Cumberland Trail: Edwards Point Loop via Mushroom Rock, Blue Trail, Orange Trail, and Bee Branch Trail, Signal Mountain, Tennessee
The Cumberland Trail, a work in progress that will be a 300-mile trail when completed, has its southern terminus at Signal Point in the Chattanooga metro area. One of the Cumberland Trail's most spectacular sections is its very first one as it traces the rim of the Tennessee River Gorge, visiting outstanding views at Signal Point and Edwards Point as well as a unique geological formation known as Mushroom Rock at the edge of the Suck Creek Gorge. Beside the Cumberland Trail, several lesser-used trails give hikers the option to turn a hike to Edwards Point into a full-day loop with additional sights. Most notable is a spectacular half-mile section of the Orange Trail as it follows a remote and rugged bluff line in the Middle Creek Gorge. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 25th, 2017. My plan was to hike a loop from Signal Point that would follow the Cumberland Trail past Edwards Point all the way to Mushroom Rock, from where I would follow the Mushroom Rock Trail, Blue Trail, Orange Trail, and Bee Branch Trail back to Signal Mountain. After coming out at Ohio Avenue, I would conclude the hike with a short roadwalk through the town of Signal Mountain to Signal Point.
The Iron Mountain Loop is one of the less-used trails in the Cohutta Mountains. Most folks who visit the Conasauga River choose to hike the Conasauga River Trail #11 in the Cohutta Wilderness proper, well above the Jacks River confluence. On the other hand, the Iron Mountain Trail combines with Cherokee National Forest's Conasauga River Trail #61 to showcase a much broader and equally pristine section of the Conasauga River below the Jacks River confluence, where two mighty mountain rivers join into one. Although much of the Iron Mountain Trail is just a peaceful wooded walk across the slopes of Iron Mountain, a small vista at the halfway point offers a welcome break with a view of the West Cowpen Ridge that forms the Cohutta Wilderness boundary. The Iron Mountain Loop has only one downside: it gets a fair amount of equestrian traffic. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 23rd, 2017. My plan was to hike the Iron Mountain Loop clockwise by first following the Iron Mountain Trail from Cottonwood Patch Campground and then hiking the Conasauga River Trail to FS 221. The loop would be concluded with a short roadwalk along FS 221 and FS 16.
Appalachian Trail: US 321 (Hampton Blueline) Trailhead to Laurel Falls to Potato Top Vista to Dennis Cove Trailhead, Elizabethton, Tennessee
The 55-foot Laurel Falls is one of Northeast Tennessee's most breathtaking waterfalls. Located just outside of the community of Hampton and off the Appalachian Trail in Pond Mountain Wilderness, access to Laurel Falls is fairly easy, making it a destination that can often be crowded, but the falls and the whole hike is still worthwhile - for there is a lot more to see along this stretch of the AT. Above Laurel Falls, an unofficial side trail makes a steep scramble to the pointy summit of Potato Top, where there are several excellent views of the Laurel Fork Gorge and surrounding wilderness. In addition, the Appalachian Trail between US 321 and Dennis Cove Road passes a lot of pretty creekside scenery and several spectacular cliffs that rise along Laurel Fork Creek. This hike occurred on Sunday, July 9th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back along the Hampton Blueline Trail and then Appalachian Trail from the trailhead off US 321 near Hampton to the Dennis Cove Trailhead. Along the way, I would take the side trails to Potato Top and Laurel Falls, and on my way back, I would take the high-water bypass route past Laurel Fork Shelter above Laurel Falls for a bit of variation. This hike was the eighth of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
The Elk River is best known for its spectacular upper waterfall, Elk River Falls. But as the Elk River enters Tennessee, it encounters a twisting passage with a series of waterfalls collectively known as Twisting Falls that is even more jaw-dropping. The 35-foot lowermost drop of Twisting Falls, locally known as Compression Falls, creates one of the area's most impressive sights as it crashes with a deafening roar into a deep pool flanked by tall cliffs. The trail to the base of the falls is no joke though - the unofficial path descends over 400 feet to the Elk River in just a quarter-mile! The destination waterfall is well worth it, but be prepared to huff and puff on the way back up. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 5th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to the base of the lowermost drop of Twisting Falls (aka Compression Falls). This hike was the second of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
If you're looking for the perfect combination of beauty and ease of access to a waterfall in North Carolina, Elk River Falls has to be at the top of your list. A well-used relaxing trail leads along the banks of the mighty Elk River to the base of Elk River Falls, a tight sheer 50-foot drop into a huge plunge pool that is known for its swimming opportunities. Most folks who hike to Elk River Falls don't know that another excellent waterfall can be reached fairly easily from the same trailhead. 100-foot Jones Falls is on a small tributary of the Elk River and during the wetter months is a sight no less impressive than Elk River Falls. A signed spur trail from the Appalachian Trail facilitates access to this gorgeous spot. Hikers will be able to see both waterfalls with a hike of fewer than four miles. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 5th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to Elk River Falls and then to follow a forest road and unofficial connector path to the Appalachian Trail, which I would use to reach Jones Falls. I would return the same way. This hike was the first of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Lookout Mountain Battlefield: Jackson Gap Trail, Bluff Trail from Ochs Gateway to Sunset Rock and Point Park, and Gum Spring/Cravens House Loop, Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Lookout Mountain Battlefield, which is part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, covers an impressive portion of Lookout Mountain, where the "Battle Above the Clouds" occurred during the Civil War. The battlefield's extensive trail system provides easy access to some of the mountain's signature features, such as Sunset Rock and Point Park, both of which have panoramic vistas. The park's most scenic trail, Bluff Trail, follows the bluff line along the west side of Lookout Mountain for several miles, connecting to other trails with more views and other points of interest such as mountain springs. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 28th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Bluff Trail from Ochs Gateway to Point Park. Along the way, I would take a side trip along the Jackson Gap Trail and also to Sunset Rock. From Point Park, I would follow the Mountain Beautiful Trail and Hardy Trail to Cravens House, from where I would take the Rifle Pits Trail to the Upper Truck Trail. Then, I would hike along the Upper Truck Trail past the ruins of Camp Demaray to the Gum Spring Trail. Lastly, I would follow the Gum Spring Trail up to the Bluff Trail, concluding the hike by retracing my steps on a portion of my earlier route along the Bluff Trail.
South Cumberland State Park: Fiery Gizzard Trail (Grundy Forest to Raven Point), Dog Hole Trail, and Grundy Forest Day Loop, Tracy City, Tennessee
South Cumberland State Park is a state park with several tracts scattered throughout the south Cumberland Plateau in Grundy County, Franklin County, and Marion County. Two of these tracts - Grundy Forest State Natural Area and Foster Falls TVA Small Wild Area - serve as the starting and ending point for a dozen-mile long trail that is known as the Fiery Gizzard Trail. The Fiery Gizzard Trail has gained the reputation of being one of the most difficult trails in Tennessee, as it traverses several rocky gorges with rugged terrain. Backpacker Magazine has ranked the Fiery Gizzard Trail in its top 25 hiking trails throughout the US due to the beauty of the gorges encountered on this trail. On this hike, you're going to follow a route that will take you past several waterfalls on Little Fiery Gizzard Creek and Fiery Gizzard Creek before embarking on a very rugged scramble through the gorge. Then, you will ascend out of the gorge to a couple of panoramic vistas of the Fiery Gizzard gorge, before returning to the Grundy Forest Day Loop and seeing more waterfalls on Big Fiery Gizzard Creek. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 12th, 2016. My plan was to first hike the eastern section of Grundy Forest Day Loop. Then, I planned to take the Fiery Gizzard Trail south through the Fiery Gizzard Creek gorge to Raven Point. After visiting Raven Point, I would take the Dog Hole Trail back to the Fiery Gizzard Trail near Grundy Forest Day Loop. I would finish the hike by taking the western half of the Grundy Forest Day Loop.
Citico Creek Wilderness: Forest Road 217H and Bob Bald Connector Trail to Bob Bald, Tellico Plains, Tennessee
The Unicoi Mountains straddle the Tennessee/North Carolina border in the Cherohala Skyway area. Bob Bald is one of the higher mountains in the range. At an elevation of 5294 feet, Bob Bald provides extensive views of the Citico Creek Wilderness and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. There are several different ways to reach Bob Bald, but the easiest one is from Beech Gap on the Cherohala Skyway. You will first follow an abandoned forest road along the State Line Ridge, before taking off onto a singletrack trail that leads straight to Bob Bald. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 27, 2016. My plan was to hike closed Forest Road 217H from Beech Gap to the Bob Bald Connector Trail. From there, I would take the Bob Bald Connector Trail to the summit of Bob Bald. After visiting Bob Bald, I would return the same way.
The Citico Creek Wilderness is one of the wildest areas in southeast Tennessee. A network of trails provides foot access into the pristine watershed. Falls Branch Falls, located at the head of a remote valley on a tributary of South Fork Citico Creek, is the tallest waterfall in the Citico Creek Wilderness. From the Cherohala Skyway, take a short trail into the Falls Branch Scenic Area and through an old-growth forest to Falls Branch and the 80-foot falls. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 27, 2016. My plan was to hike the Falls Branch Falls Trail out and back from the Cherohala Skyway to Falls Branch Falls. After this short hike, I would drive to nearby Beech Gap on the Cherohala Skyway and complete a longer hike, detailed in a separate trail report.
