Want to experience the rocky final leg of an ultramarathon called the Upchuck 50K? This is your trail. Rugged climbs and descents past towering bluffs, historic sites, and boulder-filled creeks make Soddy Creek Gorge North a strenuous but extremely interesting section of the Cumberland Trail. And, an amazing suspension bridge over Big Soddy Creek eliminates the need to wade through whitewater to complete the route.
What Makes It Great
This trail is tough enough to put just about any runner in their place, but that’s all part of the charm.
Starting at the Hotwater Road trailhead, you’ll get right to it with a steep descent into the Little Soddy Historic Mining area. Over a century ago, men tunneled into these hillsides, building incline railways and barns to house the mules that hauled the coal. As such, there are rocks all over the trail, requiring focus as to not fall on your face. There’s a small loop you can take to explore the historic area, or keep left to continue north.
After crossing Hotwater Road, the trail will take you up the mountainside and to a point with a nice view of the town below. By the time you get here, there may be more hiking than running, but that’s okay. Get ready for a steep descent down to Deep Creek, a popular climbing area. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition has built an access trail here that makes a loop back to Hotwater Road possible if you factor in a half mile or so of pavement.
About four miles in, cross Deep Creek on a wooden bridge between huge boulders, with the water dropping off as if into a canyon. Just a quarter of mile farther, at the massive gulf of Soddy Creek, is a 100-foot long suspension bridge providing a safe crossing at any water level.
On the far side of creek, the trail straddles the hillside and generally provides a good surface for running so long as the footing isn’t slick with leaves. Seven miles from Hotwater Road is a steep section of steps with a yellow bluff on one side and Board Camp Creek cascading on the other. Once past this scenic obstacle, the trail stays near the creek for three miles of smooth, very runnable path.
The last mile of the trail is directly alongside Highway 111 down to Jones Gap Road—easy street compared to the southern end. The actual trailhead is across the highway and half mile down the asphalt of Heiss Mountain Road. The road might be tedious to hike but it’s a quick run.
Who is Going to Love It
Newer trail runners will enjoy the northern section of trail that begins on Heiss Mountain Road. Descend and cross the bridge to Soddy Creek and around as far as Deep Creek. It’s not a bad shuttle between the two trailheads if you want to see everything. More seasoned runners like this section so much they’ll cover all of it, then run back—no shuttle required and good training for the Upchuck 50K.
You can also continue north on the Cumberland Trail to the notoriously difficult Possum Creek section with even more spectacular, rugged trail.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To reach the Hotwater Road trailhead, turn left onto Durham Lane just before the ballfields across from the lake in Soddy-Daisy. In a half mile, turn right on Back Valley Road then then back left onto Hotwater Road. The trailhead is two miles up the mountain on the left at the intersection of Sluder Lane.
To reach the Heiss Mountain trailhead, take Highway 111 past Soddy-Daisy to the first exit on top of the mountain, Jones Gap Road. Head for the convenience store and then a half mile further down Heiss Mountain Road to the trailhead. To reach the Soddy Creek section you’ll run back past the store and over 111 to find the actual start of the trail.