A Beautiful Day on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail
With spring nearly here, I thought I’d spend a recent Sunday checking on the progress of the Cumberland Trail.
Officially the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail/Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park, the route, when completed, will run nearly 300 miles from Cumberland Gap on the Kentucky line to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Battlefield in Chattanooga. It’ll wind through 11 East Tennessee counties and a half dozen state parks and wilderness areas. The plan is to make it the Tennessee stretch of the Great Eastern Trail, which is planned to run from Alabama to New York. The Great Eastern will complement the legendary Appalachian Trail which recently celebrated its 75th birthday and is nearing hiker capacity.
Almost 200 miles of the Cumberland have been completed since the first shovel was turned in 1998.
I decided to visit a small stretch in Cumberland County by Crab Orchard. If it’s all like this, hikers are in for a treat. I followed the signs headed south off Interstate 40 at the Crab Orchard exit down a narrow, windy road to a place where the Cumberland joins the short Black Mountain Crest Loop Trail.
As with much of the Cumberland Trail, the route follows a mountain ridge and provides some incredible vistas. Just a short, easy walk took me to one of those natural overlooks called “balds” that in this case allowed an amazing view stretching forever across a magnificent valley. The hike also took me by the remains of an old homestead with a spring house still standing while a majestic, tall chimney was all that remained of a larger structure.
From there it was a short ride to just north of the interstate and Ozone Falls State Natural Area. Waterfalls are abundant on the Cumberland as it runs through places like Frozen Head State Park and Piney Falls State Natural Area where the sound and beauty of falling water are ever present.
As a waterfall-loving veteran, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Ozone Falls. After all, it usually takes a long hike to get to the really great waterfalls and these falls are barely five minutes off I-40. Surprise! Ozone Falls are awesome. For starters, the trail passes palisades and other rock formations to take hikers right to the top of the falls. I’m talking reach-out-and-touch close, but please don’t try that. From there a rugged-but-fun, boulder-strewn path drops to the base 110 feet below. Recent rains provided plenty of water and hikers enjoyed walking behind the falls to feast on the rainbow effects of sun through falling water.
A word of warning. Keep a very tight grip on your children at this place. It is a natural area with no guard rails or fences. So, it wouldn’t take much to make a wrong step.
Much of the Cumberland Trail is completed, especially the north part, so check out the map and pick out a spot for a weekend hike.
Other Hiking Options
Of course, this new and growing trail is just the latest addition to the cobweb of trails that cloak East Tennessee. The Appalachian Trail runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with plenty of places to take a walk in the woods. Among other hikes, some of my favorites are the Point Trail which overlooks the Obed Wild and Scenic River gorge, Charlies Bunion in the Smokies and the Angel Falls Overlook in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
I’m sure you have your favorites. What are they?