Hike It Alone on the Chattanooga River & Bartram Trail

 

Sometimes you need to get some alone time, and there’s nowhere more alone than the lightly traveled section of Bartram Trail running along the Chattanooga from Russel Bridge to the Willis Knob Horse Camp. Unless maybe its the bottom of a well where even Lassie won’t find you.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But it goes through the horse area…which is pretty hoofed critter friendly and nobody complained about the goat that I ran into.

How you get there: Google 34°55’12.3″N 83°10’09.5″W. That’s the general parking area. The trail head is just on the Georgia side of the bridge, marked with yellow blazes. Parking is available at the Russel home site and a gravel road pull off on the South Carolina side and at a main trail head parking area and a paved pull off on the Georgia side.

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Barn at the fascinating Russel home site a short 1/2 mile down the road from Russel Bridge. Lots of ruined outbuildings and a spring house to check out, plus some signage on the history.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 7 miles one way to the horse camp from Russel Bridge on Bartram Trail.

Best season to do this hike: Most times of the year this trail is good to go. It doesn’t get a lot of traffic except for right at Russel Bridge where the fly fishermen and tubers hang out. However, the horse camp DOES get a lot of traffic in the warmer months. If you want to camp there go in winter.


Trails to Take

Get on Bartram (yellow blazes) next to Russel Bridge on the Georgia side. You’ll be following the river, first past the ruins of an old bridge, then across a modern steel bridge over a Chattanooga tributary. The trail heads left after the bridge, paralleling the river, where abundant fly fisherman may be seen in season.

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Chattanooga tributary

The trail dips and dives over small streams and heavily overgrown understory, eventually flattening out and widening as it reaches the boat ramp on Hwy 28. From here the trail begins to leave the river, climbing along the flood plain. What looks like an old road comes up on your right, leading to what was once a productive hay field now planted over with pine. The remains of haying equipment are rusting to one side of the trail, and to the other the stacked stone chimney of the long decayed residence is visible through the brush. It can be reached by a side trail.

From here the trail continues at an easy pace, ever rising, till it intersects with a wide, flat trail that is the horse trail running down to Adline Ford. If you want, you can turn left here and go down to Adline Ford, then continue along the horse trail and the river till you reach the road to Willis Knob Horse Camp. However, this will make the trip 10 miles one way instead of 7.

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Bridge + goat on Bartram Trail

To continue on Bartram cross the horse trail and follow the yellow blazes. From here the trail climbs at an easy pace, dipping occasionally down to small streams crossed by foot bridges. However, while the river remains in ear shot, even in winter it is generally invisible from the Bartram Trail.

Bartram Trail will top a rise and intersect with an unnamed blue blazed trail that frankly, looks weird. This is actually an old vehicle path. The GPS coordinates are 34.890708, -83.216680. I know this because this is the only spot on the whole trail where you can get good cell service. Follow this clearly visible but poorly marked trail uphill and you’ll reach the Willis Knob Horse Trail area’s gravel road – Gold Mine Road.

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Hell trail to the horse camp
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But paradise when you get to Willis Knob Horse Camp

The camp is about 1.5 miles from where you come in on the gravel road. 1 mile of that will be on the gravel road after you turn left off the poorly marked blue trail. This is all down hill. Which will let you rest for when you reach the wooden sign pointing out a nasty, muddy horse trail that leads to the horse camp. The nasty muddy trail is about 0.5 miles long, but improves greatly after the initial mud slinging climb.

The final location is heaven. The horse camp has water and toilet facilities, but has some particular rules about beasts of burden – see below. There are only a few campsites and in warm weather these may be taken. The park service does not like people camping outside of the campsites…but it was pretty empty and low key during the winter when I went. And the next day…you can hike back out!

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A rough map of the trip – does not show all the horse trails at Willis Knob!

 

BE WARNED

  1. Note: Bartram spends very little of this 7 mile hike near the river. If that ain’t what you signed up for, get off Bartram at the first junction with a horse trail, go down to Adline Ford, then follow the horse trail along the river. It will eventually take you to the road and you can walk a short distance up the road to the trail that leads to the campground. However, from Russel Bridge to Willis Knob Horse Camp on this route is about 10 miles. You will have a longer walk.
  2. For those new to the Chattanooga, don’t be fooled by its placid appearance. This baby likes to get log jams during heavy rains…and then flood the hell out its banks. Don’t sleep on the river in a rain storm or you may be swimming.
  3.  Fly fishers LOVE the parking area at Russel’s bridge, especially in January and February. They also get there very early, so you won’t beat them, but there are several parking areas before Russel’s bridge and after it. You may have to hunt for a spot.
  4. There is a lot of coyote scat and signs in the old field over planted with pine. This may not be a great place to camp with goats!
  5. Forage and water are amply available for goats on the trail, but so is the goat nemesis mountain laurel and its relative rhododendron. Consider bringing chaffe hay or similar if you end up camping amid the poisonous shrubbery.
  6. If camping at Willis Knob Horse Camp the camp requires that livestock be tethered between the large posts and not in the campsites. If you have a really clinging goat you may have to sleep at the posts with the critter…amid the leftover horse manure.
  7. In warm weather the horse camp will be packed. Goats spook horses…so plan on camping elsewhere than the horse camp because it’ll be a headache. Plus you probably won’t be able to get a campsite anyway.
  8. There is an armadillo that lives at the horse camp. He freaked Bakri out all night long…I don’t think the goat slept once…
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The goat spooking armadillo at Willis Knob Horse Camp

In sum: 

I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Now every morning just before breakfast
I don’t want no coffee or tea
Just me and good buddy Camelbak
That’s all I ever need
‘Cause I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Yeah, the other night I laid sleeping
And I woke from a terrible dream
So I caught up my pal Bakri
And his partner Cherry
And we hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Yeah, the other day I got invited to a party
But I stayed on the trail instead
Just me and my pal Bakri
And his brother Fugly instead
And we hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah,
(The funny part is I did have a holiday party this weekend I totally flaked out on…to go hiking)
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