With a definition this generic, wilderness areas would exist in most areas of the Earth in small or large parcels. Until 1964, there was no legal definition of wilderness and there were no broad, overarching statutes to designate such areas – so a loose impression of wilderness would suffice.

In 1964, Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society, wrote the Wilderness Act, protecting 9.1 million acres of federal land; NONE of it in the eastern United States. Nothing east of the Rockies was deemed suitable under this act’s definition.

Many outdoor groups and individuals worked tirelessly for eastern wildernesses, and in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act, setting aside 16 new wilderness areas in 13 states, thus providing statutory protection of natural lands for easterners to enjoy.

In that initial list of 16 new Wilderness Areas was Georgia’s Cohutta Wilderness located between Ellijay and Chatsworth. It remains to this day, at 37,000 acres, the largest wilderness area in the eastern United States. Since 1975, Congress has added 13 more wilderness areas in the state, with 10 of them in north Georgia. The Appalachian Trail’s Georgia section -- only 78 miles in length -- passes through six wilderness areas, more than all other states combined. Georgia ranks 16th in the number of wilderness units per state and the Blood Mountain Wilderness Area is located partially in Lumpkin County.

Eastern Wilderness Areas are defined as having no significant impact by man, which includes building structures, and can include banning bridges on trails; limiting human activities to non-motorized recreation (such as backpacking, hiking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, etc.), scientific research, and other non-invasive activities. No motorized or mechanized vehicles are allowed, including motors and bicycles. Old structures are left to go back to nature, roads turn into trails and eventually fade away. Any trail work must be done with hand tools, including cutting large downed trees with a crosscut saw -- no motorized chainsaws allowed.

Wilderness Areas can be established on any federal land, but in North Georgia, all are in the Chattahoochee National Forest, and so are administered by the National Forest Service. All are accessible to the public and offer a more isolated natural experience. No roads can go through a federally protected wilderness area, so when established, roads are closed and become good horseback riding or hiking trails. Most areas have parking lots with trailheads and information kiosks. No car camping, cabins, lodges, restaurants, convenience stores… in other words, WILDERNESS.

You can find information for each of Georgia’s Wilderness Areas at: www.wilderness.net. You can see a list of the state’s Wilderness areas and access information for each including maps.

North Georgia’s Wilderness Areas are: Big Frog Wilderness, Blood Mountain Wilderness, Brasstown Wilderness, Cohutta Wilderness, Ellicott Rock Wilderness, Mark Trail Wilderness, Raven Cliffs Wilderness, Rich Mountain Wilderness, Southern Nantahala Wilderness, and Tray Mountain Wilderness.

Take a hike in a Wilderness Area and experience what our mountains and forests were like in the past. Truly back to nature.