Officially known as the "North Chickamauga Creek Gorge State Natural Area", this 7,000-plus acre playground is one of the most underutilized water features in the tri-state area. The gorge itself stretches back almost ten miles into the heart of Walden's Ridge, to the Cumberland Plateau. My guess, however, is that 95% of the outdoor enthusiasts who visit "North Chick", as it is more widely known, revel in the splendor of the stream within a few minute’s walk of the parking areas.
The park is currently closed through the end of June (2014) to allow Tennessee State Parks and Conservation staff, and volunteers, to perform a total revamping of how people gain access to the creek.
"Five new trails (are being) developed as designated access points to the banks of Chickamauga Creek. All of the rogue trails will be closed...," according to TheChattanoogan.com, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Often referred to as the "Pocket Wilderness," from the period when then paper-producing giant Bowater owned large sections--or pockets--of land up and down the length of the gorge, the Bowater properties were transferred to the state of Tennessee in 2006, and were added to the Natural Area.
Why am I writing about this small park, when there are so many other larger, far more popular outdoor adventure destinations in this area? Versatility, that's why!
It's close by, which is never a bad thing.
It's uniquely beautiful in topography, geology, biology, and almost every other "ology" relevant to Southern Appalachia.
You can kayak here, as long as you're adept enough to carry your own boat in and out.
You can hike here, along 7.23 miles of the Cumberland Trail, which are rated "Moderate to Difficult".
You can picnic here, on existing picnic tables, or on any number of water-side rocks.
You can stop there for outdoor photography sites as sensational as anywhere within the Southeast, in my opinion.
You can bring your native plant guide and search for the ten "threatened" listed plants that grow here.
You can bring your bird watching guides and bird watch here, with reports of bald eagles being spotted in the area in the past.
You can camp here, at the Stevenson Branch Campsite, but you must reserve the campsite by calling (423) 566-2229, or by registering online at: http://www.cumberlandtrail.org/north_chickamauga.html#camp_registration.
A few, typical warnings apply, the same as at almost any spot in this area, especially along a fast-flowing stream:
- Keep a close eye out for poison ivy, which is prolific in the area.
- Keep an eye out for the two venomous snakes native to this area: rattlesnakes and copperheads.
- Always plan to check for ticks when you return home after getting outdoors here.
- Be wary of rock-hopping along the stream, as a great majority of the rocks are either slippery, or not secure, or both.
- Be aware that heavy rains far upstream can rage downstream as a flash flood without any warning.
Assuming the trail repair projects are completed on schedule, why not plan to stop by and visit this pristine setting again, or for the first time, in July. Here are some easy directions from Chattanooga:
North Chickamauga Creek Gorge is located 15 miles north of Chattanooga. To get to the gorge, take Highway 27, exit at Thrasher Pike and turn left. Go about a mile to Dayton Pike, and then turn right and proceed a mile to Montlake Road. Take a left and proceed 1.5 miles to the park entrance on the left. (Look for the big, brown sign).
Check out the two listings for North Chickamauga, here on RootsRated:
And stop by your local Rock/Creek store and get geared up for an exciting outdoor adventure here at the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge State Natural Area.