If there ever was a hike that you must absolutely not miss, no matter where you have hiked or are planning to hike, then this is it. As my personal favorite hike on the Cumberland Trail (at least to this date), this is one segment of the famous long-distance trail that has just about everything that you can find on the Cumberland Plateau, from tall bluff lines that stretch on for miles, to spectacular vistas of one of the area's most picturesque gorges, Chickamauga Gulch, to remote waterfalls set in some of the best settings I've yet to see in this area. This is truly one spectacular hike by all means. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 16th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Cumberland Trail from the trailhead on Montlake Road to Panther Branch Overlook. However, due to time-consuming photography of the countless points of interest on this hike, as well as to the extremely rugged and slow nature of the latter part of the hike, I was only able to reach Stevenson Branch Falls. That was okay with me, however, as I have hiked the excellent section of the Cumberland Trail north of Stevenson Branch Falls, and the section to the south, that I hiked on this day, proved to be even more spectacular.
The Tennessee River is Tennessee's grand river. Near the city of Chattanooga, the river carves a passage through a deep gorge before becoming Nickajack Lake. On this hike atop a finger of the Cumberland Plateau that juts out into the Tennessee River Gorge, you will see several vistas of the river, a bizarre geological formation called the Natural Bridge, and a number of wet-weather waterfalls - they really are invisible, unless you happen to hike the trail in the middle or after a notable flooding event. Expect quite a workout curving throughout countless hollows before arriving at Ransom Hollow Overlook, one of the best vistas on the southern Cumberland Plateau. This hike occurred on Saturday, December 26th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Pot Point Loop clockwise from the Snoopers Rock Trailhead.
The Warriors Passage Trail is one of two National Recreational Trails in Cherokee National Forest. This seldom-traveled pathway traverses a couple of low-elevation stream valleys before climbing up to Waucheesi Mountain, a small bald summit with views across the Tellico Ranger District. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 14th, 2015. My plan was to hike the entire Warriors Passage Trail out and back from Lyons Creek Trailhead to Waucheesi Mountain.
Two large rivers are the highlights of southern Cherokee National Forest's Ocoee/Hiwassee Ranger District: the Ocoee River and the Hiwassee River. Both rivers run through gorgeous canyons and are full of whitewater rapids. The John Muir Trail (and partially in conjunction with the Benton Mackaye Trail) runs along the northern shores of the Hiwassee River for a distance of nearly 20 miles, presenting opportunities to see the river's rapids and rock formations up close. This hike occurred on October 24th, 2015. My plan was to hike the John Muir Trail/Benton Mackaye Trail from the Big Bend Recreation Area to the Coker Creek footbridge at Duckett Ridge Trailhead. I would return almost the same way, although on the return trip, I would attempt to follow the old route of the John Muir Trail past Apalachia Powerhouse.
Lookout Mountain Battlefield: Skyuka Spring, Sunset Rock, and Gum Spring Loop, Chattanooga, Tennessee
The Lookout Mountain Battlefield is a large tract of conserved land that covers the better portion of Lookout Mountain's slopes. The area that this tract covers is the site of the Battle of Lookout Mountain (a battle that was a part of the US Civil War's Chattanooga Campaign). The area is home to an assortment of interesting sights, most notably several rather large springs, as well as many important historic sights and even some good vistas. The mountain is crisscrossed by trails, and there are many ways to create long day hikes on Lookout Mountain. This hike occurred on October 10th, 2015. My plan was to hike to a number of features on the west side of Lookout Mountain: Skyuka Spring, Sunset Rock, and Gum Spring, but due to some confusing intersections, the total mileage of the hike had to be increased to the point that only Skyuka Spring was seen in the daylight. My plan was to start on the Kiddie Trail. I would then take the Skyuka Trail to Skyuka Spring, and follow the John Smartt Trail and later the Jackson Gap Trail to the Bluff Trail. The Bluff Trail would be followed to Sunset Rock, and then using the Gum Spring Trail and Lower Gum Spring Trail, I would return to the trailhead. As you'll see below, this plan didn't quite work out.
Franklin-Marion State Forest: Cave Spring Trail, West Rim Trail, North Rim Trail, and Sweden Cove Trail, Sewanee, Tennessee
Franklin-Marion State Forest is a large tract of conserved land on the southern Cumberland Plateau, totaling to nearly 8000 acres. An assortment of hiking trails circles the forest, leading to various vistas of the surrounding coves and several small waterfalls. Unfortunately, the trail system has been let down in recent years and now receives mainly horse traffic. The horse traffic makes this hike rather unattractive, but still, it has its rewards. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 19th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Cave Spring Trail to the West Rim Trail and then follow the West Rim Trail to its northern terminus. From there, I would do the North Rim Trail out and back. Finally, I would do the Sweden Cove Trail to TN State Route 156 and return to the trailhead via TN 156.
Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 468.7 Miles