Cherokee National Forest: Lost Creek Campground

Lost Creek Campground
Kiosk at Lost Creek Campground

The Big Frog Wilderness Plan

 

I did a little research on camping in the Big Frog Wilderness and found a couple of campgrounds with very poor reviews. One of the campgrounds I found is called Sylco. I decided that despite the negative reviews that we should check it out anyway. So we headed out on a Sunday morning from Kennesaw to make our way into Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest.

We often use the avoid highways feature on Google Maps because, well, we hate the highway. We took US-41 N about twenty-one miles to Collins Dr and stayed on that about a half mile. Then North Tennessee St for fifty-six miles. That led us to Old Highway 2 (which is a gravel road) and drove eight and a half miles to Peavine Sheed Creek Rd, which led us to the now defunct Sylco Campground.

The drive out there is fantastic and I highly recommend doing it with the windows down to smell the fresh mountain air of the Cherokee National Forest’s Big Frog Wilderness. I can tell you that I would love to live on Old Highway 2. It is its own little community way back in the middle of nowhere. You cross the Conasauga River on an old steel bridge to access Peavine Sheed Creek Rd and head right.

The Sylco Folly

Once we arrived at Sylco Campground we instantly realized that it wasn’t for us. There was nothing compelling nor attractive about this campground at all. The small loop through the campground was blocked off at the road with boulders. The place looked like people had used it to four wheel through. There was one tent set up at the only site that looked even remotely habitable. We suspect that whoever had camp setup was more of a resident than a recreational camper. I read that people live out there and just move around every fourteen days. It was definitely disappointing, but not surprising that the state of the old campground was less than desirable  We knew going into it that the Forest Service no longer maintained it. All of the negative reviews I had read about Sylco were not exaggerated.

The whole reason we wanted to camp here was to hike the Sylco/Caney Creek Trails, which appears to form a loop. I wasn’t able to find any information online about anyone hiking these trails as a loop, so I figured we should do some field research. We decided to abandon the Sylco Campground idea altogether and head toward the trailhead to see if we could find a dispersed campsite.

Unfortunately, Forest Service maps aren’t always super accurate when it comes to old roads and gates. We followed what we thought was Sylco Creek Rd straight ahead to the north. But as I said, the map wasn’t accurate and we ended up on East Sylco Ridge Rd. Once we realized that we were way off course, we decided just to press on to find a different spot. After all, this was a recon trip. I know the trail is there and I’ll go back prepared for a backcountry trip.

Pressing Forward

We continued driving north on East Sylco Ridge Rd until it came to an end at Indian Creek Road. Then we turned right to see if we could find somewhere to camp at Sylco Inlet on Lake Ocoee. We ended up at First Baptist Cherokee Organization Camp which is posted no trespassing. We turned around and headed the opposite direction on Indian Creek Rd.

Now we were zig-zagging across Sylco Ridge admiring the beauty of the Big Frog Wilderness. We were hoping to find a spot to camp near Lake Ocoee, but there wasn’t a lot to choose from. We did see a few spots along the way, but unfortunately, they were being used. There were also a few that were just littered with garbage. All we could do was just shake our heads in disgust and keep on trucking.

Fortunately for us, I had a contingency plan in case Sylco was a no go. I had done some research and found a spot online called Lost Creek Campground. From the little that I read, it sounded like it would be a more than suitable backup plan.

The Lost Creek Campground Plan

We found our way to Bakers Creek Rd, which led us to Cookson Creek Rd. Then we got onto US-64E, stopped for a snack and began the journey to Lost Creek Campground. We took 64 for seven miles, then to TN-30W for another seven miles until we came to Lost Creek Rd. We headed down Lost Creek Rd for six and a half miles until we reached the campground.

Lost Creek Campground
After a slow 6.4 miles on a gravel road, we came to this sign.

Lost Creek Campground

Lost Creek Campground has fifteen campsites with about half of the sites directly on Big Lost Creek. There are two on the right as you pull in and drive around the loop. There are several sites that form what I assume is meant to be a group area in the middle of the campground. The middle campsites would be good for a Boy Scout Troop or for a large gathering, but not great for scenery. The campground has two vault toilets (beware: they stink pretty badly) and bear-proof trash receptacles, but no other amenities. Each campsite has a fire ring with grill, a lantern post, gravel tent pad and a picnic table. There is no fee to stay at Lost Creek Campground and it is open year round.

