COHUTTA MOUNTAINS, POLK COUNTY, TENNESSEE
The 43 mile Conasauga Crusher gravel route reflects the rugged and remote nature of the Cohutta Mountains in which it is set. Expect rough gravel, plentiful water and no cell service. A bear sighting is not out of the question.
In its heyday, the logging town of Alaculsey had 120 buildings and its own post office. It is now little more than a dot on the map and standing at the confluence of the Jacks and Conasauga Rivers one would never know that a town had ever existed. Alaculsey is a popular trailhead and the starting point for this loop route which can be ridden in either direction. Clockwise seems to be the preference.
Parts of the route pass along the edge of the Big Frog and Cohutta Wilderness areas. These form the largest federally protected wilderness east of the Mississippi. The area is rugged and remote. Difficulty should not be underestimated. Expect lots of up and down including 3.2 miles on Big Frog Rd which climbs the shoulder of Big Frog Mountain. A long stretch of the road is unmaintained and gnarly. Bears have been sighted at the higher elevations.
Pay attention to your GPS if you ride the route clockwise. The right hand turn at mile 24.8 is easy to miss if you are bombing the descent. The right hand turn at mile 32.3 is also easy to miss and doing so could take you way off course. Whichever direction your ride it, expect to get turned around at the five way intersection at mile 14.3.
A long climb along the Graham Branch begins at mile 1.3. The climb features rock walls, a rushing creek and the route’s only pavement. Sheeds Creek Falls is located just before the end of the ride at mile 42.3. The waterfall is spectacular and the perfect photo op but set back from the road and easy to miss if you are not looking for it. Water is abundant along the route and cooling off in the Conasauga River after a hot ride can be very tempting.
The route can be shortened to 33 miles by turning right onto Baker Creek Rd at mile 14. An unnamed right turn at mile 5.9 will further shorten the route to approximately 29 miles. Both are noted on the map. Alternate parking and start locations in Willis Springs and King’s Slough are also indicated on the map.
Ridden at a casual pace, the route offers long sections along rushing mountains streams, waterfalls, gorgeous campsites and abundant wildlife. Ridden with a fast group, this route favors wide tires, cornering skills and a love for climbing. Either way, expect to be tired.
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- Bear encounters are a real possibility in this area, especially at higher elevations along Big Frog Rd. Please familiarize yourself with what to do should you happen to see one.
- Boars are less common but have also been sighted in this area, especially closer to the north end of the route. Again, familiarize yourself with what to do.
- The route typically take longer than indicated by the maps. Consider extra bottles, a hydration pack or bringing a filter.
- Cell service will not be ailable for a significant portion of this route.
- Alaculsey is accessible by passenger car but keep in mind that pretty sports sedans will get dirty on the long gravel approach roads.
- Day use, overnight camping and vault toilets are available at Cottonwood Patch Campground located one mile from the start.
- The Jacks River Trail is very popular with hikers and parking might be scarce during peak season. Be prepared to park off the road nearby.
- Alternate start locations include the King’s Slough boat ramp at the north end of the route and at the intersection of Sheeds Creek Rd and Sina Branch Rd in Willis Springs at the southwest corner of the route. Both locations are marked on the map.