36.4 Miles/4405 Feet
46 Miles/5980 Feet
Paved start and finish sectors bookend one continuous stretch of gravel fun near Reliance, Tennessee. The Jenkins Grave Gap routes are classic Southern Appalachian gravel – steep, rough, and incredibly beautiful. 36 and 46 mile options cross a 450 foot long cable suspended bridge over the Hiwassee River and includes many ridge traversals and shelf roads, some of which are unmaintained.
The Jenkins Grave Gap routes are located between the Hiwassee River to the north and the Ocoee River to the South. Dots on the map with names such as Turtletown and Archville sit to either side. Both routes start on the north bank of the Hiwassee near the town of Reliance but the word “Town” should be understood loosely. Most maps show the area as empty space. You will warm up on pavement, cross the “Hi” on a footbridge and then go straight up. Say goodbye to pavement for a few hours.
Climbing starts immediately after crossing the river. Its steep but begins dropping into a gorge around mile 8, following Wolf Creek upstream through a deep cut. Towering cliffs and the sound of the whitewater crashing below make the climb along shelf roads absolutely delightful. This is a special place so take a moment to stop, listen and look around.
The surface becomes rough at mile 12.6 as the route turns onto an unmaintained road and continues up the sustained climb toward the gap from which the route takes its name. There may be some blowdown as you ride along a ridge. A slower pace on the rocky gnar will allow you to spot mushrooms which grow everywhere in summer, especially after a rain.
Nearing mile 22 you will pass just below summit of Little Frog Mountain where an old road leads to the site of a former fire tower. This is the northern boundary of the federally protected Little Frog Mountain Wilderness. There are reports of panoramic views at Sassafras Knob just inside the wilderness. If you have the legs to explore then please keep in mind that bicycles are not allowed in federal wilderness areas. Jenkins Grave Gap is just past the summit, so named after a 19th century mail carrier’s untimely demise.
According to Presswood’s account, Jenkins was en route from the Greasy Creek post office, established in 1848, to Ducktown across an old American Indian trail running over Little Frog Mountain. Jenkins vanished as snow began to fall. His frozen body was found in a high gap on Little Frog Mountain now known as Jenkins Grave Gap, she said. His grave is marked by a crude native stone at the spot his body was found.Read more…
The location is also the burial site of Viola Morgan who was burned to death harvesting chestnuts. A brief but well done video about the location can be found here. SoutheastCyclingRoutes.com has yet to find the the gravesites but was contacted by the 7x great granddaughter of Thomas Jenkins who provided the following photo. See the comments section below for the nice note from Ms. Cavins.
Forest Service Road 28 isn’t shown on the maps but the intersection at mile 24.9 can’t be missed unless you are heads-down and in the zone. Those on the longer route will turn right while those opting for the shorter course will continue straight on Kimsey Mountain Highway.
The long route continues to meander through the national forest, often along gurgling creeks. There are a few nice views but for the most part the forest is dense and dark. Those who ride solo will have little but the sound of tires crunching gravel for company. This is one of those long stretches of gravel which make riders question whether they should take up some easier sport. Mental fortitude might be required. Pit toilets are available at Lost Creek Campground at about mile 35.
The shorter route descends out of the mountains on a few more miles of gravel. A blisteringly fast paved sector signals the impending return to civilization in the hamlet of Archville. The old Web Brother’s Texaco/Reliance Post Office is a perfect photo op before the push over the last kicker to the finish. Reliance is a popular outdoor destination so expect a little traffic in the area during the summer.
The Jenkins Grave Gap routes are through remote national forest. Plan on self sufficiency once you are over the footbridge. Riders who don’t like hydration packs should carry a filter. Keep in mind that none of the base maps are in complete agreement with the roads as they actually exist on the ground and some are wildly inaccurate. With all due respect to the late Mr. Jenkins, follow the line on your GPS and you’ll be fine.
Please consider describing route conditions if you ride either of the Jenkins Grave Gap routes. Posting about your experience in the comment section below helps other cyclists and is a great way to support other riders here in the Southeast.
- Black flies and biting gnats can be a problem in summer. Consider some kind of bug juice for the sake of sanity.
- Water sources are plentiful throughout the forest with the exception of higher elevations and along ridges. It is always best to filter before a big climb.
- Reliance TN has poor cell reception and you will be without cell service for most if not all of both routes.
- Elevation reported by your GPS may differ from the maps by as much as 15%.
- The Jenkins Grave Gap routes start at Big Bend Recreation Area along Powerhouse Rd. Pit toilets are available at the parking area and there is no fee to park.
- GPS coordinates for the Big Bend Recreation Area are 35.20100968563318, -84.4671379682131.
- Additional parking may be available further along Powerhouse Road.
- Keep in mind that the area is popular with river runners and kayak/raft launches along the road can fill up on summer weekends. In a pinch you can park at the Reliance boat ramp. Hiawassee Outfitters or Webb Brother's Texaco may have fee based parking.
- Webb Bros Texaco and Reliance Fly & Tackle are the only store stops. Both are located very late in the route. Plan to be self sufficient on the Jenkins Grave Gap routes.
- The nearest towns with services are Ducktown to the southeast and Etowah or Benton to the west. Etowah and Benton will be easier to reach from the start location.