If you’ve hiked to Skyuka Spring, located at the base of Lookout Mountain within the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, you’ve probably done so via either the Lower Truck Trail or the Skyuka Trail. A third option, especially if you’re looking for a moderate-length hike with an extra workout, is to descend the mountain from Ochs Gateway on the John Smartt Trail foran approximately 5.2-mile round-trip hike.
The trailhead, known as Ochs Gateway and located behind Covenant College, is named for Adolph and Milton Ochs, who donated approximately 2,800 acres in the 1930s for inclusion in the park. The Ochs Gateway Trail gradually descends for about 0.6 miles before reaching the Bluff Trail.
From here, turn left on the Bluff Trail, and in a short distance, you’ll come to the junction with the Jackson Gap Trail on the left. This is the end of the Bluff Trail. Continuing to the right, you’ll be on the John Smartt Trail, which in just over 1 mile will intersect with the southern end of the Upper Truck Trail. For the firsthalf ormore of that distance, the trail runs along the base of an impressive rock bluff line.
After reaching the end of the Upper Truck Trail, the John Smartt Trail continues downhill for another mile or so, crossing a power line right of way twice before arriving at Skyuka Spring. This is the endpoint for the John Smartt, Skyuka and Lower Truck trails, as well as the Southend Trail, which continues south from Skyuka Spring for about a half-mile to the park boundary. The intersection with the Skyuka Trail isn’t well-marked, but turning left will bring you immediately to the spring.
Skyuka Spring is named after Cherokee Chief Skyuka Wauhatchie Glass, who fought against John Sevier in the American Revolution and later with Andrew Jackson against the Creek. A year-round stream of water typically emanates from beneath two large boulders, the uppermost one resembling a giant turtlehead, and flows a short distance to join Lookout Creek. This is a good spot to pause for lunch before retracing your route back up the mountain. Note: The water from the spring is not drinkable, so be sure to bring enough with you for the entire hike.
While the return climb involves an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet, it isn’t as strenuous as the hike to Sunset Rock from Reflection Riding. If you’d like to add at least another 1.5 miles to your hike, you can take the Jackson Gap Trail near the top of the mountain out to Jackson Spring and back. On a recent hike, I explored this trail for the first time. It is fairly level and passes through an area where a wildfire burned over 20 acres back in July. The smell of charred wood still lingered. Eventually, I came to a stream crossing with a sign indicating that Jackson Spring is on the lower side of the trail. It isn’t as distinctive as Skyuka Spring.
This is a great fall hike, but it would also be good in winter, as less foliage would enable more views of the surrounding countryside. And as with most Lookout Mountain hikes, there’s a good possibility of seeing deer, wild turkeys and other wildlife along the way.
Map and directions
Driving south on Scenic Highway from the town of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, turn right onto Frontier Bluff Road (formerly called Jupiter Road) as you approach Covenant College. Shortly, watch for the brown National Park Service sign for Ochs Gateway. The trailhead will be on the right.Or search for “Ochs Gateway Trailhead” on Google Maps.
Click here for a trail map. This hike will be in the lower left corner.
Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.