Chattahoochee National Forest
Noontootla Creek Camp creekside near Georgia’s Springer Mountain.
From a common starting point on Springer Mountain, the Benton MacKaye and Appalachian Trails crisscross three times in their first few miles before finally parting ways. That double helix has created some top-notch hiking loops: the Benton MacKaye-Stanley Gap Loop and the Free Knob Loop, each easily accessed from pull-off campsites tucked in the rhododendrons beside boisterous Noontootla Creek, near Three Forks. “The Noontootla is a beautiful creek with calendar-worthy cascades and trophy-size trout,” says Gil Carter, co-owner of Copperhill Outfitters just over the border in Copperhill, Tennessee. Campsites along the Noontootla, reached by Forest Service Road 58, are spacious, private, and decked out with fire rings and log seats. Five sites sit within babble-distance of the creek on a bench just below (and out of site of) the road. And since the sites are each separated by about a quarter-mile of hemlock and poplar, you’ll have ample buffer from the occasional Boy Scout troop. The only real problem? Deciding which route to hike to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Springer lies four miles south of camp via the AT, and six miles via the Benton MacKaye (the latter generally sticks to higher and drier ground). Best bet: See them both and make it a 10-mile loop.
Get there From Ellijay, take GA 52 4.8 miles east to a left on Big Creek Rd. Go 15.1 miles to FR 58. Turn right. After you enter the Blue Ridge Wildlife Management area, camping is allowed in designated areas along the creek. UTM 16S 0757118E 3836439N Map Springer and Cohutta Mountains ($12, natgeomaps.com) Contactfs.usda.gov/conf; (770) 297-3000