Three Gorges Segment - Possum Creek Section
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This section lies between the Soddy Creek Gorge Section and the Rock Creek Gorge Section of the Cumberland Trail. (These three sections constitute the Three Gorges Segment and include 30.7 continuous miles of the Main Trail and 4.9 miles of loop, spur, and access trails.) Beginning at its southern terminus off Heiss Mountain Road, the trail descends into the gorge of Big Possum Creek, climbs out of the gorge to the top of Hughes Ridge, descends into the gorge of Little Possum Creek, then climbs again to the top of the plateau at Retro-Hughes Road between Little Possum and Rock Creek gorges. Highlights include views from overlooks, deep river gorges, interesting rock formations, and impressive waterfalls and rapids. The Main Trail is 9.5 miles long with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain and 1,000 feet of elevation loss, and is rated moderately strenuous.
Road Approaches and Parking:
The southern end of this section is accessible from TN-111. From US-27 north of Soddy Daisy, ascend the Cumberland Plateau on TN-111 and proceed a total of 5 miles to the Jones Gap Road exit. (Jones Gap Road overpasses TN-111.) Immediately turn right onto (paved) Heiss Mountain Road, a dead-end road that parallels TN-111. Proceed approximately 0.5 mile from the service station at Jones Gap Road to the end of a guard rail on the left and the nearby trailhead. Parking is available along the side of the road, which sees very little traffic. See photo below.
The northern end of this section is accessible from US-27. From Dayton take US-27 13 miles south to Bakewell. At the traffic light, turn right onto Retro-Hughes Road. After a mile, the road veers right and ascends the Cumberland Plateau via a series of sharp curves. Slow, careful driving is recommended. Proceed a total of 7 miles from US-27 to the trailhead on the left, across from Retro Hughes Road trailhead on right about 100 feet past graveled logging road. Entrance to parking area is about 200 feet past logging road on right. See photo below.
Campsites; Water Availability:
This section has two primitive campsites, both near Little Possum Creek--at mile 3.2 (6.3) and at mile 7.1 (2.4). Water is available from Big Possum Creek above its confluence with Blanchard Creek and from Little Possum Creek above its confluence with Big Possum Creek. Please treat all water!
Mile 0.0 (9.5) Heiss Mountain Road
From the trailhead, enter forest, then descend past huge boulders to bridge across W Branch Blanchard Creek, just 0.1 mile from the trailhead. The waterfall upstream of the bridge is very photogenic, especially after significant rainfall. Descend gradually, cross logging road, then cross small bridge over tributary. Follow creek on sidehill past rockhouses on left and, at 0.7 mile, the confluence of E and W branches of Blanchard Creek on right. (The E Branch is acidic from former strip mining; water below the confluence has turned rocks a golden brown color. A spectacular waterfall reminiscent of Utahs canyon country lies downstream, very difficult to reach.) Veer left and ascend Bare Point.
Mile 0.9 (8.6) Bare Point
From Point, proceed SE through mixed forest. Descend through rhododendron thickets (beautiful in spring), through rugged old growth hemlock forest, pass interesting high rock face on right, and descend to 60-foot bridge over Big Possum Creek.
Mile 1.4 (8.1) Big Possum Creek
Cross Big Possum and ascend steeply to old narrow-gage railroad grade.
Mile 1.5 (8.0) Big Possum Railroad Grade
To the left, railroad grade continues upstream a short distance to the impressive site of the former railroad bridge over Big Possum Creek. The Main Trail follows railroad grade to the right (downstream) for less than 0.1 mile. From the grade, turn sharply left and ascend to base of rock escarpment. Proceed downstream, parallel to the escarpment. At a faint intersection, the Main Trail ascends Hughes Ridge. To right, an old unmaintained route called Lains Lane passes spectacular rock face containing a large shallow room called The Amphitheater. Beyond this formation the lane descends and intersects the railroad grade. (Lains Lane is named after its re-discoverer, the late Mike Lain of Oak Ridge, a former Smoky Mountains Hiking Club president and trail maintainer.)
Mile 2.0 (7.5) Intersection with Lains Lane
From faint intersection, ascend via two switchbacks to top of Hughes Ridge, then meander through pine forest to east end of Hughes Ridge near Perkins Point. Descend gradually via curving turns to a short side trail on left. Follow side trail to impressive overlook of Tennessee River valley with Appalachian Mountains beyond.
