Trail highlights: beautiful mountain stream, lush forest and foliage, steep gorge, protected wilderness area, old flume from mining operation, picturesque twin waterfall, interesting trail with numerous stream crossings and a fun boulder scramble
Configuration: there and back
Length: 3.6 miles (per official map)/4.4 miles (per my GPS track)
Elevation change: +/- 725 feet, 975 feet at trailhead, 1525 feet at highest point
Hiking time: 2:15
Trailhead: N35.24696° W84.54013°
Land status: US Forest Service, Cherokee National Forest
Online information: USFS Gee Creek Falls site, Starr Mountain map
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” — the Wilderness Act of 1964
Nestled in the Appalachian foothills of the Cherokee National Forest, the Gee Creek Wilderness in southeast Tennessee protects a beautiful creek as it tumbles down its gorge. The trailhead is at the end of a gravel US Forest Service road, with a moderate amount of parking and an informative trail kiosk.
The first half mile is a wide packed gravel path on the north bank of the creek with a gradual slope. A wooden bridge crosses the creek, and the trail enters the Gee Creek Wilderness. After this point, the gorge narrows in on the creek and the trail closely follows it past numerous small falls and pools.
The remains of a mining operation are the last traces of civilization along the trail. In the 1890s, the creek was diverted to wash silica, which was used in copper processing operations. The stream passes under a flume, and a concrete structure is visible on the right of the trail.
Shortly after the diverter, the creek forms a twin waterfall emptying into a pool. The trail crosses the creek here by stepping on rocks. There are seven more crossings along the trail to get to the turnaround point. I managed to keep my balance over the first three, then slipped and got my feet wet, so I just waded the rest of them.
The foliage is lush throughout, with lots of rhododendrons lining the trail. I bet it’s stunning when they are in bloom! In one place I had to squeeze through thick growth.
Trailfinding isn’t really that difficult; stream crossings are clear, though it may take a minute of observing to determine that the trail does cross at a given point. One of my favorite obstacles on the trail was climbing up and down a boulder. Again, nothing difficult but a brief pause to decide the best route might be needed.
The trail enters a wider, level hollow at the very end. There’s no marking for the end of trail that I saw, but a large pile of brush blocking further progress was a good indicator that I had reached the official end of the trail.
Gee Creek Trail was extremely fun, and a rewarding way to enjoy a little more of the Great Outdoors on an Ocoee rafting trip. If you’re looking for a campground in the area, I stayed at 2 Rivers Campground in nearby Benton and recommend it highly. Very nice campsites, and the location couldn’t be better–the campground is at the confluence of the Ocoee and the Hiwassee, and all sites are on one of the two rivers.