Enjoying the outdoors doesn’t always have to be an all day affair—sometimes the effort made to simply get outside for an hour or two before or after work is all you need to feel a little rejuvenation. Just 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, the Hogskin Loop is the perfect trail to do so. Featuring plunge pools, rockhouses, and mine relics, it's a short, low commitment loop that offers easy exploration in the North Chick Gorge.
Just before the climb up Mowbray Mountain begins, veer left off of Montlake Road to find the parking area for the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge section of the Cumberland Trail (note: the parking area does close at 7pm so don’t get locked in). Here you will find the trailhead to an intense section of the Cumberland Trail, that begins with the more docile Hogskin Branch Loop. Don’t discount the easier road that Hogskin offers—we know that sometimes a 10 plus mile day hike isn’t in the cards. This 1.5 mile loop offers visitors the beauty of the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge in a compact package.
From the parking area, the trail runs parallel with the vigorous Chickamauga Creek—spotted with blue holes and picnic tables along the bank for warmer weather festivities. At just under half a mile the trail brings you to the junction for the Upper and Lower sections of the loop. Bearing right will take hikers on a brisk, but fairly short, climb up rocky stairs to the upper fork that continues left following a dwindling creek bed. The trail here is wider, which makes it pleasant for hiking with company.
In the fall and winter months, the creek can be seen below—a turquoise and white flecked ribbon snaking through the gorge. In the lush spring and summer seasons, it is still just possible to make out the craggy cliff lines over the treetops on the opposite side of the gorge. If you’re interested in getting a little more climbing out of the loop, stay low at the fork—following the loop clockwise will result in a more spirited climb where the two legs meet at the second junction.
From the upper loop, after about .5 miles, expect to cross either a miniature falls, or just a few trickles, depending on what the recent rainfall has been. This set of falls may have been more hearty in the past because smoothed rocks line its path all the way down the hillside to the creek below. Once past this landmark, the descent to the Lower loop begins. For trail runners interested in doing laps here, take note this section might be technical enough to warrant slowing your pace.
A wooden sign marks the split where the Lower loop rejoins the Upper; staying straight here on the Stevenson Branch Trail will continue on the old mining road to mine remains, wooden stairs, the remarkable Boston Branch Overlook, and after a couple miles the Stevenson Branch campsite. (Continuing further past this would really make for a full day, but your efforts would be rewarded with the Panther Branch Overlook.)
A jumble of rocks that loosely resemble a natural staircase marks the descent as the Hogskin Trail starts traversing back toward the general direction of the parking area. Unlike the open Upper loop, the Lower section of Hogskin Trail turns to a single track course with clusters of vegetation and small boulders on either side. Sandy beaches line the bank of the creek in some areas, which again call to mind the summertime possibilities of picnicking and splashing in the cool waters of the creek.
Like the Upper Loop, the Lower Loop travels approximately .7 miles and predominantly tracks the course of the Creek. All in all, the Hogskin Branch Loop covers 1.4 miles—so do it once, twice, or even three times as a trail run if you're feeling frisky—the choice is yours. Just remember the timeless advice that "in every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks."