If you’re looking for a good winter workout, you might consider a hike up Raccoon Mountain via the High Voltage Trail. This approximately 8 mile round-trip hike begins near the boat ramp and takes you to the top of the mountain near Laurel Point and over 900 feet higher.
From the boat ramp parking area near the Raccoon Mountain power plant’s intake/outlet structure, the trail begins across the road. The first 0.4 miles, called the Boat Ramp Connector, run somewhat parallel to the road and gain a modest 60 feet in elevation. Although it starts out a bit rocky, it soon acquires a smoother surface.
Coming to an intersection in 0.4 miles, turning left will take you on the Live Wire 2 Trail, which gradually ascends along the slopes of the mountain, reaching Massengale Point in 3.1 miles. Turning right begins a 3.4-mile climb on the High Voltage Trail. The trail soon dips to cross the rocky and usually dry bed of John McNabb Branch, passes the mysterious ruins of a small shed, and begins a series of switchbacks. For most of the way, it’s a fairly gradual ascent, with over 300 feet of the elevation gain occurring in the last section of trail.
Open since 2014, the High Voltage Trail was constructed by the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, the local mountain biking organization. But although Raccoon Mountain’s nearly 30 miles of trail were designed primarily for mountain bike use, they’re also available for hiking and trail running. Though hikers officially have the right of way, it’s a good idea to keep alert for bikers. Dogs are also allowed on the trails, but should be kept on a leash. And if you bring them on the High Voltage Trail, be sure to bring along water for them, as there won’t be much along the way.
The trails are probably a bit less crowded during the winter, and on the High Voltage Trail, the lack of foliage allows views of the Tennessee River Gorge you wouldn’t have other times of the year. Much of the trail meanders along a relatively level area of mountainside known as a bench, then climbs more steeply near the top, with some grades reaching 20 percent. Along with a couple of series of switchbacks, there are stretches of trail following close to the base of rock bluffs.
After reaching the top of the mountain, the trail intersects with the Split Rock Trail, a 0.5-mile loop that connects to the Laurel Point Trail. At this point, you’ve climbed 1,486 feet and descended about 700 feet overall. Now, you have to do that in reverse. Theoretically, you could hike out to another trailhead on the Laurel Point Trail, but the trail winds around quite a bit and would be a much longer distance than it would seem it should be.
My choice upon reaching the top is to turn right on the Split Rock Trail and hike a short distance to some large rocks on top of the bluff that make a good lunch spot with a view before retracing my steps back down the mountain. All in all, if you’re up for a bit of a climb, I highly recommend the High Voltage Trail as a great winter hike.
Map and directions
The trailhead is less than 12 miles from downtown Chattanooga. Traveling west on I-24, take exit 174 for Cummings Highway. Turn right and then right again onto Raccoon Mountain Road in about 2.5 miles. You’ll reach the boat ramp parking area on the left in about 2 miles. GPS coordinates are 35.059997, -85.415477.
View a great interactive trail map here.
The Raccoon Mountain trails are open sunrise to sunset and are on property owned and managed by TVA.
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.