Creek crossings, rugged ascents, including ladders and steep slopes make this section of the Cumberland Trail challenging and enticing. The waterfalls, rapids, pools, views, and interesting rock formations make it worthwhile.
This 8.3 mile hike from the trailhead on Montlake Road begins with upper and lower trails which merge onto an old mining road. The upper route or "Hogskin Trail," is the shorter and easier of the two. If you don’t have a serious hiking agenda, you may wish to stop for a picnic at one of the available tables or go for a swim in one of the numerous blue holes that make this section so popular.
What Makes It Great
The overlooks invite you to pause and enjoy the breathtaking forests which are spectacularly rich in texture in the summer, in color in the fall, and can be just as beautiful in the winter when the leaves are gone and the diversity of tree trunk and branch texture is more evident. The rockhouses and escarpments are awe inspiring and the ingenuity of the stair construction sections are worthy of appreciation as well.
After climbing to the base of the bluff, the trail continues to a stairway which will lead you to the top of the cliff. Sweeping views of the gorge are possible from here as is evidence of mining operations. Cross a creek, descend a small ladder, and continue past a series of spectacular rockhouses, including one that is over 400 feet long. Keep your eye on the white CT blazes and continue the rough descent into Stevenson Branch and past the beautiful waterfall.
You’ll ford Cooper Creek and perhaps cool off in some of the inviting pools or simply enjoy the beautiful boulders, rock walls, hemlocks, and in spring, the abundance of wildflowers. After you climb out of Cooper Creek gorge and cross a few small creeks, you’ll reach Panther Branch which will require you to ford it as there is no bridge at this time. In each case, you will climb out of one gorge, traverse some of the escarpment, and then drop into the next gorge. This section features hardwood forests as well as a clear cut pine section. The trail intersects an old dirt road which is the current end for the North Chickamauga Creek Segment of the CT.
Who is Going to Love It
This trail offers something for everyone. Kids will be entertained for hours with the options to play and explore. It is perfect for hiking at a leisurely pace, or with more focus.