A day trip to Copperhill and the Big Frog Wilderness

Tennessee WIld's Jeff Hunter on the trail
Tennessee WIld's Jeff Hunter on the trail

One of the things that Tennessee Wild strives to do is integrate local communities and businesses into our outings.  That's what any good ecotourism trip seeks to do.  The participants should learn about the heritage of the communities that they visit, and locals should benefit.  So this past Saturday when my lovely lady Caara and I decided to go for a hike in the Big Frog Wilderness, we decided to visit downtown Copperhill, Tennessee first for some lunch and a little shopping.

Copperhill is a quaint little town in Polk County.  It sits right on the Tennessee/Georgia state line, and the business district is split with McCaysville, Georgia. We arrived in town at lunchtime and walked around until we found a quaint shop that sells new and used clothing.  I purchased a scarf for Caara and a t-shirt for myself.  Afterward we found a nice little eatery that featured homemade soups and baked goods.  After an enjoyable meal, we walked around the town a bit more.  At about 1:15 PM we decided to start moving towards the trailhead.  It gets dark by 6 PM, so if we hoped to get very far on the trail, we needed to start walking.

From downtown Copperhill it's about 45 minutes to the trailhead for the Wolf Ridge Trail.  The trailhead is just off Forest Service Road 221.  There were a couple of cars parked in the lot, so we parked, packed up, locked up, and started walking.  The first .3 miles of the Wolf Ridge Trail is on an old grassy road.  While I prefer a single track trail, an old woods road allows friends to walk side by side, which is always nice.

Soon we reached a trail sign, and turned right off the woods road and started climbing. The day was nearly perfect - with temps in the low 70s, blue skies with a few clouds, and the forest a brilliant variety of reds and golds. Although the foliage was past peak, the colors were still amazing.

Amazing fall colors!

Our stated goal was to hike 4.5 miles to the summit of Big Frog, and back, but those plans were soon dashed.  I have been feeling a little puny the last few weeks, and found my strength lagging as we climbed the ridge.  After a couple of breaks to drink some water, the thought of reaching the top of Big Frog began to slip away.  It was such a beautiful day, it didn't seem to matter.  Just being in the woods with my dear friend was enough.  The views to the south of the Cohutta Wilderness and to the west towards Chattanooga were spectacular.

The Cohutta Wilderness from the Wolf Ridge Trail

  Knowing that there are no views from the summit, we were content to stop at the junction of the Grassy Gap Trail and take a siesta. This is right at the boundary of the Big Frog Wilderness.  There at the junction was a beautiful old tree and views to die for!

After consulting my map and Will Skelton's guidebook, I fell fast asleep on the forest floor, a scant 10' from the brand new wilderness portal sign. I'm not sure how long I was out, but it was a glorious, restorative sleep. No sounds could be heard other than the rustle of the leaves as the wind moved through the treetops. After waking refreshed, Caara and I slowly made our way back to the car, stopping from time to time to admire the awesome beauty and take the occasional photo.  The days last light lit up the forest with an otherworldly orange glow.  It was magnificent. Once back at the car, we headed back to Chattanooga. It's only about 90 minutes from Chattanooga to one of the premier wilderness areas in the east.

If you haven't been hiking in this area yet, you should think about getting out and exploring this area.  The Forest Service has a map of the Big Frog Wilderness that you can download here (PDF 3.6 MB) if you don't have National Geographic map #781. We'd love to hear what you think of this area.  Be sure to stop in one of the local businesses in Polk County and help stimulate the economy while you're there.  If you want to make a longer visit, please think about staying with our friends Dan and Mardee Kauffman at The White House B&B in Ducktown.  They are lovely hosts, and support Tennessee Wild's effort to expand wilderness protection in the Cherokee National Forest.  Be sure to tell them that Jeff says hello!