Big Lost Creek
Our little beach at Lost Creek Campground
Big Lost Creek
The water is crystal clear at Lost Creek Campground
Big Lost Creek
View from our site at Lost Creek Campground
Lost Creek Campground
Lost Creek Campground creekside campsite

When we pulled into the campground there was only one other camper. You never really know what you’re going to drive into with National Forest Campgrounds, being that they are usually on a first come, first camp basis. We were very happy about this. Marcie and I were really impressed with this place right of the bat. The campground is small and way out in the middle of nowhere on a gravel road. We chose a spot right on the creek and started scoping out trees to hang our hammocks and set up our tarp right away.  We found a few trees that worked great and the spot was off the pad and a little closer to the creek.

Gotta have a shelter.
Ahh, completion

 

Settling into Lost Creek Campground

Once we got our hammocks and shelter set up, we decided to get some coals going and Marcie put sausages on the grill for a late lunch. Shortly after we arrived a guy on a motorcycle took the spot next to ours. By this time it was around five pm, so after we ate, we decided to go look for a little firewood for a bedtime fire. We walked up the road a way and gathered a little wood here and there. The country in this area is definitely beautiful. There were a couple of small waterfalls along the road. When we got back to Lost Creek Campground, we just relaxed a bit.

I walked around and got some pictures and read the kiosk as I always do and discovered that we were right on the Benton Mackaye Trail. I saw the trail on my map and had already planned on making a day hike of it. On my map, it was called Big Lost Creek Trail, so when I discovered that it was a section of the Benton MacKaye, I became even more excited about the hike. I had never hiked any of the BMT, but have read a lot about the three hundred mile trail named after the man whose vision inspired the AT.

After some much-needed relaxation, we decided to make some cheeseburgers and beans. Cheeseburgers have become somewhat of a camp meal tradition for Marcie and me. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good cheeseburger cooked over an open flame? After dinner, we relaxed a bit, cleaned our mess, stored the food in the car and then moved to our hammocks. It didn’t take long for sleep to take hold with the sound of Big Lost Creek flowing in the background.

Hiking Day

The next morning I awoke to the birds chirping and the creek flowing. What a grand way to rise from a slumber. I put on the coffee and started planning the day. I took the dogs for a walk and took some pictures of the creek from the bridge. We also found the southbound trailhead for the BMT along the roadside. Hagrid saw the trail first and immediately started running up the trail. He was ready for a hike! It was still early though and we hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I had to explain to him it wasn’t time yet. The explanation literally fell on deaf ears, he was ready to go!

Facing north outside of Lost Creek Campground
Just before the bridge to Lost Creek Campground
Bridge view
Opposite side of the bridge toward Lost Creek Campground.
Pretty flowers at Lost Creek Campground

I got back to the campsite and had some more coffee. Our neighbor was up and it turns out that he was traveling from Smyrna, which isn’t far from where Marcie and I live in Kennesaw. He told me that he had taken a couple of weeks off of work to take this trip. His plan for the day was to ride through Cohutta and make his way to Alabama.

He told me that he was going to try to make his way out to Colorado, but was unsure if he could make it. I told him about Turnipseed Campground in Alabama and he said that he would try to check it out. He also explained that his wife had told him to take the trip and she stayed home. This made me grateful that Marcie and I mutually enjoy going on our adventures together. I wished him safe travels and off he went on his journey.

Time for breakfast at Lost Creek Campground

After a little while, Marcie started to stir and joined the dogs and me for some coffee. I started our breakfast to fuel us up for the day’s hike. Nothing like a big campfire breakfast to start your day off right. I began with some thick cut bacon and moved on to chorizo, followed by some eggs and spuds. Can you say pork-o-rama? We sure can, and do, frequently.

BACON!!
Bacon fat fried chorizo.
The final product.