Mile 2.7 (6.8) Overlook of Tennessee River Valley
Descend via wooden staircase next to rock face, then via switchbacks--a total of about 400 feet. Trail curves northward around side of Hughes Ridge, then heads NE across a very rocky slope above Little Possum Creek. Two small campsites are located to left of trail.
Mile 3.2 (6.3) Hughes Ridge Campsites
From campsites, proceed upstream. Cross steep, rocky sideslope, then descend to 70-foot bridge over Little Possum Creek.
Mile 3.3 (6.2) Little Possum Creek
Cross Little Possum, ascend about 200 ft, cross an intermittent stream, and approach base of Stack Rock--a tall cylinder-shaped formation of layered sandstone. Then climb staircase to a broad bench. Here a short side trail leads to the top of Stack Rock with views of Hughes Ridge across lower Little Possum Canyon. Exercise caution if venturing out atop this rock!
Mile 3.6 (5.9) Stack Rock br /> FFrom Stack Rock, ascend gradually via switchbacks and a long sidehill cut. After crossing a seasonal stream, ascend a short staircase to a former strip mine bench. This area has recovered somewhat after mining in the 1950s.
Mile 3.9 (5.6) Former strip mine bench
On strip mine bench, proceed upstream well above Little Possum Creek with little change in elevation. Below, the creek thunders through The Impassible Canyon with numerous Class IV rapids and one Class V--Holy Cross. After traversing the bench, descend very gradually to a break in the cliff wall at the edge of the canyon. This feature is called Eds Break in honor of its discoverer--Ed Sonder of Oak Ridge.
Mile 5.0 (4.5) Eds Break
Proceed through rhododendron thickets, then down a rock staircase to Imodium Falls--one of the highlights of the Cumberland Trail. Until recently, only a handful of expert kayakers knew of this spectacular C-shaped waterfall. They named it Imodium because--upon approaching this potentially deadly Class V drop in a small boat--they wished they had taken some of this popular anti-diarrheal drug. A short, steep side trail leads to the base of the falls. To prevent serious injury and erosion of this fragile area, do not attempt any other route to the bottom!
Mile 5.1 (4.4) Imodium Falls
From falls, proceed upstream along Little Possum Creek with its numerous Class II-III rapids. Trail nears creek, then joins gravel logging road. Turn left onto road and soon cross Little Possum on concrete bridge.
Mile 6.1 (3.4) Concrete Bridge
Main Trail continues northward on right (N) side of road, a short distance beyond bridge. From gravel road, ascend and descend through mixed forest to a side trail on the left leading to a large campsite.
Mile 7.1 (2.4) Little Possum Campsite
After side trail to campsite, continue 0.1 mile to Hughes Branch. Step across this small tributary and proceed another 187 feet to Little Possum Creek.
Mile 7.2 (2.3) Ford of Little Possum Creek
After fording Little Possum, follow ATV lane straight ahead a short distance. Turn sharply left off lane and up the bank, enter woods, and wind around E side of scenic valley. (This valley once contained a settlement called Old Pennsylvanie where wooden barrels were made.) Finally, reach top of ridge between Little Possum and Coalbank Branch.
Mile 7.8 (1.7) Ridge Between Little Possum and Coalbank Branch
Descend from ridge and pass (on left) attractive grove of giant hemlocks. Trail then makes closest approach to Coalbank Branch.
Mile 8.1 (1.4) Coalbank Branch
From here, trail lies within 300-foot-wide corridor. Please respect adjacent land owners. Proceed NE generally parallel to Coalbank Branch, through pine forest with occasional open areas that may contain patches of briars. Continue gentle ascent through mixed forest to end of section at (paved) Retro-Hughes Rd.
Mile 9.5 (0.0) Retro-Hughes Road
Rock Creek Section of the Three Gorges Segment begins on NE side of road. To reach US-27 in Bakewell, turn right and travel 7 miles.
Map contributed by Trail Volunteer Don Deakins
THREE GORGES - POSSUM CREEK SECTION
PICTURESQUE IMODIUM FALLS ON POSSUM CREEK
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