JOHN MUIR TRAIL (CNF TRAIL 152)
This trail, built by the Youth Conservation Corps, runs 6 miles along the north bank of Hiwassee River to the Apalachia Power Plant. Wild flowers are abundant in the spring. The trail climbs bluffs and continues along the river gorge, providing some nice river views, ending at Tennessee 68. This trail can be muddy in places after heavy rainfall .
Length: 20 miles; 6 miles for river section to power plant.
Degree of difficulty: Difficult; easy for river section.
Elevations: Start 600 feet; end 1,100 feet; high point 1,200 feet.
Map: USGS quads 133NW, McFarland; 133NE, Farner.
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Finding the trailhead: From the north take U.S. Highway 411 south through Etowah, then cross the Hiwassee River and continue 0.5 mile to make a left onto Tennessee 30. Take TN 30 for 5.7 miles and turn left onto Tennessee 315, crossing the Hiwassee River on the Reliance Bridge. Immediately after the bridge, take the first right onto Forest Road 108, which begins as a paved road and eventually becomes gravel. Follow FR 108 for 0.5 mile to the sign on the left for Cherokee National Forest Parking Loti Childers Creek and park here. The trailhead, marked with a white reflective silhouette of a hiker, is next to a Forest Service bulletin board. To reach other trailheads along the same trail, continue on FR 108 for 0.7 mile to Adam’s Store, a small gas station/s tore that also rents river rafts, and turn right at the store, continuing on FR 108. When the road forks, bear right. This gravel section of FR 108 leads to the Big Bend parking area 13 miles from the start ), the Towee Creek Boating Site, and finally to the Apalachia powerhouse 16 miles from the start).
The hike: The John Muir National Recreation Trail was created in 1972 through the efforts of the Youth Conservation Corps and the Senior Community Service Employment Program, but has never been completed. It was intended to run through the Cumberland Region from Kentucky to Georgia, following the original route taken by John Muir on his trek from Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida in 1867. IThe walk is described in Muir’s book, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.) Another 48.6-mile portion begins at Pickett State Park and passes through a portion of the Big South Fork Natural Area. The John Muir Trail is also designated as a state scenic trail. The trail begins at a small footbridge across Childers Creek, then passes through a meadow toward the riverbank. After reaching the Hiwassee River, it follows the riverbank, with the bluff on your left. The first 3 miles of the trail are not the most challenging or pretty, but are an excellent area for viewing wildflowers and for bird watching in season. Also, they are designed to be accessible for older hikers. When I visited in April, the trail was recommended to me by a local with the comment, “there may be flowers, now,” followed by a concerned afterthought, “but now there might be snakes, too.” I didn’t find any snakes, but I did find a wonderful assortment of wildflowers. I stopped counting after seeing 25 varieties in the first 0.5 mile. Some of the more common ones found here are white dogwood, fire pink, columbine, stargrass, trillium squaw root, toothwort, bloodroot, white and yellow lilies, wild sorrel, dog hobble, fairy wand, little brown jug, wild ginger, rattlesnake plantain, and bishop’s cap. John Muir himself described his walk along the Hiwassee as “vinedraped and flowery as Eden.” The trail heads north away from the river at 1.5 miles, passing through large stands of hemlocks with rhododendron. It then passes through a marshy area and joins an old logging trail. At 3 miles it reaches the Big Bend parking area, located on FR 108, where you could park a car shuttle, if you were interested in no more than a relaxed 3-mile stroll along the river. The trail follows the river for the next 3 miles, also following the forest road to the Apalachia lit is actually spelled this way) Powerhouse, and it can get muddy in this section. At the powerhouse, 6 miles from the start, the trail passes below a suspension bridge, continuing along the north side of the river, which is the side opposite the power plant. Do not cross the bridge. The trail passes to the left of a large 50-foot-high rock outcropping at 6.7 miles. This area is also muddy under some conditions. After this, the trail climbs away from the main river as it skirts Big Rock Island. The next stretch, beginning at 7.2 miles, is challenging, with a series of nine switchbacks. The trail returns to the river, but then heads back into a forest of poplar, dogwood, hemlock, ash, ironwood, sycamore, buckeye, redbud, and cucumber magnolias. Another switchback to the left occurs at 8.8 miles, at Marker 152. Here a spur trail continues straight ahead to the river at a section called the “narrows,” where you can see some interesting rock formations caused by river erosion action. From Marker 152 the trail begins another series of switchbacks, as it climbs the side of the mountain, and provides some glimpses of the river several hundred feet below. The trail reaches the top of the bluffs at 11.2 miles and provides a spectacular view of the river. It then turns back down the bluffs with yet another series of switchbacks for the next 0.5 mile and reaches the bottom again at 11. 7 miles. It merges with another trail that follows Coker Creek to the Hiwassee River. Continuing on the John Muir Trail, you will almost immediately meet the Duckett Ridge Road, which you will follow down to Coker Creek and then to the left up the same creek, passing through a camping area. Beyond the camp site the Coker Creek Trail continues straight ahead, and John Muir Trail branches off to the right, crossing a bridge at Coker Creek. The trail continues into the forest, where you will again enjoy a variety of flowers in season, including mountain laurel, rhododendron, and flame azalea. At about 0.5 mile from the bridge, the trail meets the junction with the Unicoi Mountain Trail (Trail 83). which goes to the left up the ridge. An old road also continues along the gap behind the trail sign. The trail continues around to the right along an old roadbed, as shown by the John Muir trail marker, crossing a small streambed, and again climbs the side of the mountain in more switchbacks. The trail begins to descend another series of switchbacks at 13.6 miles, and at 14.5 miles it crosses a log footbridge. The trail reaches a waterfall at 15.4 miles and continues through the forest, following an old roadbed again. The trail in this section can be muddy and overgrown. The trail meets Tennessee 68 at 17.7 miles, at a point just south of mile marker 3. It crosses TN 68 and continues up the ridge through Millers Cove for another 1.15 miles to Forest Road 311 , crossing at 18.8 miles. It then crosses FR 311 and winds through rhododendron bottoms and climbs up pine-covered ridges to finally descend through a series of switchbacks to Brushy Creek, at County 37. Camping is permitted along the trail except the portion between Childer’s Creek parking area and the Apalachia powerhouse. There are several rock shelters and springs along the trail that lend themselves to camping. The Park Service warns that generally after rainy weather, hiking is less desirable. The section between the Towee boat launch and the powerhouse parking area becomes wet and swampy from December to mid-March, as well as the first mile of the section from the powerhouse upstream. During heavy rains, water released by the dam will rise above the river banks and flood the trail, forcing hikers to go around or turn back. Warm weather returns conditions to normal. – Kelly Roark – Hiking Tennessee