Paved start and finish sectors bookend almost 40 continuous miles of gravel fun near Reliance, Tennessee. This is classic Southern Appalachian gravel – steep, rough, and incredibly beautiful. The Little Frog Mountain route crosses a 450 foot long cable suspended bridge over the Hiwassee River and includes many ridge traversals and shelf roads, some of which are unmaintained. Mushroom hunters will want to bring a bag to carry out some booty.
The Little Frog Mountain route is 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. The route starts 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 the next 40 miles.
The roadside steepens around mile 8 as the route drops into a gorge and moves away from the river, eventually following Wolf Creek upstream through a deep cut. Towering cliffs and the sound of the creek 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 the sustained climb toward Little Frog Mountain. 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 all over the place in summer.
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. Just past the summit is a place known as 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…
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 gravesite 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.
The route continues to meander through the national forest where the climbs never really seem to quit. A significant portion of the route is along gurgling creeks and there are some 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. Some fortitude might be required.
Riders who don’t care for hydration packs should consider a filter. With the exception of the pit toilets at Lost Creek Campground, there are zero services until the store stops near the end. The area is remote and forest Service Road 23 (mile 25 to mile 29) doesn’t even exist on most maps. 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.
- 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 the route.
- Maps claim 5900+ feet of climbing but your GPS is more likely to show 5200 feet when done.
- The route starts at Big Bend Recreation Area along Powerhouse Rd where pit toilets are available and parking is free.
- 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 Little Frog Mountain 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.