John Muir Trail is a 2.9 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Reliance, TN that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and camping and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
dogs on leash
The Wife, a few friends, and I took this trail this week. I agree with this site’s rating of hard. There are a couple things to know that I wish I had known going in. We walked the trail from East to West going left to Right across the Nat Geo map we bought 2 weeks ago from REI. **Note** The NAT Geo maps are out of date. Read below for the updates we found.
From the parking lot on the western end, the lot had great access to water and plenty of space for tents after our day long drive and white water rafting before arriving. There are a few trees suitable for hanging hammocks from, but we ended up using our tent because we really only saw space for 2 hammocks and there were 4 of us. The trail head was well marked with a fair sized sign and the morning fog from the river made for some pretty hiking. There were a few great views of the river in the first couple miles of the trail. The trail does meet up with power house road at Big Bend and from there we never did find the trail on the left despite sweeping a few times looking for it. We gave up hoping to pick the trail back up at Towee Creek boat ramp, but here was the first time we noticed the Nat Geo map is wrong. The maps on the park sign board show the trail following the river to the TVA employee only area where the trail continues down a half staircase, and the trail at Towee Creek is completely unpassable supporting this updated path. All in all our first day was about 8 miles and 6 of them were on pavement sharing the lane with cars as there is no space for us to walk off the road. About a half mile down the trail from the TVA area, where the trail follows Wildcat Creek for a few hundred yards, there is a decent camp site with fire pit by a rock face. About 100 feet further down the trail there is an extension to the top of the rock face on the left that has 2 more camp sites. They are dry, but only about 100 or 200 yards from water (where you turned left) so not too bad. The trails up to this point have been poorly blazed and there was a fair bit of guessing and hoping we were on the right trail though they are well worn and easy to follow.
Day 2 revealed several switch backs not marked on the map and several steep climbs and descents. There is a fair sized campsite when the trail crosses Loss creek and 2 or 3 campsites where the trail follows Coker creek. From the camp site we stayed at by the rock face to the where John Muir and Benton MacKaye split the trail was traveled well enough that over grown was not a serious concern, we did find a few trees across the path but the majority had been cleared. The path from the fork to our campsite about mile further down was well blazed and we are glad about that as it is significantly less worn and overgrowth became a hassle. There are 2 streams or creeks not on the Nat Geo map, they run down the 2 ravines shown on the map about a mile from the fork, in between them is a great flat campsite with plenty of trees for hammocks. Down side here is there is a huge tick population and not even tick spray kept us bite free inside our tents. Also Chiggers and Biting flies are rampant here.
Day 3 revealed an infrequently used trail with lots of over growth with dozens of felled trees between us and TN 68. We found an additional camp where the 2 creeks merge under the John Muir sign on the Nat Geo map, google maps tells me on of the creeks is called Land Branch. After wrestling with felled trees and following blazes more than established trail we choose to abandon it at the road crossing with TN 68. The trail entrance from 68 continuing West was hard to find, and basically went straight up the cliff side. I cannot comment on the condition of the rest of the trail, but I suspect it was equally used rarely and thus suffered from lots of over growth. If someone wanted to run a DR field and brush mower over this half of the trail it would definitely be better for that.
Final notes: The trail is probably best during the fall or spring, mid-summer was oppressively hot. Frequent dips into the river and creeks were necessary to prevent overheating. There were occasional breezes but the dense forest shut most of them down. Also the trail is covered in poison oak and poison ivy, much of the over growth is of these plants so long pants are a must.
We hiked the 3 mile section to the river bend. Great in and out day hike with great views of the river. Very mild hike good for all ages.
This trail has a lot of potential. It is not a well used or maintained trail. I have worked with the forestry service on multiple excursions to help maintain and keep the trail clear, but for some reason this trail seems to be a full time job. On my last visit, many large trees were down due to a few large storms we had in the area. The trail follows the river for a good distance and can get swampy in certain areas. Snakes are plentiful. The concept of the trail is good, and if some volunteers would chip in, it could be an excellent trail.
This trail was a fun 1 night trip. However, I went back in June 2011 and there were trees down all over the first half of the trail from Farner to Coker Creek. Big trees. So big we had to get way off the trail to go around because we couldnt get over or under them. There was only one real good over look which I was bummed about. But on the second half of the trail from Coker Creek to the powerhouse, there is a very pretty area called the narrows which was my favorite part of the whole trip. I'd do it again.
We hiked along this trail as a connector for a much larger trip. The hike was mainly along the river. Unfortunately the trail itself was very littered. Break off the trail and hike to Maudes Crack. It's a 100yd crack in a cliff face that brings you to the summit with 180 degree views of the river valley.