I chose to initially start out by following trails that looped around the perimeter of the property. The parking lot and trailheads are all on top of a small ridge that is generally a part of the broken ground that makes up Peavine Ridge, or at least the range of hills on the northern end of Peavine Ridge. The rest of the property runs down the slopes over 200 vertical feet into a ravine where South Chickamauga Creek cuts through the hills on the way to the Tennessee River. Basically it is typical Ridge and Valley terrain. I hiked downhill on trails that were leaf covered but obviously fairly heavily traveled. It was not what I expected. It is a park meant for true hiking and features a good bit of topographical relief.
|Typical trail at the Elsie Holmes Nature Park. This was on the top of the ridge. A couple of times the trail winds near pastures and fields and you can see for some distance, at least in the winter.|
After a while I got down to South Chickamauga Creek. One of my goals for coming to the park was to see if it would make a suitable takeout point for a float trip down the creek from Ringgold. Unfortunately the parking area is on top of the ridge so it would be at least a half mile hike uphill some 200 vertical feet to the cars so I don't expect to have much luck finding anyone to run it with me unless I do it myself, which seems possible with a quite long bicycle shuttle on fairly busy roads. Still, I might do it. There were some class I riffles in the creek and when I got to the edge of the park I could see what appeared to be a class II-ish boulder garden rapid upstream.
|A class I ledge on South Chickamauga Creek.|
|More ledges on South Chickamauga Creek.|
One of the more interesting things I saw was a small rushing stream pouring into the South Chick on the opposite bank. Since it had pretty substantial flow, at first I thought it might be a promising micro-creek for a first descent, then I realized that the stream was not flowing from a ravine, but actually was flowing right out of the mountainside. There is a similar creek that flows out of Lookout Mountain so I've seen such things before but it was quite a lot of water to be coming out of a ridge.
|The underground stream that flows out into the creek. The channel is much wider back in there. I failed to get a good picture of it.|
|Some kind of green plant growing in the middle of winter. I'm not sure what it is.|
Some of the less traveled trails at the park are in need of maintenance, with trees down and a sparsity of blazes. There are some very steep climbs to the top, but I still think it was no more than a couple miles to do an entire loop of the property, so I took some of the trails that cut through the middle of the loop to scout my potential path for taking off the creek and carrying my boat up the ridge to the parking lot. It didn't look promising. Some of the connector trails are less traveled and were quite thickly covered with leaves.
I finally found the only real overlook, which is still somewhat overgrown and I suspect it is hard to see much when the leaves are still on the trees. There were some nice views across a valley to White Oak Mountain, although the poor camera in my iPhone did not capture the scenery well at all.
|White Oak Mountain seen from the Don Smotherman Overlook. I'm so disappointed with this smart phone pic because it was a nice view in person. South Chickamauga Creek can be seen below through the trees.|
It isn't the Great Smoky Mountains but this is a great option for me for a short local hike. It's less than 10 minutes from my house. I think I put together about 3 miles of hiking with quite a bit of climbing and descending. I wish I had taken the time to investigate the park earlier.