Paved start and end sectors bookend 38 miles of uninterrupted gravel fun near Reliance, Tennessee. This is classic Appalachian Mountain gravel and includes a 450 foot cable suspended bridge over the Hiawassee River and a place known as Jenkins Grave Gap.
The Little Frog Mountain route is located between the Hiawassee 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. Most maps show the area between as a big green blob or simply empty space. Gravel cyclists know that empty spaces typically mean great gravel routes. In this case they are spot on.
This is a loop route started near the town of Reliance on the Hiawassee River. The word “Town” is used loosely. The route warms up on pavement, crosses the river and then goes up. Apart from the bridge, highlights include:
- The route enters a gorge approaching mile 11. The Hiawassee River can be heard crashing far below as sheer cliffs tower above the shelf road. This is an amazing place. Take the time to stop and look around.
- At mile 11.6 you will start a long climb which tops out near the summit of Little Frog Mountain at mile 23. This is the highest point on the route at approximately 3000 ft elevation.
- A little further past the summit is Jenkin’s Grave Gap, 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…
Gravel quality is excellent by southern Appalaichian standards, which is to say, not too chunky. The base is hardpacked and roads seem to drain well when it rains. Roads also dry quickly in spite of the tree cover. Speaking of tree cover, the forest is dense so don’t expect mountaintop vistas. Such is the case through most of the south, unless the name of a place ends in “Bald”, in which case a view still isn’t guaranteed.
The Little Frog Mountain route averages 105 feet/mile climbing which isn’t out of the ordinary for Appalachian gravel routes. Much of that climbing is steep so bring low gears.
Other than the gravel itself, there is no civilization from mile 5 through mile 44. The area is remote and a portion of the route doesn’t even exist on some maps. The unnamed road from mile 28 to mile 32.5 is only indicated on the ESRI and USGS topo maps. The ESRI version is inaccurate but the US Geologic Survey maps seem to agree with GPS tracks from actual rides. The bottom line is that this section of road exists. It has been ridden. With all due respect to the late Mr. Jenkins, follow the line on your GPS and you’ll be fine.
- Gnats can be a problem in summer through late fall. These are the biting kind more akin to angry mosquitos or black flies. Scientists tell us that this is an unintended consequence of cleaner rivers and streams but all the same, consider bug repellent.
- Water sources are plentiful throughout the forest, except along ridges at higher elevation and during times of drought. It is always best to filter before a big climb.
- You will be without cell reception for much of the route.
- Alternate parking may be available at the Big Bend Recreation area along Powerhouse Road, located at mile 3 on the route map. Even more parking is available further along Powerhouse Road.
- The only store on the route is Reliance Fly & Tackle located at mile 2 on the route. Self sufficiency will be required on this route.
- 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.