We ate our breakfast, fed the dogs their special breakfast and decided to pack up a majority of camp, but leave our shelter and hammocks up, so the campsite would still look occupied.

The Hike

We headed out of the site and walked across Lost Creek Campground to meet the trail and head north along Big Lost Creek. To start the trail we had to ford the creek and then the trail continues to follow the creek downstream to the right the entire length. This is an easy but beautiful hike, with great views of small waterfalls and some killer rock outcrops throughout the whole hike. Our hike on this trail was about seven and a half miles out and back. At 1.22 mi. the trail veers left and there is a campsite to the right, directly on the creek.

Fording the creek
Big Lost Creek
Creekside campsite

You continue on the trail roughly heading west and come to a cool little waterfall at about 1.5mi. There are awesome rock formations on both sides and it looks like you could have a great time doing some creek bouldering. All along the trail, there are beautiful little waterfalls begging for you to stop and admire them. The trail is an old Forest Service road mostly reclaimed by wilderness and maintained pretty well, but there are several blown down trees along the way, which you have to either step over or go under. There were also no blazes on most of the trail, however, it is very easy to follow.

Nice little waterfall.
A little further back.
Had to go down into the creek.
It was fun climbing over these rocks.
The holes are cool.
Some scale for the outcrop.
Don’t really have words for how pretty it is back here.
Looked like a nice place to cool off on a hot day.

Just about halfway

This place is so beautiful, we didn’t have time to stop at every wonder and snap pictures. Literally, around every turn, there is something interesting or beautiful to gaze upon. Our pictures (as good as some of them might be) do this place no justice at all. You really need to come up Big Lost Creek and check out the scenery for yourself. But beware, we found that there are a lot of ticks in the area.

Such a beautiful place.
We can’t wait to go back and do some more exploring.

At around two miles you come to what looks like an earth hallway. There is literally an earth wall on both sides and the creek just disappears for about seventy-five feet.

Hallway

There is a feeder creek crossing at about 2.33mi. and another at around 3.12. Near 3.42 you come across an old Forest Service gate that is defunct and a trail sign that is broken, with half of it propped up against the post on the ground. Continue to follow the trail and within eyesight on your left you come to a gravel road and you continue going right. If you follow the road you’ll make another creek crossing and come to a field with tall grass. To the right, there is a driveway with what looks like a vacation home on the right. Ahead of you, there are train tracks that you take left to continue on the BMT. This is where we turned around and headed back.

 

2.33 mi. feeder creek crossing.
Straight up
Broken trail sign.
Marcie and the boys making the last crossing.
Doing real dog stuff
This was really cool.
What you see when you turn around at the last crossing. Just wish the picture would have been better.
End of the line.

Conclusion

This was definitely a successful exploration mission into an area we had never visited. We started out with a Plan A and ended up having to use Plan B. I highly recommend that if you are headed to a spot that you have never been to, always have a contingency plan. Most campgrounds in the National Forests don’t take reservations. Remember that weekends are usually the busy times at these places, so if you can, take some time off during the week. We find that you have a much better chance of getting a spot.

Yeah, we could have stayed at Sylco, but I think that our decision to press forward was definitely the right one. Do research online, call the local Ranger Station and then get out there and explore. If you are anything like us, you’ll be more than satisfied with your results. Do I regret going to the defunct Sylco Campground? No, I do not. Now we know that it isn’t the most desirable of places. Will I now avoid campgrounds that have bad reviews? No, I will not. We saw some beautiful sights when we drove through the Sylco area. That loop trail is still out there and I’m sure it will make an awesome overnight backpacking trip.

So get out there, have fun and be safe.

Dockery Lake Campground

Dockery Lake campground

So on this trip, we decided to take it easy a bit and do a little car camping at Dockery Lake campground, one of our favorite little spots in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  I found this lovely little destination on my National Geographic Trails Illustrated map last year. We fell in love with this campground immediately.

