Distance: 5.4 miles one-way (Rock Creek Loop 3.4 miles; Lower Connector 1.1 miles)
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Elevation Change: Approximately 300 ft.
Caution: During wet season some crossings can be very slippery. Ladder near Rock Creek Bridge is steep, as are the stairs that descend to Rock Creek Bridge from south to north.
Camping: Campsite at Mile 2.8 (Upper Leggett Road Trailhead via CT 2.6 miles) N 35 25.210 W85 09.544
Topographic Map: Brayton Quadrangle
Southern Terminus: Retro Hughes Trailhead (N35 24.173 W85 11.021)
Northern Terminus: Upper Leggett Road Trailhead (N35 24.606 W85 07.856) and Lower Leggett Road Trailhead (N35 23.166 W85 08.135)
This section of the Cumberland Trail is popular with both day hikers and trail runners, as well as thru-hikers. The CT descends into the pristine Rock Creek Gorge where hikers cross Rock Creek via an 80-foot-long footbridge. In Spring, the trail is lined with blooming mountain laurel. Wildflowers include fire pink, morning glory, lady slipper, dwarf crested iris, and bluets.
On the northern end, several loops can be formed with different ratings for different skill levels, including the Rock Creek Loop and a universally accessible loop. Two overlooks, one on the CT and one on the Loop, offer spectacular views of the gorge and opportunities to view hawks and eagles. The beautiful sandstone cliffs hold the story of the formation of the gorge.
Retro Hughes Trailhead Parking:
North from Chattanooga on US 27, at the US 27/TN 111 split, go right on US 27 toward Dayton.
At the second red light, in Bakewell, turn left (west) onto Retro Hughes Road. Proceed seven winding miles, climbing onto the plateau to the trailhead on the right immediately past a gated logging road entrance. There is a gravel parking area with a kiosk.
This is also the northern terminus of the Possum Creek Gorge Section of the CT, which emerges on the other side of the road.
Road map to Retro Hughes Trailhead (Don Deakins)
Approach to Retro Hughes Trailhead (Don Deakins)
Retro Hughes Road Trailhead (Don Deakins)
Lower Leggett Road Trailhead Parking:
North from Chattanooga on US 27, turn west (left) onto Leggett Road in the Sale Creek community.
The lower Leggett parking area is on the left at 1.4 miles. It is a paved parking lot with plenty of marked spaces and a quarter-mile paved, universally accessible trail.
Lower Leggett Road Trailhead Parking (Don Deakins)
Road map to Leggett Road Upper and Lower Trailheads (Don Deakins)
Upper Leggett Road Trailhead Parking:
The Upper Leggett Road parking is farther up Leggett Road.
Continue through the curve on Leggett Road and climb to the top of the escarpment for 2.1 miles to a lightly graveled parking area on your left.
The trailhead is only 50 feet back down the road; look for the blazing.
At the present time this is an unimproved parking area, and there is only room for 3-4 cars.
Upper Leggett Road Trailhead Parking (Don Deakins)
Mile 0.0 (5.4) Begin the hike from the Retro Hughes Trailhead up a wooden staircase and then pass through a clearcut that was logged due to pine beetle infestation. This lack of shade has greatly increased the undergrowth in this area. In Summer, it’s a favorite area for picking blackberries in late June and early July.
Mile 0.5 (4.9) The trail turns right along the plateau into the woods. Here you will cross a stone slab bridge over a small wet-weather stream.
Mile 1.0 (4.4) Trail makes a junction with a utility road used by the loggers. Follow the trail via wooden CT signs.
Mile 1.3 (4.1) Trail goes to the left into a pine thicket.
Moss covered wall between ladder and Rock Creek Bridge (Ron Shrieves)
Mile 1.5 (3.9) Trail crosses an ATV Road. The area east of the trail is a leased hunting area; to the west is a privately owned hunting area.
Mile 1.6 (3.8) Cross a small-unbridged creek.
Mile 1.7 (3.7) The trail crosses a second ATV road and begins descending into Rock Creek Gorge through a series of switchbacks lined with seasonal wildflowers. There are two seasonally wet crossings on this section of the trail that can be slippery and should be crossed with care.
Mile 1.8 (3.6) Pass a small rock house.
Mile 2.6 (2.8) Climb a short wooden ladder, and then begin the steep rock stairs descent to the 80-foot Rock Creek Bridge. The CTC and a dedicated group of volunteers built this bridge over the creek, assisted by an AmeriCorps Group from several sections of the country. The trail then crosses elaborate rock work as it heads downstream.
Rock Creek Bridge (Ron Shrieves)
Mile 2.8 (2.6) A primitive campsite is located on the right of the trail. There is room for 3-4 tents with easy access to the creek.
Mile 3.3 (2.1) The trail crosses Leggett Branch with cascades to the left.
Leggett Branch Cascades (Ron Shrieves)
Mile 3.9 (1.5) Trail continues descending and ascending along ridges as it rises above Rock Creek.
Mile 4.4 (1.0) The trail crosses Rocky Branch Bridge, a fairly new wooden bridge, one of three, recently built by the CTC and volunteers.
Mile 4.5 (0.9) The trail crosses Flat Branch via the second wooden bridge.
Mile 4.6 (0.8) There is a very short spur trail to Rock Creek Overlook with outstanding views of Rock Creek Gorge.
