LITTLE SODDY TRAILHEAD TO HEISS MOUNTAIN ROAD
Three Gorges Segment
Note – Two new bridges were finished in this section during 2015
Distance: 12.1 miles one-way
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous (due to length, numerous elevation changes, and rock steps)
Elevation Change: Estimated uphill: 1200 feet; net elevation change: 100 feet
Campsites: No designated campsites, but LNT camping along Board Camp Creek on the northern end; water is readily available with two major creek crossings and from Board Camp Creek.
Cautions: Old road crossings can make it easy to get off trail in a couple places. In autumn, leaves may require one to pick one’s way over the numerous rock steps near the southern end.
Topographic Maps: Soddy Quadrangle
Southern Terminus: Hotwater Road/Little Soddy Trailhead: N35 16.897 W85 11.610; HotwaterRoad Crossing: N35 17.311 W85 10.888
Northern Terminus: Heiss Mountain Road Trailhead: N35 20.754 W85 10.501
The Soddy Creek Gorge Section of the Cumberland Trail is a dramatic stretch that passes through the Little Soddy Historic Mining Area and crosses three watersheds. The trail passes abandoned mines, offers views of deep valleys and high bluffs, and shows off the impressive work of the volunteers who built this section, including numerous rock steps and wood steps that climb a rock face along Board Camp Creek.
As of November 2015 the temporary bridges on Deep Creek and Big Soddy Creek have been replaced. The 100 foot long suspension bridge over Big Soddy Creek is an impressive feature of this hike. In the area around Deep Creek, you may notice evidence of rock mining that had the potential for destroying the area but which was stopped through efforts of the CTC.
The southern terminus of this section is on Hotwater Road. The CT crosses Hotwater Road, but there’s very little parking there; so this hike begins at the Hotwater Road/Little Soddy Trailhead. Take US 27 north to TN 319, Hixson Pike Exit, and take a left to the intersection with Dayton Pike. Turn right and go 0.7 mile to Durham Street and turn left. In 0.6 mile, you’ll come to Back Valley Road. Turn right for one block to the intersection with Hotwater Road. Turn left on Hotwater Road. The parking area is 2 miles up Hotwater Road on the left at the intersection with Sluder Lane. The trailhead is approximately 200 feet back down Hotwater Road on the right side.
The northern end of this section is on Heiss Mountain Road. From US 27 north of Soddy-Daisy, take TN 111 and ascend the Cumberland Plateau and proceed to the Jones Gap Road exit. Turn north on Jones Gap Road and immediately turn right onto Heiss Mountain Road, a paved dead-end road that parallels TN 111; you’ll see a small store at the turn. Parking is along the road about 0.5 from the store. The sign for the Cumberland Trail heading north is near the end of the guardrail, which is the start of the Possum Creek Gorge Section.
Mile 0.0 (12.1) From the Little Soddy Trailhead, walk 200 feet back down Hotwater Road from parking to pick up the blue-blazed connector trail that descends quickly to cross Little Soddy Creek. Signs abound through the Little Soddy Historic Mining Area (BROCHURE) identifying significant sites associated with the coal mining industry that occurred here (Mining History Synopsis).
Mile 0.2 (11.9) Take the yellow-blazed path to the left, which is part of the historic loop. (Straight at the junction will lead another 0.2 mile to connect with the CT where you would bear right to hike the southern part of the Soddy Creek Gorge Section.) Recross Little Soddy Creek and travel along the north side of the creek.
Mile 0.4 (11.7) Junction with the CT coming from the south. Bear left to head north on the CT.
Mile 1.0 (11.1) The trail climbs steeply out of the valley toward Hotwater Road. You may still see old tires that have been dumped from the road if they have not been cleaned up. Fences along the road attempt to keep folks from doing this, but depending their persistence and on when the most recent cleanup occurred, you may see a number of tires along the trail.
The road crossing occurs in a section with the high fence where there is a wooden step to aid hikers in crossing the guardrail.
After crossing the road, the trail starts climbing the ridgeline.
Mile 1.5 (10.6) Depending on the time of year, you’ll have a view of the town of Soddy in the valley below as the trail turns north to go around Posey Point.
Mile 1.9 (10.2) The trail rounds Posey Point. TN 111 can be seen far to the north at several points as one walks east along the ridge. You’ll pass through an old pine plantation and begin a gradual descent to pass through a rhododendron thicket.
Mile 3.4 (8.7) Pass an old coal mine. Do not attempt to enter.
The trail then becomes a steep, rocky descent toward Deep Creek, a tributary of Big Soddy Creek.
Mile 3.7 (8.4) A climbers’ trail approaches from the left. In 2007, rock climbers became aware of the rock faces on the northern side of Deep Creek up to the confluence of Deep Creek with Big Soddy Creek. This rapidly became a popular climbing area. With concurrence of the state park staff, the Southern Climbing Coalition established parking area off Old Hotwater Road (gated) and built a trail to junction with the CT at this point. http://www.mountainproject.com/v/deep-creek/107162719
Mile 4.0 (8.1) Cross boulder-filled Deep Creek on a new bridge opened in 2015. After crossing Deep Creek, ascend 200 feet as you walk towards the confluence of Deep Creek and Big Soddy Creek. You may notice other trails leading to the bluffs above. High above stand the high rock faces that lure climbers. You can also peer into the valleys below.
Mile 4.3 (7.8) Past the confluence of Deep Creek with Big Soddy Creek, descend to Big Soddy Creek. The bridge was completed in November 2015. The 100′ suspension bridge is a marvel of back country engineering. The story behind it can be found here. Looking down from the bridge, hikers can appreciate that they no longer have to scramble over the rocks below. It also keeps the trail passable even after a heavy rain. After Big Soddy Creek, you’ll approach the valley of Board Camp Creek.
Mile 5.3 (6.8) Cross an old road as you move up a tributary of Board Camp Creek.
Mile 6.2 (5.9) Reach an unnamed tributary of Board Camp Creek. A back country bridge here had fallen into disrepair and has since been dismantled. The trail was rerouted upstream a short distance to where the stream can now be rock hopped.
Mile 6.9 (5.2) The next major landmark is wooden steps and some low-hanging bluffs approaching them. In building the trail through this section, Cumberland Trail volunteers built a series of steps along a rock face allowing one to climb out of this part of the Board Camp Creek Gorge. You are now headed up Board Camp Creek Valley.
Mile 7.3 (4.8) Cross two wooden bridges and descend gradually to the banks of Board Camp Creek. The trail roughly follows Board Camp Creek from this point. The terrain is fairly flat until you begin an ascent toward TN 111.
Mile 10.0 (2.1) Gradually ascend to what might be called the “mother” of all stiles, a tall stairway crosses a fence for the TN 111 right of way.
The trail turns right and climbs quickly out of the Board Camp Creek Valley to just behind the tree line on the TN 111 right of way. At this point you are at roughly the same elevation you were at the trail head on Hotwater Road. Surprisingly, you can walk this trail while motorists are unaware of your presence until you exit the tree line near the exit ramp for Jones Gap Road.
Mile 11.6 (0.5) Cross over TN 111 on the Jones Gap Road overpass and take the immediate right onto Heiss Mountain Road.
Mile 12.1 (0.0) Heiss Mountain Road Trail Head.
—Jim Clark, CTC volunteer