Hiker In Awe of Majestic Mountain View

Oconee National Forest, in the Heart of Georgia

Oconee National Forest, located in the rolling hills about 60 miles southeast of Atlanta, attracts visitors that like to spend their leisure time in the great outdoors. There are lots of activities here for all. The rivers and lakes attract those that like boating and fishing. Trails are set up for biking, hiking, horse, and ATV riding. Whatever you're seeking, you're only a short drive from the big city.

Oconee National Forest Lake Oconee
This is a relatively new US national forest, established in 1959. Its 113,000 acres are jointly managed as the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. Oconee's land holdings are rather spread out and not contiguous. Some of it is north of I-20 in the Greensboro area. The rest of the forest is south of I-20.

You don't have to go far to find water for recreation in Oconee National Forest. That's why fishing and boating are popular here. There is access to two major rivers and two major lakes, plus a host of smaller lakes, rivers, and streams. The Ocmulgee River runs down the southwest border of the forest. On the north side, the Oconee River enters the forest, flowing into Lake Oconee.

Oconee National Forest Wallace Dam
Lake Oconee straddles I-20. Dyar Pasture, Redlands, and Swords Recreation Areas provide boat ramp access to Lake Oconee. At the south end of the lake, Wallace Dam separates it from beautiful Lake Sinclair. The Lake Sinclair Recreation Area is a favorite launching point for those that enjoy water skiing. Boat ramps are also available at several other lakes and rivers. In addition, there are several canoe put-ins throughout the forest.

Lake Sinclair Campground is the only recreation area in Oconee National Forest to offer campsites with water and electric hookups, as well as flush toilets and hot showers. The 6-site Oconee River Campground has tent pads and vault toilets, but you'll need to bring your own drinking water. A boat ramp is available here. preferably

Oconee National Forest Ocmulgee Bluff Horse Trail System
When it comes to hiking, the best place to go is the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area on the west side of the forest, south of I-20. These multi-use trails of Oconee National Forest are similar to Buncombe Trail and Long Cane Trail in neighboring South Carolina's Sumter National Forest. They all support horse riding, biking, and hiking. The Ocmulgee Bluff Trail System is comprised of a series of trails, totaling about 30 miles (48.3 km). The trails include the Ocmulgee River Trail, Kinnard Trail, White Creek Trail, and Wise Creek Trail.

Getting to Ocmulgee Bluff can be a challenge, depending on road conditions. The trailhead is 3 miles (4.8 km) from GA 83, across Smith Mill Road. This is theoretically a gravel road, but it looked to me like it was primarily red Georgia clay. When it's wet, it's very slick. When slick gave way to deep mud, I stopped and turned around. A 4 wheel drive vehicle is really needed when this road is wet, which is often.

Oconee National Forest Ocmulgee River
A better way for me to access the Ocmulgee Bluff Trail System is a few miles to the south, at the Ocmulgee Horse Camp. To get from GA 83 to the horse camp, it's a 1 mile (1.6 km) drive across Forest Service Road 1099, which is a better maintained gravel road. Since I don't have 4 wheel drive, my personal rule of thumb is to try to gain trail access using forest service roads in lieu of unpaved county roads.

Other trails are scattered throughout Oconee National Forest. On the south side, separated from the rest of the forest, is the Hitchiti Experimental Forest. The Hitchiti Trail is a 2.5 mile (4.0 km) path that follows Falling Creek and the Ocmulgee River. On the east side, at the Lake Sinclair Recreation Area, is the popular 1.8 mile (2.9 km) Twin Bridges Trail.

If you're interested in attaining the highest point in Oconee National Forest, Burgess Mountain Trail is a short 0.25 mile (0.4 km) path that is shared with equestrian users. The trail tops out at 645 feet (197 meters) in elevation. The trailhead is on the east side of the forest on Forest Service Road 1120, about 4 miles northwest of Eatonton on GA 213, Godfrey Highway.

Oconee National Forest Scull Shoals Historic Site
North of I-20, about 12 miles up GA 15 from Greensboro is the Oconee River Recreation Area. At the boat ramp is the trail head for Scull Shoals Trail. This 1.0 mile (1.6 km) trail leads to the Scull Shoals Historic Site (sometimes spelled Skull Shoals). This once thriving mill town from the 1800's is now a ghost town. All that's left of Scull Shoals Village are a few remains from a town that once had a population of over 500.

As of April 2013, Scull Shoals Trail has been closed for over two years due to flood damage, and will be relocated. If you want to see the historic site, you can drive there from GA 15 via Macedonia Church Road and Forest Service Road 1234. You can wander around the old village and view the eerie ruins. While you're here, you can also hike the 0.2 mile (0.3 km) Boarding House Trail that leads from the Scull Shoals parking area to an old boarding house.

One other interesting trail for you to consider in Oconee National Forest is the 1.0 mile (1.6 km) Indian Mounds Trail. The trailhead is on Forest Service Road 1231-A, which is reached via FS 1234 and FS 1231. This hike features 2 prehistoric Indian mounds.

Oconee National Forest Ranger Station
Oconee National Forest features OHV trails north of I-20. The Town Creek OHV Trail System is about 4 miles north of Greensboro on county road 192 (Penfield Road). It has a B loop that is an ATV Trail, and an A loop for 2-wheelers, meaning motorcycles and bicycles. The A loop can be accessed from Roberts Bike Camp. The total length of the 2 loops is about 15 miles (24 km). The trail has been extensively maintained in recent years. It's open year round except during deer gun season and when trails are too wet. The daily use fee is $5 as of 2013.

Since this forest is so spread out, I recommend stopping at the Ranger Station, 1199 Madison Road, Eatonton, GA 31024. The friendly and helpful staff can really give you good tips and advice, and save you some time. They're very knowledge, and can tell you of current trail closures. Armed with a few brochures, a map north of I-20, and a map south of I-20, you'll be on your way to a relaxing, fun day.

Oconee National Forest is a sprawling forest in the heart of Georgia. It is well managed through prescribed burns and contracts with timber companies. It has beautiful lakes and rivers, and some great trails for horseback riding, biking and hiking. If you're in the area, take the time to explore and enjoy the wonderful piedmont scenery.

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