Let’s be clear: the North Chickamauga Creek Segment (North Chick) of the Cumberland Trail is not an easy run—there are creek crossings, steep sections, and ladders involved. Even so, you don’t have to be superhuman to experience its rewards. This is a place where the mantra of trail running becomes clear—it’s not how fast you go, but how much you enjoy the trip.
What Makes It Great
The trail begins as a Jeep road above North Chickamauga Creek, which is lined with house-sized boulders and swimming holes. The road makes for easy running, but shortly you’ll have to choose between veering uphill on the Upper Hogskin trail or continuing along the creek. The upper trail is the easier option, but if doing both you may want to tackle the harder side first and stay with the creek. With this option, the road will cross the stream and head towards the famous Blue Hole. Instead of crossing, stay right and you’ll traverse a gnarly section of rocks and slopes where walking, not running, is the norm.
Both trails lead to an old mining road that ascends steadily into the gorge. About a mile from the parking lot is the concrete remains an old coal tipple. Shortly after, you’ll reach the base of the bluffs at a wet weather waterfall. Just beyond is the entrance to an old coal mine and a view through the trees of the gorge you’ve just traversed. Here the trail returns to singletrack that rolls and meanders along the base of the cliffs. Two miles from the parking lot, the trail climbs wooden ladders to reach the impressive Boston Branch Overlook.
If you have time, tack on another flat, fast mile along another old mining road, then plunge into the gorge on an extremely technical descent. Cables across the top of a slick cascade, wooden ladders, and an always rocky path lead to the alluring campsite at Stevenson Branch Falls. With the added mile this out-and-back is a challenging 9-10 mile journey.
Eventually, the North Chick Segment will connect to the Tennessee River Gorge Segment and the Three Gorges Segment, giving runners the ability to add on even more mileage.
Who is Going to Love It
Seasoned trail runners enjoy the challenges of the North Chick. Those less accustomed to dancing on steep, rocky slopes should plan to go a little slower than they might be used to—give yourself extra time for this trail. There are flat and rolling areas where your body will want to trot, but long sections that are best walked. But don’t worry—the North Chick is beautiful at any speed.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Chattanooga, take US 27 north to Thrasher Pike, left off the ramp, and then right towards Soddy-Daisy when the road ends at Dayton Pike. In another half mile turn left on Montlake Road (first traffic light after your cross the creek). The parking lot is on the left in about a mile, shortly after the road starts up the mountain. The trail begins at the upstream end of the gravel lot.
Overnight parking is by permit only, so plan to get back to your car by dusk.
Written by Rodger Ling for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of Tennessee. Featured image provided by Rodger Ling.