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John Muir Trail, Cherokee National Forest, TN

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

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

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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