With the country still in the midst of a record breaking heat wave, the MMT crew is taking another weekend off from hiking. This weekend, instead of sweating on the trails I’ll be heading to the Ocoee River for a little whitewater kayaking fun.
On our way back from Georgia, we detoured over to the Hiwassee River to get a little time in the water. Since this was the first day of the season that TVA was releasing water into the river, Nate had planned to paddle with his friend Dan and Elias, an 11-year-old kayaker in training. The mostly lazy waters of the Hiwassee gave me the chance to try out my (non-existent) kayaking skills in an inflatable kayak that we rented from Hiwassee Outfitters. It was a lot of fun to be out on the water with Nate, even if I got stuck on rocks a few times.
I had high hopes for our trek to the Honey Creek Loop. Thankfully, unlike the disappointment of the Hidden Passage trail, Honey Creek totally came through and was an incredible outing. It was the most tiring 5.6 miles I’ve ever hiked, but also some of the most interesting and most scenic. Last week’s five mile hike took us about 1.5 hours… it took us over 3 hours to make it through the Honey Creek Loop. There’s lots to see (I took lots of pictures)… and you’ll need to take a break every now and again.
Giant rock wall (that’s Nate at the bottom)
Length: 5.6 miles
Dog Friendliness: 1.0 (or 0 if you want to see the overlook)
Scenery (4.0 out of 5.0): Honey Creek provides some of the most diverse scenery that can be packed into 5.6 miles. The trail starts out innocuous enough through standard Tennessee terrain – tall, thin trees, but as the trail descends, Tennessee’s geological roots play a more prominent role in the landscape. Like the Hidden Passage, there are plenty of impressive rock walls and rock houses.
Beyond the shear size of some of the rock walls, there’s also real beauty in the geologic details. (Click on the pics for a more detailed view.)
Geology as art?
But if glimpses of the planet’s geological past aren’t your thing, never fear. Honey Creek has plenty more on display besides cool rocks. We hit up this trail during a beautiful October weekend that Tennessee’s fall colors were in full effect. The excursion to the overlook was definitely well worth the extra effort.
The previous weeks have been very dry, so the waterfalls (there are 4 named falls) were not running, but even without the added bonus of the sights and sounds of falling water, walking up the creek beds provided plenty of scenic spots.
Golden leaves on Honey Creek
1 of 3 ladders to get to the overlook
Difficulty (4.5 out of 5.0): Everything we read about this trail noted the difficulty. And the people who made those advisories were not joking around. A few words of warning… don’t try this trail if it’s been wet and rainy recently. Even with the dry weather lately, the trail was very slippery in places due to the blanket of fall leaves. We didn’t have any major falls, but there were a few slips. Also, be cautious if you have weak ankles. Much of the trail alternates between rock paths, thick tree roots and rocky creek beds, making it very easy to twist an ankle.
There’s a lot of up and down, so your quads, calves and hamstrings will be put to the test. The next morning my legs were definitely sore, but not completely drained of energy. The excursion to the overlook will also leave you winded. There are three sets of steep stairs/ladders, but the view is worth breaking a sweat. Alternatively, if you just want to see the view you can drive right up to the overlook. We didn’t find that out until we’d already gotten halfway through the loop.
Honey Creek Overlook onto the Big South Fork River
Length: 5.6 miles
Dog Friendliness (1.0 out of 5.0): Without a doubt, we’re glad we didn’t bring Ezra on this trail. If your dog is good off the leash, it’d probably be a better suited to this trail (Ezra’s a flight risk off of his leash), but I had to concentrate so much on not tripping or falling that it would’ve been an added stress to try to manage Ezra. And making it up to the overlook would’ve been completely out of the question (reference ladder pic!).
However, there was a group of hikers who had an off-leash dog on the trail that ran ahead of them. That dog also scrambled up into a high, steep rockhouse. We didn’t wait around long enough to see how the hikers were going to manage to get their dog OUT of the rockhouse and back down on firm ground.
