The Rock Creek Loop of the Cumberland Trail is a 3.5-mile loop with options for adding more distance. In fact, the lower parking lot off Leggett Road is the starting point for the brutal Upchuck 50k race each December. But you don’t have to be an ultrarunner to enjoy Rock Creek—there is something here for everyone, from a quarter-mile paved loop to rugged climbs up the escarpment.
What Makes It Great
This is a beautiful section of the Cumberland Trail. You’ll run through the lush hardwood forest, crossing Rock Creek on an 80-foot bridge. Keep an eye out for blooming wildflowers in the spring, and make time to stop at one of the overlooks—maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of a hawk or an eagle.
Distance runners can choose to begin at Leggett Road or from the opposite end of Retro Hughes Road for very different experiences. If you set up a shuttle to begin at Leggett Road, you will follow the gorge uphill for eight miles to the top of the mountain at Retro Hughes Road. Conversely, if you begin at Retro Hughes you will have an easier downhill run.
The relaxed running is generally at either end of the trail. The first two miles from Retro Hughes are particularly fast since it is mostly on top of the plateau and is flat with few rocks. It’s pleasant but not particularly scenic. Rock gardens increase in the middle section of trail, but the scenery (mossy bluffs along the stream, groves of hemlock trees and rhododendron, cascades) is outstanding. This is not a section to rush through—watch your footing but also take time to look around, happy to be a trail runner who can get to such beauty in short and efficient order.
Who is Going to Love It
Experienced trail runners will love the challenges at Rock Creek, and the ability to vary the length. Some will take the opportunity to keep going to the equally scenic but tougher Soddy Gorge segment on the other side of Retro Hughes Road. Runners can also build up their endurance by power walking the hills and taking the shorter route. Either way, runners will be rewarded with with scenery and solitude.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Chattanooga, take US 27 north to the community of Sale Creek and turn left onto Leggett Road. The lower parking area is a mile and half on the left. There is a second roadside parking area two miles further on Leggett Road on top of the mountain which provides near mid-point access to the Rock Creek loop.
To get to Retro Hughes Road, take US 27 north to Bakewell, turning left at a red light with convenience store onto Retro Hughes Road. Follow this road up the mountain for seven miles to a small gravel parking area with kiosk on the right. The Rock Creek segment is on that side of the road; on the opposite side is the start of the Soddy Gorge segment.