Reminder: Trail descriptions are South to North. Mileage in parentheses is for North to South hiking.
Grassy Cove Segment
Black Mountain Section
Distance: 3.6-mile one way. Trail is described south to north.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult south to north. Easy north to south.
Elevation Change: 900 feet
Cautions: Cumulative ascent 1300 feet south to north.
Camping:Black Mountain Campsite
Topographic Map: Grassy Cover Quadrangle
Trailheads: Brady Mountain at RT 68 (El. 1,813′ N35 52.188 W84 55.753)
Black Mountain (N35 52.079 W84 53.266, trailhead kiosk) (El. 2,711′ N35 52.084 W84 53.253, trailhead parking)
Connection to Brady Mountain Segment: at Brady Mountain Trailhead
Official CT State Scenic Trail map HERE.
The Black Mountain Section includes a climb through beautiful forest land up the southwest flank of Black Mountain. It passes by Windlass Cave and terminates at the top of the mountain with impressive “house-sized” rock formations. There is also a scenic one mile loop at the top of Black Mountain that shares a portion of the Cumberland Trail. It provides passages through additional rock formations. The loop also provides several overlooks south and east over Grassy Cove and one partially obscured overlook north over Bat Town Cove. As of 2018 a lower loop trail has been added under the overlook bluffs. Details below.
To reach the Brady Mountain Trailhead, take TN Highway 68 for 4.6 miles from the TN Highway 68/US Highway 127 junction just east out of Crossville, Tennessee. The trailhead is a large paved pull off on the right at the top of the rise above Grassy Cove. Brady Mountain Trailhead serves as the southern terminus for the Black Mountain Section and the northern terminus for the Brady Mountain Section.
To reach the Black Mountain Trailhead, travel 4.2 miles on TN 68 from the TN 68/ US127 intersection east of Crossville, Tennessee, to a left on Cox Valley Road. Take Cox Valley Road about 3.5 miles to a right on Haley Cove Road. There is a playground on your immediate left. Take Haley Cove Road 1 mile to a right on Bat Town Road and travel 0.9 miles up to a three-way intersection. Take the immediate left at the Cumberland Trail State Park sign and proceed 3 miles up the narrow and steep paved Black Mountain Road to a the paved trail head parking area on the right. Parking is ample and the ADA connector trail begins on the west side of the parking area. Follow the paved connector trail 500 feet to its connection with the Cumberland Trail. Look for the kiosk on the right.
The Black Mountain Trailhead can also be reached from I-40 at exit 329 and following Bat Town Road south.
Be aware that this segment of the CT is in Central Time.
LOOP TRAIL ADDITION
Don Deakins reports that the CTSST in 2018 has officially recognized a casual trail used for years by visitors. Now designated the “Below the Bluffs Trail”. The 2,375′ lower loop connects from the kiosk to the main trail less than 500′ south of Gateway Stairs. Route shown in red on the map below.
Mile 0.0 (3.6) Brady Mountain Trailhead (N35 52.188 W84 55.753, elevation 1800 feet) on the south side of TN 68. Walk approximately 200 feet west uphill along TN 68 from the Brady Mountain Trailhead kiosk. Cross the highway to locate the southern terminus of the Black Mountain Trail. There is a metal gate with a NO HUNTING sign where the trail starts to the right.
Mile 0.3 (3.3) The trail parallels TN 68 for the first 0.3 miles meandering through rocks and trees. At 0.3 miles the trail turns left away from the highway and starts ascending. At 0.4 miles reach a double arrow Cumberland Trail sign post. The trail is obvious at this point, but the sign provides confirmation that this is the Cumberland Trail.
Mile 0.8 (2.8) Cross a crest on the trail and then descend slightly. Reach a double blaze at 1.0 miles, turn right and start ascending again. Reach another crest at 1.2 miles and another double blaze at 1.4 miles. Turn right here and start a short descent.
Mile 1.5 (2.1) Arrive at a signed junction labeled “CAVE” at the spur trail to Windlass Cave (N35 52.059 W84 54.590, elevation 1900 feet). Take the short 500 foot trail to view the cave. Note sign indicating the cave is closed, so please do not enter. Note the spelling is according to USGS topographic maps. Windlass, as in a mechanical device for handling a load with ropes.
Return to the main trail and continue at a moderate grade for a short distance. Look for an official Cumberland Trail blaze above the normal white blaze and start the ascent to the summit.
Mile 2.0 (1.6) Come to a moss covered boulder field and begin a series of steep switchbacks up the west flank of Black Mountain.
Continue a little farther and reach Black Mountain Campsite. The sign states “CAMPSITE TENTS ONLY”. Go another 0.2 miles and reach a set of massive boulders with nearly perfect vertical sides.
The trail follows a maze of passages between the boulders and up steps in a narrow crack known as the Gateway.
Mile 3.3 (0.3) Climb to the top of the bluff through Gateway Rock. In winter months, watch for ice here.
Mile 3.6 (0.3) At the top of the Gateway steps, bear right and continue .3 miles to the Black Mountain Trailhead kiosk (N35 52.079 W84 53.266, elevation 2700 feet). The trail passes the ruins of a stone home that once housed a botanist and his family while he did research in the area.
At 3.6 miles this marks the end of the Cumberland Trail portion of this hike. The trail straight ahead is part of the Black Mountain Loop Trail.
Along the way note the “Overlook” sign for the grand view into Grassy Cove and across to the Smokey Mountains. Grassy Cove is the largest sink hole in North America. The large tower to the left (right) is an FAA facility.
The Cumberland Trail proper continues straight ahead and is the southeastern side of the Black Mountain Loop Trail. The continuation north east from Black Mountain toward Ozone Falls in under construction and slated to open late 2017.
Bear left on a short section of paved trail from the kiosk for 500 feet to reach the Black Mountain Trailhead parking area.
The Black Mountain Loop is a worthy extension to the hike. It encircles the parking area and the upper portion of the Cumberland Trail. There are numerous spur trails through rock formations and to several overlooks. A spur trail to the south between Gateway Rock and the trailhead kiosk takes hikers to a spectacular overlook of Grassy Cove. On a good day visitors can see Mount Le Conte in the Smoky Mountains – about 72 miles distant.
There is also a stone “spring house” near the trailhead kiosk that was used in the early days to keep food from spoiling and as a source of water.
(Note: The main CT extends off the east end of the loop for 1.8 miles. It is blazed for about one mile. 1.9 miles was added during BreakAway 2018. Much of the added trail is in the middle of the corridor leading to Ozone Falls and is not accessible. Expected completion is 2020. Ed.)
Description and photos courtesy of Gary Stephens.