FATMAP difficulty grade
If you're an experienced trail runner looking for a challenge, you've found it.
This loop offers big mountain elevation, plenty of views, endless wildflowers, and follows part of the Conasauga River Trail through one of its most beautiful sections.
Minus a brief stretch of road, this loop is entirely within the Cohutta Wilderness and runners should expect complete autonomy the entire way. There are two trailheads for this loop, both located on Conasauga Lake Road: Tearbritches Trailhead, and Chestnut Lead Trailhead.
The origins of the trail names are speculative, but in the summer months Tearbritches has several plants with thorns that may "tear your britches" if you're not careful.
Both trailheads are separated by about 1.5 miles of unpaved road.
Run counter-clockwise, the trail begins by descending the Chestnut Lead Trail gradually to the Conasauga River Trail.
The path is easy to follow and never too steep.
At the Consasauga River Trail, keep left to continue. On the Conasauga River Trail, you'll follow this peaceful mountain stream downhill, crossing it at several points.
While some can be navigated with ease, expect you will get your feet wet at times.
If you look closely, you can also spot remnants of a former road paralleling the river, though many areas have been rerouted over time.
After a few miles, the loop passes Panther Creek Trail.
For an additional few miles to this loop, you could go up the trail 1-2 miles to Panther Creek Falls, a stellar waterfall rarely visited by the average hiker or runner. Just past the Panther Creek Trail, the Conasauga River Trail enters a large clearing popular with overnight campers.
The Tearbritches Trail begins to your left behind the clearing.
If you reach the junction with Hickory Creek Trail, you went too far.
Once you're on the trail, its easy to follow, but several social trails and small campsites can make it difficult to find. The climb ahead will test even the strongest of trail runners as it gains elevation rapidly along a ridge.
Trekking poles are highly recommended due to the steepness of the terrain.
After passing over the summit of Bald Mountain, you'll descend briefly back to Conasauga Lake Road.
A large group campsite lies just on the other side of the road from the trailhead, should you wish to plan a multi-day running trip to the area. This is a great spring or fall route, with limited access in the winter due to seasonal road closures between January and March.
There are no facilities along the way and no potable water.
The Conasauga River offers plenty of opportunities to cool down on a hot summer day and its water can be filtered/treated if you to need to refill.