I grew up hearing all about the Smoky Mountains. Being in Tennessee, it makes sense. But I never heard of the Cherokee National forest. But it is AH-MAZING! And I only saw a tiny portion of this massive national forest. My three days exploring only 1 (of 11) areas of the forest was highlighted by 2 waterfalls and a campsite that is the DARKEST I’ve been to in ages.
We were in the region near the Ocoee and Hiawassee rivers. The area is the Little Frog wilderness area. The camping within this area was in Chilhowee campground. First, to get to the campground you go 7 miles up a rather steep winding road. While many overlooks are beautiful, I was rather stressed about hauling a 5000-pound trailer up this small road. I wasn’t even the one driving but I was sooo stressed. We finally get to the campground after about 30 minutes to go those 7 miles.
We were in a pull-in site, it was my husbands birthday so not having to back in was a little less of a hassle for him. We were in site 25 but walking through the campground I think sites 21 and 24 would be great spots. There were a little more isolated than some. The campground hosts came by and gave us a map of hiking trails we found to be of great interest.
The most amazing part of the campsite (other than I didn’t take ANY photos) was how dark and loud it was. This campground gets very little traffic so kids were constantly biking around. But once the sun went down the katydids were almost deafening. I grew up in the south and love this sound. But I’ve never been anywhere where it was this loud. I was seriously concerned I wouldn’t be able to tune them out and go to sleep. I woke up around midnight and stepped outside to look up. It was a little cloudy but it was completely dark. I haven’t been somewhere that dark in ages. Due to this campgrounds location, it is most certainly not a party campground. It is almost entirely families so there were no late-night noises.
The day we arrived we took the short hike to the little lake onsite. It was great for kids to play in but nothing to get excited about. The next day we got up early to go hike the 1.5 miles to Benton falls. This was a super easy hike. The hardest part was the last .2 miles to climb to the bottom of the falls. Along the way, there were tons of rhododendrons right beside the path. They had just finished blooming so there lots of blooms on the ground with a few still on the plants. Apparently, their great show is about mid- June, about three weeks before we were there.
The waterfall was amazing. I was shocked at how tall and mesmerizing it was. Growing up in west Tennessee I don’t imagine so many waterfalls. Most Tennessee waterfalls are located in the mid-state and in the east. The water was cool but not nearly as cold as I expected. We spent about 30 minutes here before heading back.
The next morning we set out for the Rainbow falls. It was 1.6 miles to the falls and a more difficult hike than the day before. Nothing horribly strenuous but more trail debris along with 2 creek crossings. Rainbow falls was nowhere as majestic as the Benton falls. I was happy for the exercise but disappointed.
After packing up the RV it was time to come down the hill. Once again I was a giant ball of worry. Our brake controller had been giving us issues so I was incredibly nervous. We were lucky in that only 1 car ever got behind us. We were able to pull into one of the overlooks to let them pass. We made it safely down the mountain but our brakes were running hot.
If I ever return to this part of Cherokee National forest I would rather stay at a different campground all together or at least not be towing a 30-foot travel trailer.
Even though I found the Cherokee National forest by chance, I am certain to return to explore even more of its distinct areas. There are many more adventures to be had within the Cherokee National forest.