Russell Cave National Monument Highpoint Trip Report

Date: June 7, 2007
Author: John Mitchler

General Description: In the mountain terrain in extreme northeastern Alabama, about 30 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee, this wooded hill requires some orienteering as you hike on guided pathways, bushwhack through open forest, and stroll along gravel roads.

Distance: 0.9 mile one-way
Difficulty: moderate hill climb
Elevation gain: 910 feet
Summit elevation: 1,680 feet
Maps: Doran Cove (recommended) USGS Quad, DeLorme p. 20 & 21.
Access/permits: Open / None required / No Fee
Best months: Year-round
Visitor Centers: One Visitor Center at entrance

Highpoint Description: A wooded ridge near Russell Point on Montague Mountain, with no views.

Finding the trailhead:
From the east and west, take Exit xxx off I-24 at South Pittsburg, Tennessee, and drive south on US 72 / TN 27. As you pass by TN 156, set your odometer. Cross the Alabama-Tennessee border and continue south on US 72 / AL 2. At mile 6 turn right (west) onto CR 75, and at mile 7 turn right (north) on CR 98. Proceed along this rural road to mile 10.7 and the entrance of the park on your left (west).

Key points along the hike:
0.0   Visitor Center
0.0   Nature Trail
0.1   Hiking Trail
0.2   Leave trail for forest bushwhack.
0.2   gravel road
0.6   Leave road for forest bushwhack.
0.8   ridge top
0.9   highpoint

The hike:
From the Visitor Center, take the wide, wood boardwalk south toward Russell Cave. After a couple hundred feet, watch for the signed Nature Trail on the right (west). Follow this paved trail as it ascends the wooded hillside. Stay right at the first fork and continue up the hill. At the signed fork, do not take the Nature Trail to the left, and instead follow the Hiking Trail to the right (west). This hiking trail adds 0.6 mile to the Nature Trail loop.

Follow the hiking trail as it ascends the hillside, and at the highest point along the trail, leave the trail on your right, and bushwhack uphill through the woods a short distance until you reach a north-south gravel road. The Note where you come onto this road, as you will need to exit the road here on your return. On your topo map, this location is the west bend in the dashed road, just below the letter "L" of "RUSSELL CAVE". Hike left on this road as it ascends the hillside to the west and south. Exit the gravel road a point due east of the park’s boundary line over Russell Point. This point is identified by a large slab boulder in the woods on your right (west), and roadside park markings. Hike due west up the hill. When the hillside steepens, note park boundary signs that indicate you are on line. The undergrowth thickens a bit as you reach the flat ridge top. Look for park boundary markers and continue west until the rise of the ridge top begins to drop off to the west. The highest point is along the boundary, just south of Russell Point, which is a shallow rise that can be easily reached through the woods.

If you continue west along the boundary, you will reach a north-south gravel road that services the ridge top. Follow this road to the right (north) until you reach boundary markers along the still-ascending road. If the road is descending or heads west, you are too far north and should turn around and head south to look for the park boundary signs.

An alternative to reaching the ridge top is to reach the gravel road from the hiking trail and follow it south about 0.8 mile to the southern edge of the park boundary, marked by an iron gate across the road. Here, leave the road to the right (west) and ascend the steep hillside due west to reach the ridge top and the gravel road on top. Do not go straight uphill, rather angle to the right, heading due west to follow the park boundary. This boundary is marked by another gate on the ridge top road. Follow the ridge top road right (north) until you reach the northern boundary of the park as described above. Then leave the road to the right and bushwhack through the forest as it slightly rises to the highpoint along the park boundary.

About the park:
This cave was used by all four major time periods of North American Indian culture; Paleo (10,000 - 7,000 BC), Archaic (7,000 - 1,000 BC), Woodland (1,000 BC - 500 AD), and Mississippian (800 - 1,500 AD). Russell Cave consists of two major openings, one of which has collapsed to allow entry via a boardwalk. The other opening hosts a creek which floods during rain. People are not allowed to go into the cave beyond the entrance walkway, and the area is monitored by video surveillance.

Jackson County, Alabama, leads the nation with most caves (1,527), followed by Dade County, Georgia (149), and White County, Tennessee (710). Watch for poison ivy and copperhead snakes. Use caution on the rocky and leaf-covered slopes.

Camping and services:

No camping allowed at this monument. Full services are available
in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, to the north of the park.