The Chilhowee Recreation Area lies within the Cherokee National Forest, a 650,000-acre tract of public land. With such a huge piece of land comes a huge responsibility, and it’s not uncommon to find local bicycle groups maintaining the trails by rerouting problem areas, cleaning up of debris after storms, and picking up trash. Several area bicycle shops lead group rides during the week after work and on weekends so the trail system gets a lot of bicycle traffic. The Benton Falls Trail gets the most traffic of any trail in the Chilhowee network so be sure and watch for hikers and trail runners while rolling along.
What Makes It Great
No matter what kind of mood you are in, there is a loop for you. Feel like hammering out a long ride filled with everything a trail can throw at you? Chilhowee has you covered. Start out on the Benton Falls Trail and exit to the right onto the first Slick Rock trail you come to—Naked Widow Loop. Take it up, up, up to the next Slick Rock trail—Hancock Loop. It is up to you where you go next, but you will end up back at the Benton Falls Trail regardless of what you choose. The Benton Falls Trail itself is mostly hard-packed and sandy, but you may find a rocky section here and there.
Feel like a shorter, less technical ride? Take Benton Falls Trail down past the falls onto Clemmer and to the short but fun Rim Rock Spur and back up. The trails are multi-use and popular, so be sure to call out before passing—a little trailside courtesy goes a long way.
Mountain bikers tend to journey further out in the trail system, thus seeing a more diverse selection of wildlife. Spring brings with it a multitude of flowers, wild berries, and even the occasional bear cub (but never approach them!). Summer, with its weighty humidity, amplifies the ferns and moss found on the forest floor and draws snakes out of hiding to sunbathe. Fall cranks up the reds and yellows of the leaf trees while allowing the evergreens their opportunity to shine. A winter trek to the falls when there is snow cover is truly a sight to behold. Bring your camera.
Who is Going to Love It
Children are regularly seen pedaling their tiny bicycles to the falls with their parents. But the majority of the time it is teens and “big” kids who enjoy biking the trails the most.
More advanced riders typically start from the Clemmer trailhead below and ride up the mountain via Benton Falls Trail for a 5.8 mile start. Once at the top, they are then able to connect into the remaining other trails to add any configuration of mileage needed.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The road leading up to the Chilhowee Recreation Area is just off of US-64 so it is easily accessible from Chattanooga.
From Chattanooga: Take I-75 N to Cleveland exit 20 and go right onto US-74 E. Continue on US-74 E to US-64 E. Take the Ocoee exit heading east toward Ducktown/Copperhill/Murphy, NC. Stay on US-64 E for 15 miles to the Ocoee Ranger Station on the left. The road leading up to Chilhowee Recreation Area is on the left just past the entrance to the Ranger Station.
The campground and bathhouses close in November, but a winter camping area is available with limited facilities.
Written by Beth Miller for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of Tennessee.
Featured image provided by Beth Miller
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