Beautiful fall leaves
Convenience (1.0 out of 5.0): The drive to Honey Creek is about two hours, which makes it one of the less convenient trails that we’ve done. It’s also not the easiest place to find. Here are some directions to Honey Creek Loop Trail that were helpful. Also, keep in mind the last part of the drive to the trailhead is all dirt road, so think twice if it’s been raining lately. You don’t want to get stuck in the mud.
Worn out on the Overlook
Bonus Funtimes (3.0 out of 5.0): We made our hike at Honey Creek into a weekend camping trip so we could take in as much of the fall color that we could find. While we didn’t camp at Honey Creek, we saw some people who set up camp near the Big South Fork River. There are also a plethora of horse farms in the area, so horseback riding is also an option. The Big South Fork River has lots of swimming holes and is also a popular spot for kayaking — which is how Nate first heard of the Honey Creek Loop Trail.
This hike and others found in Hiking Tennessee, get your own copy now from amazon.com.
Good markers were nice to have on my first solo outing.
In honor of the World Cup finale, we headed out to Chattanooga to spend the weekend with Nate’s soccer-loving friends. This also gave Nate an easy excuse to hit up the Ocoee for some paddling while I ventured out on my first solo hike on the Tanasi Trail System at the Ocoee Whitewater Center. While the Whitewater Center was packed with people on this Saturday, I was the only hiker on the trail this afternoon.
Scenery (3.5 out of 5.0): I chose the River View Trail mostly because the distance worked nicely with the time I had on my hands while Nate paddled, but also because the idea of a “river view” sounded very pleasant. Unfortunately, while there were times I could hear the water, I never caught a glimpse of the Ocoee. I did, however, get a chance to enjoy the rather undisturbed nature of the Cherokee National Forest.
The River View Trail offers a nice escape from the main trails that are on the Tanasi Trail System (a group of 20+ miles of trails). While the trees were not quite as enormous, the entire area had a feel similar to the Ewok Forest… and since I was hiking solo, I was hoping that if I had to run into some kind of woodland critter, it’d be something more like this guy than one of the brown bears that are occasionally spotted in the area.
The payoff for the hike and subsequent blisters (moleskin is forever my friend) was this surprise view as the River View Trail joined back up with the Chestnut Mountain Trail. This trail will also be remarkable to check out in the fall when the leaves change color.
Difficulty (3.5 out of 5.0): As it seems to be most popular with mountain bikers, there’s a lot of up-and-down and back-and-forth on this trail. The great part about this trail was just about the time fatigue was setting in during a climb, the trail leveled out for a nice respite. The not-so-great part about this trail were the excessive switchbacks during the last mile of the loop. These switchbacks are all the more prominent because you’re cutting back and forth along a clearing for power lines, which makes the back-and-forth much more irritating. However, the view that appears once you knock out that part of the trail makes it worth the effort.
Length: 6.7 miles total (loop is 3.3 miles + about 1.7 to get to the trail from the Whitewater Center)
Made it to the top & didn’t get eaten by bears
Dog Friendliness (3.0 out of 5.0): We left Ezra in Nashville on this outing, but this would’ve been a pretty solid trail for him. The only caution is to be sure to bring water for your dog since the creeks on the trail only amounted to minor trickles. There is, however, the promise of the Ocoee River at the end of the trail to provide the pups plenty of water to drink up and cool down in.
Convenience (1.0 out of 5.0): Plan on at least 2 1/2 hours to get to the Ocoee River area from Nashville.
Bonus Funtimes (4.0 out of 5.0): The Ocoee Whitewater Center and surrounding area offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. From camping to hiking to rafting & kayaking and mountain bike trails galore, this area offers a little bit of everything. The Ocoee Whitewater Center provides plenty of maps and guides for area activities. If you plan to make it a family day, there are also several small swimming spots near the Whitewater Center that the kiddos filled up on this warm July day.
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