High atop Lookout Mountain, just south of the Tennessee-Georgia line, Rock Creek cuts a valley into the mountaintop. As it prepares to drop off the mountain, the creek flows through Lula Lake (actually more like a pond) and over the impressive Lula Falls. I recall from decades ago hearing tales of the wild and woolly days when Lula Lake was basically a no man’s land where all sorts of characters hung out and scary things happened. The surrounding land had been degraded through mining, clear cutting and garbage dumping.
Today, it’s quite a different scene. Lula Lake and Lula Falls are contained within the core property of the Lula Lake Land Trust. Beginning in 1958 and continuing through the ’60s and ’70s, the late Robert M. Davenport began buying up tracts of land in the area. In the early 1980s, he began working to restore the land. The Lula Lake Land Trust was established in 1994 with an initial 1,200 acres for the purpose of preserving the Rock Creek watershed. Today, the trust owns over 8,000 acres.
Although the Five Points and Long Branch trail systems on nearby trust properties are open every day, the core property at Lula Lake is only open to the public on official “open gate” days, which are generally the first and last Saturdays of each month.
Mountain biking adventure
On the most recent open gate day, my wife and I decided to pay a visit for some mountain biking. On the eastern slope of the valley, between Rock Creek and the eastern bluff of Lookout Mountain, a network of trails has been constructed that totals over 7 miles. Some are single-track trail and some are fire lanes, but all are open to both hiking and biking.
After entering the property and driving for some distance on a gravel road, we came to the parking area, where a volunteer-staffed table was set up for visitors to sign in, with trail maps and a jar for donations. We were in the minority as bikers, with most visitors walking. Many of them had dogs (on leashes, as required). A footbridge over Rock Creek provides immediate access to the trail system.
We chose to follow the road on to Lula Lake; it soon becoming apparent it was on an old railroad bed, which eventually leaves the land trust property and descends the mountain into Chattanooga Valley. After the road crosses a bridge, Rock Creek, now on the left, cascades into Lula Lake, then a short distance downstream pours over Lula Falls.
From between the lake and falls, we started up the Bluff Trail, pushing our bikes much of the way up this relatively short but steep section of trail that makes its way for a quarter-mile or so up to the brow of the mountain. The trail then runs along near the bluff for over a mile. Soon after reaching the top, we came to an overlook area with some freshly cut log benches, where we paused for lunch. The view to the east includes Pigeon Mountain, White Oak Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Eventually, we turned off the Bluff Trail onto the Turkey Trail and later the Middle Trail, descending on a fun ride diagonally back down the hill toward the creek-though I wouldn’t recommend taking the rather steep Connector Trail, as we did, which emerges back onto the road near Lula Lake and really isn’t designed for bikes. This is just a sample of the various routes you can configure for either mountain biking or hiking.
On open gate days, the property is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, with the entrance gate closing at 4. The exit road is much shorter but has a paved section that is quite steep.
For more information
Visit the Lula Lake Land Trust website here.
Although the website has maps of the Five Points and Long Branch trail systems, it doesn’t have one of the core property’s trails. But if you get there early enough, you can pick one up at the sign-in table.
Find directions and a Google map here.
Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com.