25 Miles / 2000 Feet of Climbing
A challenging gravel grinder close to town with a great mix of scenery & topography and a couple of breathtaking views along the way!
Potential Route Modifications: As an out & back route, you can shorten the ride to any distance by simply doubling back at any point along the way. If you want a shorter ride with a real destination, use Snooper's Rock as your turnaround point. That reduces the route to 12 miles and a little over 900 feet of climbing and gives you a stunning view as a reward for the effort!
For this route, we recommend starting from the main parking area just before you reach the administrative building. (You'll see it on your left.) There are some other places to park farther down the road if you want to shorten the ride, but parking here will maximize the distance.
We should also note that the main road is identified as Game Reserve Road on most map but is marked as "Tower Road" on the road signs along the route. It's easy to stay on the main road, as the side roads are in noticeably poor condition by comparison, but it's still nice to have these periodic road signs confirming that you're still on Tower Road.
The first five miles are relatively easy as you roll along on hard-pack gravel & dirt. There are some rollers to contend with, but it generally trends down, making for a fast start. Around mile 5, the road really tips down and you'll need to pay a little more attention to your line as you make the descent. The scenery will also change with this descent, as you go from a wide-open road to a dense forest with a nice tree-canopy overhead.
Towards the bottom of the descent, you'll see a spring on your left. It's been nicely piped to allow for easy access, and while we can't say for sure if it's safe for drinking, many people do refill their water bottles here.
Shortly after the spring, the road bottoms out and you'll see a small parking area and a road leading to Snoopers Rock. If you're looking for a short ride, you can roll down this road to Snoopers Rock and then ride back to where you started. That makes for a 12-mile ride. But for the full ride, skip it for now and save it for the return trip.
After passing by the Snoopers Rock turn-off, the road tilts sharply up and you'll soon find yourself on double-digit grades, reaching the high teens in places! Fortunately, the steep part is little more than a quarter-mile. And it's a beautiful climb since you're still in the woods at this point.
You'll keep heading uphill for another mile or so (at a much gentler grade), and around mile 7 you'll come to a gate across the road. This is the end of the line for motorized vehicles, but bikes are allowed past it. So hoist your bike over the fence and continue down the road.
The next couple of miles are relatively flat compared to the hilly terrain you just left, but there are several areas of heavy sand that can be a bit treacherous in wet weather.
Around mile 9, you'll drop down another descent that lasts almost a mile, followed by a climb that's equally as long. Like the last descent & climb, the scenery is beautiful deep woods. Unlike the last climb, however, the grade is much more manageable, with mostly single-digit grades.
After coming up from the climb, the woods will open up and you'll return to rollers for the next mile or so before coming to a split in the road (at around mile 11.5). Veer left and head down a steep hill. (A sign at this split will confirm that Tower Road continues to your left.) This is a super steep descent so use extra caution as you roll down it.
At the bottom of the descent, you will find yourself at the edge of the escarpment called Insurance Bluff. A few yards to the right is a beautiful overlook with a second overlook just a little farther down the road. Both of them are truly spectacular as they look down over the Tennessee River Gorge. Be careful taking in the view (especially in bike shoes), as there are no guardrails!
After soaking in the scenery, you will be faced with the daunting task of heading back up the super steep hill you just came down. With grades reaching the mid-20's, many folks opt to simply push their bikes back to the main road.
Once you make it to the top of the hill, you'll have a couple of rollers and then launch into a fun mile and a half of downhill as you go back into the woods. Of course, the downhill is followed by a climb (a little over half a mile) and a couple of miles of rollers (and sand) before making it back to the gate.
After the gate, the road turns downhill, gently at first and then sharply, so use caution as the grade turns steep. As the road bottoms out, you'll the sign for Snoopers Rock. Take a right onto this road and follow it as it drops down a quarter-mile to a small parking lot and trailhead.
The trail out to Snoopers Rock is super short, and you can easily walk/carry your bike out to the overlook. Snoopers Rock is a wide flat rock that overhangs the Tennessee River Gorge, giving you the perfect platform to take in the amazing panoramic view of the gorge, arguably even better than the view from Insurance Bluff. It's definitely worth the detour!
The only downside to this side-trip is having to go back up Snoopers Rock road. It's short but the double-digit grades will hurt at this point in the ride. And to make matters worse, once you return to the main road you'll be faced with another climb, this one lasting over half a mile.
You'll have some relief at the top of the climb, but the last few miles leading back to the parking lot where you started will feel a lot longer and harder than they should, as most of it is uphill. It makes for a pretty tough finish with tired legs, but it's well worth the effort to enjoy this hidden gem of a ride just 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga.