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.
R/T Length of Trail: 12.9 Miles
Duration of Hike: 9:00
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: First part of trail is well-marked
Cons: Potentially difficult crossing of Wildcat Creek (unless you decide to simply ford it); 0.4-mile section of trail is obliterated between Wildcat Creek Road and Bald River Road
Points of Interest: Vista from unnamed mountain near Bald River Road - 8 stars; Views from Waucheesi Mountain - 5 stars
Trail Blaze Color(s): Waucheesi Mountain Trail - White
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter
Beginning Point: Lyons Creek Trailhead (Old Furnace Trailhead)
Directions: From Tellico Plains, TN: Follow TN State Route 165 East for 2.2 miles. Then, bear right onto Old Furnace Road. Old Furnace Road is a narrow paved road that looks more like a driveway. It shortly turns to gravel. The road is passable by most passenger vehicles. Continue on the road for 2.9 miles. The start of the Warriors Passage Trail will be on the left, marked by a large wooden post labeled WP and a sign a bit down the trail. Parking is very limited here. There is space for one car (possibly two) at the start of the trail. If you drive a bit further along the road, there will be a small pullout on the right with space for several cars.
A map and some other information regarding this hike can be viewed here.
After my recent favorite hike on the John Muir Trail, I decided to try another trail in the area: Warriors Passage Trail, the other National Recreational Trail in Cherokee National Forest. This trail proved to be not quite as beautiful as the John Muir Trail, nor as well-marked, but it's still a good hike.
There are two starting points for the Warriors Passage Trail: Lyons Creek Trailhead, also known as Old Furnace Trailhead, located on Old Furnace Road, and Waucheesi Mountain Trailhead, located on the top of Waucheesi Mountain on Waucheesi Lookout Road. The Warrors Passage Trail comes out onto Waucheesi Lookout Road nearly a mile north of the summit, but there is barely any parking space there. Wanting to hike from low point to high point (so that the return route would be easier), I started at Old Furnace Road. The trail starts off downhill following an old roadbed. There is a mileage sign near the start. The trail descends quickly into a valley with a small unnamed stream. At 0.3 miles, the trail encounters a series blowdown at the crossing of the small stream. There is a bypass of the blowdown if you keep left and then cross the stream just downstream. After this, the trail rises out of the valley and passes over some unnamed hills on its way to Wildcat Creek. Keep an eye out for the blazes and "WP" posts - they show the way at some crucial turns. At 0.9 miles, the trail approaches Wildcat Creek and a flat suitable for camping. Here, make a sharp left and follow the creek downstream to a crossing at 1 mile. This is a wet ford (a shallow one)... unless you want to do what I did on a frigid November day - scramble across the large fallen tree to the left of the crossing. It may take some time, but it'll keep you dry.
From Wildcat Creek, the trail ascends steeply out of the valley. After the initial ascent, the trail levels out and then descends to an unnamed tributary of Wildcat Creek. Rock hop the small stream at 1.1 miles and move through a muddy area before recrossing the stream at 1.2 miles. The trail then ascends up a valley where the path is not much more than a game trail. Luckily, blazes are plentiful - keep an eye out for them. After you rise out of the valley, you'll ascend up to an unnamed ridge. Cross the ridge as well as an old road at 1.9 miles. A wooden post directs the trail across the ridge down another old road to Wildcat Creek Road. Reach Wildcat Creek Road at 2 miles. Do not cross the road - turn right onto a trail that parallels the road. Follow the trail parallel to the road, often in sight of the road, with several ups and downs, before crossing the road at 2.3 miles. The next 0.4 miles of the hike are some of the worst trail on the hike, as the trail is nearly obliterated. It is possible to avoid these 0.4 miles by following Wildcat Creek Road and then Bald River Road (as I did on my way back), but I wouldn't suggest in doing so, because you'll miss the best vista on this hike.
