Elevation gain: 267 ft..
Trailhead: Pogue Creek
Pogue Creek Canyon has been in the state’s hands for more than a decade, but it’s still brand-new as state natural areas go.
Located in eastern Fentress County and situated near Pickett State Forest, Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area is a 3,000-acre parcel of property that includes and surrounds the gorge through which Pogue Creek flows as it descends the Cumberland Plateau towards Wolf River.
Along its upper reaches, just off S.R. 154, Pogue Creek is little more than a small branch. But a number of tributaries empty into it as it makes its way towards Wolf River in the Pall Mall community, not far from the birthplace of Sgt. Alvin C. York.
The Pogue Creek hiking trail, at 1.7 miles, explores only a tiny area of the eastern-most corner of Pogue Creek Canyon. It is one of the northern Cumberland Plateau’s newest hiking trails, built just a little more than two years ago, and offers a relatively easy exploration of this unique part of the plateau.
In most ways, Pogue Creek Canyon can easily be mistaken for the nearby Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Both are excellent examples of the northern plateau forest types and geological makeup. The topography is similar, as is the botany. Really, the only difference between Pogue Creek and the BSF is that one is state-owned and one is federally-owned, and the natural resources of Pogue Creek Canyon have traditionally been less exploited than the BSF’s.
At 1.7 miles, the hiking trail at Pogue Creek Canyon essentially ties with Colditz Cove State Natural Area as the shortest trails that are included in the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge. Because there is more elevation change along the Pogue Creek Canyon trail than along the trail at Colditz Cove, it isn’t hardly as easy to hike. But it’s still rated as an easy hike, and is certainly less challenging than the hike to Fall Branch Falls, which was featured last week.
From a trailhead in a field off S.R. 154, the hiking trail enters a hardwood forest and quickly descends to beneath a bluff line, traveling through the Turkey Roost Rock Shelter. It seems that the trail is quickly heading into the bottom of the canyon, which is 800 ft. deep at its largest point. But don’t be deceived; the hiking trail will generally follow the top of the ridge line for most of the 1.7 miles.
Just past the rock shelter, the loop portion of the hike begins, and is best hiked in a clockwise direction, taking the left fork in the trail. The next half mile or so is unspectacular, traveling along the top of the ridge with deepening drainages on either side. Eventually, the trail forks again, with the left fork leading to the end of the ridge, which abruptly ends at a rock outcropping that provides a panoramic view of the canyon as it opens up in the direction of the Wolf River Valley.
Most of the trail’s elevation gain will be experienced on the hike back to the trailhead after departing the overlook. The trail descends to Pogue Creek, where a small waterfall and rock shelters are featured before the trail begins its ascent back to the top of the ridge. The uphill climb isn’t overly exerting, but there is a bench near the top, which makes for a perfect place to stop and rest.
Pogue Creek Canyon is a biologically diverse natural area, with hundreds of plant species documented. Like the BSF, the stream areas are generally forested by hemlock, magnolia and red maple, while the ridge tops are dominated by oak, hickory, maple, beech and poplar trees. Rhododendron and mountain laurel are also present throughout the natural area.
Most of the more spectacular features inside Pogue Creek Canyon — such as the rock shelters and rock arches — aren’t experienced along the 1.7-mile hike to the overlook and back to the trailhead, but this short trail is an excellent starting point to discovering one of the state’s newest — and most incredible — protected areas.
Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west from Oneida, through the Big South Fork and into Fentress County. When S.R. 297 ends, turn right and take S.R. 154 north towards Pickett State Park. The Pogue Creek Canyon trailhead will be situated on the left, in the middle of a field, a short distance away.
Be Careful For: Except for an unremarkable stream crossing, there are no hazards along this trail.
Look For: Near the overlook, there is a wooden boardwalk. It was built to protect the reindeer lichen that grows on the exposed rock from being trampled by hikers. It is a slow-growing lichen, growing less than five mm per year, and takes decades to return once it has been trampled. Do you see it? (Lucy Braun snakewort, which is found in only four Tennessee counties, is abundant in the rock shelters of Pogue Creek Canyon, but you won’t find it on this hike.)
Make It Better: Once fully completed, the trail system at Pogue Creek Canyon will consist of 10 miles of trails. You can add to the hike to the Pogue Creek overlook by taking a longer trail that exits the loop trail just before the overlook and travels deeper into the canyon. The three-mile trail eventually emerges at Black House Mountain Road. Unless you plan for a shuttle, the there-and-back hike would add six miles to your hike, for a total distance of 7.7 miles. Another option? Plan your hike so that you arrive back at the trailhead near dusk. The field at the trailhead is a popular astronomy area for star-gazers. The night sky is fantastic here.
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to email@example.com, along with the names of all members of your hiking party, in order to log your miles.
Don’t Forget: Obey the Leave No Trace ethic by “taking only memories, leaving only footprints.” If you packed it in, please pack it out!