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surprising that the state of the old campground was less than desirable We knew going into it that the Forest Service no longer maintained it.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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.