the left.

Directions to the Northern Trailhead

To the northern trailhead of the Emery Creek Hiking Trail at the Group Camping Area: From the Ellijay square, drive west 9.5 miles on GA 52. At the Lake Conasauga Recreation Area sign, turn right onto FS 18 and continue 3.5 miles. Turn right onto FS 68, continuing uphill and straight ahead. After traveling about 6.0 miles, you will reach the three-way intersection of FS 68 and FS 64 near Potatopatch Mountain. Turn left toward Lake Conasauga, staying on FS 68. Continue about 3.5 miles to the Group Camping Area on the left. The trailhead is in the back left-hand corner of the open field.

Although the route is straightforward, there is no quick and easy way to set a shuttle between trailheads. You can link the directions given for the southern and northern trailheads. Holly Creek Road heading east from Eton toward the southern trailhead turns into FS 18, the same road mentioned in the directions to the northern trailhead. From the southern trailhead at Holly Creek, you can follow FS 18 2.5 miles farther away from Eton to its three-way intersection with FS 68, mentioned in the northern trailhead directions. The Chattahoochee National Forest Administrative map is indispensable for figuring out shuttles and alternate routes.

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