Dockery Lake has a day use area and a campground with eleven semi-primitive campsites and a beautiful three-acre lake stocked with rainbow trout.  I say the campground is semi-primitive because there are flush toilets and running water.  Each campsite has a fire ring, picnic table, lantern post and one or two gravel tent pads. Six of the campsites are directly lakeside and five are on the wooded side. There is a loop trail around the lake that is about a half a mile and the Dockery Lake Trail that connects to the Appalachian Trail at Miller Gap. The Dockery Lake Trail is seven miles out and back and is a semi-popular route to Preaching Rock at Big Cedar Mountain just off the Appalachian Trail.

Lakeside campsite

 

Day use site

Marcie and I have camped here four or five times in the last year. We have enjoyed every trip and we will continue to visit this spot for years to come. When we need to get out of town for a night or two, with little to no planning, this is our go to. I guess you could say that this is our comfort spot.

Feeder stream.

Now I know that there are the hardcore backcountry campers out there that wouldn’t be caught dead car camping. To them, I say, more power to you. Marcie and I, well, we like it all. For us, car camping is sometimes more enjoyable than completely roughing it. You can have better food, cold drinks, satellite radio and other luxuries you just can’t have in the backcountry. Don’t get me wrong. I love backcountry camping, but it generally requires more planning and is a lot more physically demanding. And let us face it. After a long work week and knowing that you have another right around the corner, a little car camping is just what the medicine man orders for a little soul cleansing. Car camping is also a great way to test out new gear and make a judgment on whether it will be beneficial to use in the backcountry.

The plan was to arrive at Dockery Lake Campground early afternoon, set up, eat lunch and relax for the remainder of the day. Mission accomplished.

After we arrived we unloaded the car, we chose a spot for our hammocks and set up our tarp shelter. We recently purchased the Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12 and had not been given the opportunity to test it out yet. This tarp is great! I set it up using the diamond configuration with a ridgeline and could not be happier with it.

Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12.

After we got set up and had lunch, Marcie decided to lounge in the hammock, do some reading and catch a nap. I decided that I wanted to do some fishing and take some pictures of the recreation area. So I broke out my fishing pole, the night crawlers and some rooster tails I bought the night before. I hooked a worm and let it sit for a while. It was just nice to relax. There were people at the campground, but it wasn’t crowded and they were all there for the same benefits we were.

Hammock Time
Marcie lounging with her book.
Dockery Lake Campground is such a peaceful place.

After I fished for a bit I decided to put my kayak in the lake and paddle to the other side and go get some pictures to share for this post. This lake is only three acres, so it wasn’t a long paddle to the other side, but it’s the novelty that counts sometimes. This beautiful little lake has so much character. What it lacks in size, it gains in beauty. There are tadpoles the size of golf balls, salamanders, rainbow trout and bluegill swimming about. It is truly a wonderous hidden gem.

Dockery Lake
View from our campsite
Signage.
Little bridge.
Feeder stream.

I walked the loop trail around the lake and ran into some folks fishing on the dam and as I was walking up, a guy was pulling in a small trout. So I showed my enthusiasm and he proceeded to tell me about the eighteen-inch three-pound trout that he caught the day before in the exact spot. I asked him what they were using as bait and he told me that they were using Power Bait. I guess that stuff really works because my worms only yielded one fish for me. It wasn’t from lack of effort either. I tried from the bank in multiple spots and floating around in my kayak to no avail.  One would think this little lake would be overfished, but I saw plenty while I was there. I guess they are just persnickety as trout often are.  Next time I’m taking Power Bait.

My fishing log, where I caught my trout.
Fishing from my kayak. Oh so peaceful.
Barely legal. I would have thrown him back, but he swallowed the hook and went belly up.

After I floated around Dockery Lake for a while, I wrapped up my fishing and decided to make some burgers around nine. I dumped some charcoal in the fire ring and let it do its thing. Now don’t judge- I’ve paid my dues collecting firewood to cook over the years. To put it bluntly, it can suck to hunt for fuel just to cook with. After all, we were car camping and there to relax and to take it easy. Earlier in my camping career I probably would have judged me, but now I understand the difference between working hard and working smart. I can also make a fire with a bow, but I choose not to because Bic makes damn fine lighters and Kingsford makes damn fine charcoal.

We cooked up the burgers, some beans and the trout that I caught earlier. I felt bad about him being so small, but I figured the least that I could do was respect his sacrifice enough to make him part of the meal.

