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Backpacker Magazine – June 2010

John Muir Trail, Cherokee National Forest, TN

Contemplate the south's wild side on the trail that launched America's greatest wilderness champion.

by: Charlie Wood

Duckett Ridge on the John Muir Trail. (William Adam Collins)
Duckett Ridge on the John Muir Trail. (William Adam Collins)
Waterfalls and pools are perfect for cooling off on this trail.
Waterfalls and pools are perfect for cooling off on this trail.
In May and June, ripe mulberries abound. (William Adam Collins)
In May and June, ripe mulberries abound. (William Adam Collins)

trip iconTAKE IT WITH YOU
Download a printable version of this entire trip right here.



DO IT
Unlike the well-worn California route of the same name, this JMT offers 19 miles of surefire solitude, and can be done in a weekend. Muir hiked this route in 1867 on his 1,000-mile walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico. After shuttling a car to the terminus, park the other car on Schuler Road, then walk 200 yards to the trailhead (1). Follow white blazes west along a faint path enveloped in kudzu and sparse maple, oak, and lodgepole pine. You’ll ascend 400 feet on 12 switchbacks in the first .5 mile and top out at an overlook of the Hiwassee River, nearly 600 feet below. From here, turn right/north (2) to descend to an old fire road that passes through a dense undergrowth of ferns. Ford a trickling creek (3) at mile two before crossing Old TN 68. Head south to cruise streamside through Miller Cove (4). Reach TN 68 (5) .7 mile beyond, and turn right for a .4-mile road walk to the banks of the Hiwassee. Though the ever-present roar of the river beckons, there’s no easy access until mile 5.8, where a boulder hop leads to a secluded natural water park (6), with smooth, sun-baked potholes and swimming holes. Leave by 4 p.m. to reach camp before dusk. Head northeast for three miles to the Benton Mackaye Trail (7). Cross a narrow wooden bridge over Coker Creek (8), and go 1.2 miles for solitary camping in the sanctuary of stout conifers at Loss Creek (9). Next morning, climb 200 feet to the Narrows (10), where the Hiwassee squeezes the trail to a high perch. Follow switchbacks 1.3 miles down to river level, and past a dam (11) at mile 12.5. On summer weekends, fishermen and rafters often dot the shoreline where the river widens (12). From here, it’s less than four gentle riverside miles to your car, but don’t miss one last chance (13) to lounge on a bed of pine needles.

john muir trail




TRIP PLANNER

Shuttle car drop From Etowah, take TN 30 12.6 miles east to TN 315. Turn north and go .3 mile to a right on Childers Creek Rd. It’s .6 mile to
obvious parking.
To trailhead Head north on TN 315 for 6.6 miles, turn right on Ivy Trail for 3.4 miles, and right on Towee Falls Rd. (becomes Ironsburg Rd.) for 4.9 miles. Go right onto TN 68 for 7.1 miles, left onto Shuler Creek Rd. for 1.8 miles, and park.
Gear up Get last-minute supplies at Webb Brothers General Store, 3709 Hwy 30, Reliance, TN; (423) 338-2373; closed Thanksgiving to March.




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My old buddy and I wend back to the Coker Creek area Tuesday for our weekly hike and did a loop using Unicoi Mt. Tr.(#83) , the John Muir Tr. and two vehicles. We started on Hwy 68 and went down Tr. 83 to Tr. 152, and then followed it upstream to come back out on Hwy 68. The Unicoi Mt. trail is as pretty as any in the GSMNP. It goes thru some mixed and pure hardwood forest, clear of undergrowth. The trail itself is in great shape, having recently been cleared of brush. Trail 152 upstream from 83 stays well above the river for a couple of miles, then descends to the river and stays close up to Hwy. 68. Much of this section involves high stepping over and around rocks, but is not hard to follow.