Mile 4.9 (0.5) The trail crosses Boiling Spring Branch Bridge, the third and the largest of the three wooden bridges built recently. This branch has seasonal water. Just after the bridge, the CT turns to the left.
To the right is a part of the Rock Creek Loop (see description below). At this writing in 2013, the white blazes of the CT lead right, but the CT will be rerouted to the left here to provide the shortest distance for thru-hikers; at present, the route left is blazed blue. If you’re a thru-hiker and need to resupply, you may want to take the right turn to reach the Lower Leggett Road Trailhead, which will be closer to stores in the Sale Creek Community, or you may want to hike the loop for a longer route to the Upper Trailhead to not miss Leggett Point Overlook.
The CT to the left makes a steep ascent, gaining approximately 300 feet, but it has excellent rock stairs to help in the climb. The trail travels through mixed pine and hardwood trees and has seasonal wildflowers.
Mile 5.3 (0.1) Junction with the Rock Creek Loop coming in from the right. Bear left as the CT and the Loop coincide.
Mile 5.4 (0.0) Reach Upper Leggett Road Trailhead parking and the end of the Three Gorges Segment. At this writing in 2013, the CT ends here.
—Judy Varner, CTC Board Member and VP, and T.C. Varner, CTC Member
Day hikers often use this loop route, commonly referred to as the Rock Creek Loop, to make a 3.4-mile hike (plus 0.46 to Leggett Overlook and back). The loop can be accessed from either the Upper or Lower Leggett Road Trailhead. From the Upper Trailhead, the loop can be traveled either to the right at the first signage, which makes for the easier walk, or stay straight, either way arriving at Boiling Springs Branch Bridge and then looping back on the other trail. The following description follows the loop counterclockwise.
Mile 0.0 (3.4) Head into the woods on the CT from the Upper Leggett Road Trailhead.
Mile 0.1 (3.3) Reach the junction for the loop and turn right to stay on the CT. Descend rock stairs in a 300-foot descent.
Mile 0.5 (2.9) Arrive at the Boiling Springs intersection where the CT turns right to cross the bridge over Boiling Springs Branch. (Boiling Springs bridge is closed and unusable. Use Caution Here.) Turn left on the Rock Creek Loop. The trail begins a gradual descent above Rock Creek through mixed pine and hardwood trees. A view of Rock Creek is available in the winter months along this section of the trail. Low-lying areas have abundant spring iris. As the trail drops closer to Rock Creek, there are old growth hemlocks. There is evidence of a forest fire that traversed the trail, but the old growth hardwoods still remain. Wildflowers include brown-eyed Susan, partridgeberry, Solomon’s seal, and downy false foxglove.
Mile 2.0 (1.4) The loop reaches a junction with the Lower Connector Trail. Just prior to this trail connector is a well-worn, unmarked trail to the right that leads approximately 150 feet to Rock Creek where there is an excellent assortment of large boulders great for resting and picnicking.
Right at the trail junction will put the hiker on the Lower Connector Trail, marked in blue blazes. This connector is 1.1 miles long, affording views of Rock Creek below and traversing several ridges through a mixed forest of pines and hardwoods. Near its end, it connects with a paved ADA Loop; turn left to the Lower Leggett Road Trailhead, which is within sight. Or turn right if you want to walk the ADA Loop, which is slightly over a quarter mile.
Note: For a thru-hiker who needs to re-supply, turn right on Leggett Road out of this lower trailhead for a road walk of 1.4 miles to the Sale Creek Community on US 27. Left on US 27, you can access the Sale Creek Post Office; right on US 27 will lead to convenience stores/gas stations. At the present time there are no motels in the Sale Creek Community.
At the junction of the Rock Creek Loop with the Lower Connector Trail, turn left to continue on the loop in a gradual ascent out of the gorge through mixed hardwood and pine, crossing three wooden footbridges.
Mile 3.1 (0.3) On the left is a spur trail to Leggett Point, blazed in yellow. This 0.23-mile one-way is an easy, gently rolling hike on an old roadbed. Leggett Point Overlook opens up to a panoramic view of the Rock Creek Gorge below. From the overlook, hawks, eagles, and other birds are often spotted. Out and back will add 0.46 mile to the loop distance.
Mile 3.3 (0.1) Close the loop at the junction with the CT coming in on the left; continue straight.
Mile 3.4 (0.0) Return to the Upper Leggett Road Trailhead.
Rock Creek Trail Map (Don Deakins)
Topographic trail map created with National Geographic TOPO! 2008 found at National Geographic Topo Explorer.
|Location||Waypoint in WGS84 Format|
|Lower Leggett Road Trailhead||N35 23.166 W85 08.135|
|Upper Leggett Road Trailhead||N35 24.606 W85 07.856|
|Leggett Point Overlook||N35 24.335 W85 08.241|
|Boiling Spring Bridge||N35 24.697 W85 08.085|
|Rock Creek Overlook||N35 24.794 W85 08.304|
|Flat Branch Bridge||N35 24.858 W85 08.331|
|Rocky Branch Bridge||N35 24.933 W85 08.469|
|Leggett Branch||N35 25.226 W85 09.197|
|Rock Creek Campsite||N35 25.210 W85 09.544|
|Rock Creek Bridge||N35 25.298 W85 09.704|
|Retro Hughes Road Trailhead||N35 24.173 W85 11.021|