Some say that Bigfoot roams the steep slopes of Laurel-Snow, and while that bit of history is unverified, it’s true that the hills once shook from horrific explosions that belched fire out the mouths of coal mines.
One of the best things about the Laurel-Snow Section of the Cumberland Trail is how easy it is to customize your run. The part of this trail on the CT is technically the 4.2-mile roundtrip to the bridge and back, or you can add on a trip to an overlook, or waterfalls for a longer (and potentially more rewarding) run. On a hot summer day, runners have been known to run up the hills, then cool off under the waterfalls that give the area its name. Beyond that, the route along Richland Creek has some natural swimming holes.
What Makes It Great
Once home to a thriving (and sometimes deadly) coal mining industry, Laurel-Snow State Natural Area is a peaceful, yet mysterious place. Almost within sight of the parking lot, the trail passes an arched entrance to the Dixon Slope Mine. The mine is now collapsed, but once extended deep into the gorge. Century-old stonework is common as you follow the old railway up Richland Creek. About a mile from the parking lot the trail suddenly leaves the roadbed to double-back up the slope. If you miss this turn and follow the old pipe up a very rocky path a short distance upstream, you’ll find a dam that once supplied the town of Dayton with water.
At mile 1.7 you’ll come to the twisted remains of a metal bridge across Laurel Creek, a victim of a falling tree. Under normal conditions you can rock hop across the creek and are then confronted with an intersection. To the right is a winding, sometimes steep path to the beautiful 80-foot Laurel Falls and beyond to Bryan Overlook, 3.3 miles from the parking lot.
The left fork leads to a 150-foot bridge, the turnaround point for the Laurel-Snow Trail, or continue on for a longer, but equally rewarding climb, to the towered pinnacles of Buzzard’s Point, and the smaller Snow Falls. Either direction is a great choice, but for those with the energy, it’s possible to use the efficiency of trail running to see both. You can, my running friends, have it all at Laurel Snow.
Who is Going to Love It
Newer trail runners will enjoy the first mile, which has a gentle grade on the remains of the old railbed. As the trail changes to singletrack it gets more technical but most runners are going to walk the hills, so go at whatever pace suits you. Even ultrarunners will find enough challenge and beauty to make this a worthy adventure.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Chattanooga, take US 27 1.7 miles past downtown Dayton, then left at a traffic light onto Walnut Grove Church Road (church on right, twin drug stores on left). Go 3/4 a miles and turn left onto Back Valley Road, then another 3/4 of a mile to a gravel road on the right across from a small white church. The parking lot is one mile down this gravel road.
Two cautions: some find the trail to be vague in places, so study the map here at Laurel Snow segment before you set out. Second, please be back at the car before sunset so you don’t get locked inside the gate.