JGH
Jan 20, 2012

A friend and I hiked the JM trail (#152) from the point where Coker Creek flows into the Hiwassee down to the TVA powerhouse and back. The trail was well marked and resonable clear - there were a few recent blowdowns; nothing major. The sign says 4 miles each way. We are old and slow, but made it in 2 1/2 hours each way. We also recently hiked Coker Creek trail(#183) starting at the falls parking area down to the intersection with the JM trail. This trail was also in very good condition and well marked. The gravel roads to both the upper and lower ends of trail #183 were in good shape, but are not well marked. Use a CNF map and keep close watch on just where you are.
1-20-2012

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Richard Harris
May 17, 2011

I am the TN/NC maintenance director for the Benton MacKaye Trail. The JMT is part of the BMT from Coker Creek to the Childer's Creek Trailhead, the west section of the trail. Expect to find this section in good shape most all times. The section from Coker Creek to TN68 (not part of the BMT) was rebuilt last year and should be in good shape. However, the section from TN68 to the Shuler Road Trailhead has not been maintained for years because a fire wiped out this section and it is now overgrown with briars. If we ever reopen this section, it will probably involve a reroute outside of the burned over area. I would suggest only hiking from TN68 to Childer's Creek or visa vesa. Also as noted above, the section near the powerhouse has been rerouted over the mountain rather than along the edge of the river due to dangerous footing and frequent flooding of the old trailbed as well as the danger of walking on or close to the Powerhouse Road. The old trail is no longer maintained. Take the reroute from Wildcat Creek to Towee Creek. It is more difficult due to the elevation gain, but much safer and easier to travel due to good maintenance. Hope this helps. The trail is a truly beautiful trail with great views of the river and opportunities to swim in the river, but be aware of the current situation as noted above. There should be no problem with hiking from Childer's Creek ot TN 68 or the opposite direction, but don't bother going east of TN68 at the present time.

BBST
Oct 26, 2010

I agree with Joe C. The rip and go is not even close to the real trail. I think he has the pickup and the drop off backwards for starters. The trail is very overgrown, washed out by floods and not too scenic for the last (or in my case the first) 6 miles. There are some pretty severe switchbacks that are not mentioned nor on the maps (as mentioned by Joe C). The author of this has obviously not been on this trail.
I got injured on the way out (busted shoulder on a Slippery rock getting some water). We thought it was 1 or 2 miles out "cruise streamside". Turned out to be a 5 mile trek over a long uphill.
The trail is great, some fantastic views, just get some better info before heading out.

John C.
Aug 17, 2010

Joe (or anyone really),

Do you by any chance know the number of who to contact about accurate trail maps and what not? Does the information you posted, Snowbird, show what Joe is talking about? Thanks a ton!

John C.

Snowbird
Jul 30, 2010

This is not an easy trail to find information about. If you do good research, you can find what you need. Hopefully, what I've listed below will help. I did Google searches and looked closely on Yahoo maps as well as a Tennessee road map to find the information.

Go to the National Forest Service website, Search for Cherokee NF. Go to the Cherokee NF website homepage. Then select Recreation and Trails from the Menu on the right.

The John Muir Trail is in the Southern District of the Cherokee National Forest; the area(s) are called: the Ocoee Recreation Area/ Hiwassee Scenic River State Park - be SURE to check the Tennessee State Parks website, and some of the best info was on the related website for Coker Creek Scenic Area.

The NF and the State Park are right next to one another and the John Muir Trail in TN intersects both. GOOD LUCK!

Joe C - BOSA Packers of North GA
Jul 28, 2010

We went and hiked this "route" this past weekend. First off, let me say that this area is as beautiful as has been described and the swims in the river and solitude were as enjoyable as described. With that said, I do not believe for one minute that author Charlie Wood has recently hiked this route, as the fist 2.5 miles have gone unmaintained and unlabled. The trailhead is no longer where described. We did find the one in the article (after looking for 3+hours), but it was so overgrown and obviously unmaintained that we were forced to find another entry point at road 311. Next, thing is that after the Coker Creek bridge & Narrows; @ 3 miles before the Apalachia Power station, the trail is re-routed over the Mculley Mtn. ridge to cut straight to the Towee Creek river landing, bypassing te Powerhouse; this adds about 2.5 miles of switchbacks and climbing that were not expected b/c the Nat'l Geographic maps doesn't relect the trail change either (which leads me to believe that Mr. Wood has not taken this hike w/in the last few years). Water is plentiful and there are some real nice campsites around where the JMT meets the BMT; just be careful, the 100 degree heat index had us sucking wind and taking on more than a gallon of water a day. Overall a great experience on our first "Rip & Go", but we did have to do quite a bit more than just Rip & Go b/c the info in the article & maps wasn't near accurate.

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