We ended the night by cleaning up and putting our food in the car to not attract bears. Yes, there are bears active in the area. We laid down in our hammocks and, Marcie read some more, while I listened to the croaking of the bullfrogs. They make all sorts of strange noises if you really listen to them. They make a noise that is similar to bongos and it sounds like a really out of sync drum circle at some points. The sounds of creatures in the forest are amazing at night. I turned off the lantern and listened until I drifted to sleep.

I woke up at around six and fired up the backpacking stove for some coffee. The sun was just peeking through the trees and there was a slight chill in the air. It was a brand new day and a beautiful one to boot. Marcie slept as I drank coffee, did some fishing and practiced my morning meditation. I even got in my kayak and floated around the lake for a bit before I came back and started breakfast. I won’t go over the charcoal thing again.

Bacon on the coals.
Bacon fat fried garlic for the eggs.
Cheesy garlic eggs cooked in bacon grease.

We originally planned on hiking from the campground to Preaching Rock via the Dockery Lake Trail after we digested our breakfast, but plans soon changed. The hike is ten miles out and back and our dog, Hagrid is fourteen years old. Hagrid is usually up for a good hike, but this trip he just wasn’t feeling it. So what we decided to do was to hike up to the Dockery Lake Trail to Pigeons Roost Creek (which becomes Waters Creek) and check out some scenery. After we would return to camp and breakdown. We still wanted to see Preaching Rock and there is another way via Woody Gap Trailhead that is only three miles out and back, so we made that our contingency plan.

Once our meal had settled and we were no longer suffering food coma. We started our way on the loop to the Dockery Lake Trail and began our short journey to Pigeon Roost/Waters Creek. There are two ways to access the trail, one is at the day use parking area and the other is at the dam. We chose the dam to avoid backtracking.

The trail has blue blazes and is a single track path. The hike is downhill pretty much all the way to the creek. Just as you start there is a waterfall to the right, which is the spillway from the lake. The views are gorgeous through the treeline to the right. With some pretty cool rock outcrops on the left. I imagine that hiking this trail in the late fall would yield some amazing views.

You cross a few streams along the way and the trail is kind of muddy in some spots. The streams are narrow and easy to skip over. Even our little dog, Porter (who usually has to be carried across) made it over with no problem. We were very proud parents this day. If you knew, Porter, you would understand. We crossed into the Blood Mountain Wilderness and hiked a little further to reach our destination. Waters Creek is a popular trout fishing area and I can’t wait to go back and catch some supper, but that will be a story for the future. We turned around and headed back up the mountain back to our little lake taking some pictures along the way.

Kiosk at the dam trailhead.
Trailhead blaze.
Spillway waterfall.
It is much prettier in person.
View through the treeline.
Another treeline view.
I love rock outcrops.

 

Just fascinating to me.
Porter crossing on his own.
Waters Creek.

On the way back we started to hear thunder. After we heard it a few more times, we decided that it wouldn’t be too wise to head to the top of a mountain. So sadly we made the decision to postpone our trip to Preaching Rock for another time. Being Mr. Contingency Plan, I came up with the idea to do some recon to a few campgrounds I have been researching for a while.

We turned on some Grateful Dead and started to break down camp. We packed up the car, threw away our trash and policed the campsite for remaining litter. A rule that I learned as a young Boy Scout is that you always leave a site cleaner than you find it. That is something that has stayed with me all through my life and I always practice it to this day. Unfortunately not enough people practice this principle, so I guess I will always be busy at the end of a trip. That is okay though, I love Dockery Lake and I will always do whatever I can to keep it pristine for future generations to enjoy.

We got everything packed up just in time because it began to pour down rain as soon as we were pretty much all packed up. We pulled out of the campground and headed north toward Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area to check out potential campgrounds. The rain cleared up fairly quickly and the sky was blue once again.

Stay tuned to read about our upcoming adventures in the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area. Get out there and enjoy some nature. Do what you enjoy, whether it be backcountry, kayak camping, thru-hiking and, yes, even car camping. Remember to always use Leave No Trace principles and respect the earth and all its creatures.