Cross the road and descend the other side of the road through a tangle of briars to a mileage sign. The next 0.2 miles of the trail are badly overgrown with briars and other brush. It is possible to make out the trail though - keep an eye out for the intermittent blazes. At 2.5 miles, the trail pops out onto an exposed ridge recovering from a previous fire. The view here is nothing short of spectacular. Straight ahead, Waucheesi Mountain rises proudly high. The Tobe Creek valley is visible, along with sections of Bald River Road. Beyond the valley, a hill rises up - the route of this trail farther on. To the right, lots of distant ridges and mountains rise up. Enjoy the view, and then continue on the trail... I mean, off-trail walk. There is no trace of a trail anywhere the next 0.2 miles. I walked to the top of a small hill with continuous views. Bald River Road is directly below you. It doesn't really matter which route you take here, as long as you end up on the section of Bald River Road below you and to your right. Whichever route you take, it'll be totally off-trail through brush and very steeply downhill. Once you reach Bald River Road, turn right, and reach the crossing of the Warriors Passage Trail at 2.7 miles. Looking to the right, you can see some signs directing the "trail" straight up the burned slope without any signs of a path.
From Bald River Road, turn left onto the Warriors Passage Trail. I must say that from this point, there will be very few blazes, although generally, they are not needed - wooden posts mark key turns. Descend steeply on the trail into the Tobe Creek valley. At 3 miles, cross Tobe Creek. This should be a dry crossing most of the time. Tobe Creek is a tributary of Sixmile Creek, which in turn is a tributary of Wildcat Creek. After Tobe Creek, bear right on an old road and ascend gently out of the valley. At 3.2 miles, don't miss a sudden left turn off the old road. A wooden post marks the turn. I missed this turn and ended up backtracking a bit to locate it. From here, the trail will gradually ascend up the small mountain above Tobe Creek. There are numerous switchbacks to ease with the ascent. and even though the trail gets little use, you should be able to follow it. Approaching Mule Pen Gap, a steep side trail on the right will lead to private property. After this, you'll come over a small top and descend to Mule Pen Gap at 4.3 miles. An old road crosses Mule Pen Gap from right to left, and I believe that this road gives access to the private property nearby. Cross the road and then bear right at a trail marker into the woods on a flat, wide trail. This easy trail doesn't last long. At 4.5 miles, watch out for a wooden post that directs the trail sharply left. This next section is the most difficult section of the hike - the steep uphill doesn't let up for a while, and there are absolutely no switchbacks. The trail climbs up a narrow ridge with Tobe Creek on the left side and Rocky Branch on the right side.
After about half a mile of steep climbing along the ridge, some switchbacks appear as the trail enters a bizarre thick, dark forest. After five switchbacks, the trail returns to its straight-line climbing, although it is more gradual now. After a while, the trail exits the dark forest and climbs up a mountainside with open woods and good winter views. The switchbacks return as the trail is now ascending the main mass of Waucheesi Mountain. This part of the trail was built to not be difficult. You may notice a couple of old blazes. At 5.7 miles, scramble up onto Waucheesi Lookout Road and reach the southern terminus of Warriors Passage Trail. There is a small pullout here that could perhaps fit one car. To continue to the summit of Waucheesi Mountain, turn right. It is 0.8 miles to the summit along the road that ascends around 500 more feet. The road doesn't receive a lot of traffic, but it is an unpaved road in fairly good condition with a few small potholes. At 6.3 miles, pass a small service tower on the right. At 6.5 miles, reach the summit of Waucheesi Mountain at a turnaround in an open area. A large service tower is to the right. The views are good but not excellent due to trees approaching the summit from all sides. The best view is to the southwest and west. There are also some views to the east but these are best in winter, when the leaves are down.
Once you've taken in the view from Waucheesi Mountain, retrace your steps back to the trailhead the way you came. If you want to skip the trail section between Bald River Road and Wildcat Creek Road, remember you can hike the roads there instead. You'll return to the trailhead for a total roundtrip hike of 12.9 miles.
Hike out and back from Bald River Road to Waucheesi Mountain - 7.6 Miles
Hike out and back from Old Furnace Road to the vista near Bald River Road - 5 Miles
Bald River Falls on the Bald River is a very popular nearby roadside attraction.
Sorry for the poor quality of some pictures. My camera was malfunctioning the entire day and I had to use manual settings which I do not operate very well yet.
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