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Trail Running at Tanasi Trail

Distance: Various Options Up to 20 Miles

Trail: Single & Double Track

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location: Ocoee, TN

Directions: This trail system starts from the Ocoee Whitewater Center, located on US Highway 64 in Polk County Tennessee about 20 miles west of Cleveland and about five miles east of Ducktown. This section of the Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater canoe and kayak competition and is often used for regional and national whitewater competition.

Trail Description: The US Forest Service in cooperation with several other organizations has built a system of trails for use by hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners in the Cherokee National Forest beginning at the Ocoee Whitewater Center.  The trail system, which starts from the Whitewater Center, is known as the Tanasi Trail System and is currently made up of the Bear Paw Loop, the Chestnut Mountain Loop, and the West Fork Loop trails.  These loops form a system of trails with a total mileage of nearly 20 miles.  There are presently several more miles of trails under construction.  The trail system consists of a combination of single track and double track sections on the ridge above the Ocoee River.  The footing on these trail is generally very good and there are markers at most trail intersections.  However, if you’re new to running these trails you are advised to pick up a free trail map at the Whitewater Center and inquire about trail conditions.  There is no water available on these trails, so fill up your water bottles or hydration pack at the Center.  The gift shop in the Center has a cooler with soft drinks and non-carbonated beverages and there are some drink vending machines outside the Center.

A good run to use as an introduction to the trail system is the course used for the Ocoee River Autumn Trail Run conducted by the Chattanooga Track Club and sponsored by Rock/Creek Outfitters on the first Saturday of November. The race course is approximately 6.6 miles in length and the first 6/10ths are run through the parking and picnic areas to allow the competitors to spread-out before hitting the single track trail.  Although this first section is not necessary for a run on these trails, it does provide a warm-up for your lungs and legs before you start the long climb away from the river.  To include this warm-up, from the Whitewater Center parking area head downstream to the vehicle bridge across the river.  Turn left crossing the bridge and left again, headed upstream through the picnic area and continue upstream on the paved path to the pedestrian bridge.  After passing the pedestrian bridge continue upstream on the trail and begin the climb up Chestnut Mountain.

The climb up Chestnut mountain is about half a mile of single track so watch for mountain bikers coming down.  At a point near the top, the trail splits with the Bear Paw Loop trail going right and the race course continues to the left.  You’ve completed the longest up-hill section, but there is still more uphill sections to the turnaround.  The trail soon becomes a double track fire road, FS1330, used only by the Forest Service for fire suppression and trail maintenance.  Stay on the road till it reaches the turnaround at the gated junction with the main Forest Service Road FS221.  Now it’s back the same way to the Whitewater Center.  There are several trail junctions on the course, but all these trails eventually connect back to FS1330.  So even if you do get turned around, the trail will bring you back to the fire road.

Jerry McClanahan