(Editor’s note: This article is a part of the Summer Adventures Series.)
One of the perks of living with the mountains visible in the distance is the plethora of outdoor activities available.
For those looking to go out and enjoy nature’s beauty, there are numerous hiking trails accessible to all skill levels.
“This region is loaded with all kinds of outdoor activities,” said Leon Bates,Cherokee Hiking Club vice president.
Cleveland’s proximity to Cherokee National Forest provides the outdoor enthusiast with many choices when it comes to exploring the wilderness, with many miles worth of different CNF trails within an hour’s drive.
The Tanasi Trail and Chilhowee Trail Systems are some of the area’s more popular hiking destinations, and consist of trails with varying difficulty and elevations.
Due to the popularity of hiking throughout the region, numerous clubs have been established, such as the Cherokee Hiking Club, which was founded in Cleveland. The CHC has two sister clubs, the Hiawassee Hiking Club out of Athens and the Sequoyah Hiking Club from Madisonville.
Currently, the CHC has a membership of 30-35 families from areas such as Cleveland, Benton, Athens, Calhoun, and Tellico Plains. The club organizes group hikes throughout Eastern Tennessee and surrounding areas and utilizes the Meetup site.
Hiking with a group has many advantages. There is the social aspect and also the fact that you can utilize the knowledge of those who may have more experience.
Members of the CHC I was able to meet with in Tellico Plains are certainly not novice hikers, with their hiking experience averaging out to 20 years.
The group had many suggestions as to decent hiking locations, such as the John Muir Trail in Reliance, the trails on Lookout Mountain, and Chilhowee trails such as Benton Falls and Scenic Spur. A little over an hour northeast of Cleveland, Indian Boundary Lake can be found off of the Cherohala Skyway.
“If someone had never hiked before and wasn’t in that good of shape I would hike them around Indian Boundary Lake — it’s 3 1/2 miles long,” said club member Brenda Harris.
Harris’ husband, Rick, is a seasoned hiker who is also the co-author of the Benton MacKaye Trail Guide. The Benton MacKaye Trail is almost 300 miles long and takes hikers through the Appalachian Mountains, starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ending at the Big Creek Campground in the northern part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Springer Mountain is the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail.
There are two different categories of hiking, through-hiking and section hiking. Through-hikers travel on linear trails, beginning at one end and finishing at the other. Section hikers go for a day or two, traveling smaller sections of a trail instead of the whole thing.
When planning to go on a hike, members of the CHC stressed the importance of having appropriate footwear.
“When I first came up here I didn’t have proper hiking boots. You need hiking boots that have a good tread on them or you will go slipping,” said CHC newsletter editor Rebecca Levings.
Besides having the right shoes, hikers should bring plenty of water, hiking poles or sticks, a map, bug spray, sunscreen, an emergency flashlight and first-aid supplies. The group consensus is that maps published by National Geographic are the best.
When going out on a hike, it is important to leave enough time to get back before dark if you are not planning on camping.
The club stressed that you should never hike alone and should always tell someone where you are going.
“Leave with as many as you came with,” remarked CHC member Steve Kidd.
Weather is always an important factor when hiking and as a general rule of thumb if you can hear thunder, then you could be struck by lightning. Up in the mountains, it’s not unlikely to find yourself caught in the rain.
“It’s amazing how many people that are true veteran trail hikers don’t have rain gear with them. You never know when it’s going to rain in the mountains,” Brenda Harris said.
Mother Nature is full of surprises, and running into various critters, such as snakes, bears, and wasps can be common occurrences. Also, be prepared to encounter poison ivy while out in the wilderness.
“No self-respecting snake would be in the path,” joked former Cleveland resident Martha Firestone. “Just don’t sit down on a log without checking behind it.”
Hiking can offer people not only the chance to explore nature, but the chance to immerse themselves in the history of the area. Red Clay State Park in southern Bradley County for example, is historically significant to the Cherokee culture.
For Bates, the thrill of being out in nature and seeing new things are the true payoffs of hiking.
“My favorite part about hiking is that you’re outdoors. I’m a big student of nature and I lead a lot of nature hikes. The kind of hike you have to do is a slow hike,” the CHC vice president commented. “I see something new on every trail, both coming and going. There are many trails that have yet to be hiked, so I’ll be doing this for quite a long time.”
More info on the Cherokee Hiking Club can be found at www.cherokeehikingclub.org.