The Chilhowee Recreation Area began primarily as a day-use area devoted to picnickers and hikers, but has evolved into a training ground for trail runners and mountain bikers alike. Some trails in the area are on the easier side, while others are more technical and challenging. The Benton Falls Trail runs right through the middle of the trail system, it is easy to plot a run that incorporates this section and meets mileage expectations for the day. There is a route for just about everyone Chilhowee, with beginner options, such as the Benton Falls Trail, all the way up to advanced routes such as the Azalea route.
What Makes It Great
The Benton Falls Trail begins just behind the bathroom facility at the day use area and winds its way to the left of McKamy Lake, intersecting both the McKamy Lake Loop and the Forest Walk Trail before shooting left down into the woods. At the onset, a rock garden welcomes you. Watch where you are going to avoid twisted ankles and heel bruises. Smoothing out into a sandy, hard-packed path, the trail meanders over more rocky sections and the occasional root. But don’t worry—for most of the trail, you can relax your mind and just enjoy the run. Once at Benton Falls, shoot your quads into overdrive and hike the long, winding stone steps down to the base of the 65-foot falls.
More experienced runners may want to start on the Azalea Trail just out of the parking area, connect to Clear Creek, Rim Rock, Clemmer and back up via Benton Falls Trail. This totals around 7.5 miles and blends slick bridges, rock gardens, and creek crossings with some moderate ups and downs. Be sure and take a break at Benton Falls before completing the final 1.5 miles to the parking lot.
Who is Going to Love It
The Benton Falls Trail is a great place for beginning trail runners to practice foot placement and get a feel for what trail running is all about.
Hill climbers will love the elevation gain from the Clemmer trailhead to the top of the mountain via Benton Falls Trail, gaining more than 1,000 feet in elevation on the way. The terrain is constantly changing, thankfully offering recovery sections just when you need them.
Trail runners who prefer the technical challenges of the trails without the intense elevation gain can connect any combination of trails up on top of the mountain to create any distance necessary.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The road leading up to the Chilhowee Recreation Area is just off of US-64 so it is easily accessible from the Cleveland and Chattanooga areas.
From Chattanooga: Take I-75 N to Cleveland exit 20 and go right onto US-74 E. Continue on US-74 E to US-64 E. Take the Ocoee exit heading east toward Ducktown/Copperhill/Murphy, NC. Stay on US-64 E for 15 miles to the Ocoee Ranger Station on the left. The road leading up to Chilhowee Recreation Area is on the left just past the entrance to the Ranger Station.
The campground and bathhouses close in November, but a winter camping area is available with limited facilities.