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Week 4: Kellogg’s Crack is awesome hike, but little known

The above map is modified from a trail map offered by Historic Rugby. Find an original here.

Distance: 2.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 210 feet
Difficulty: Easy

If you’ve never heard of Kellogg’s Crack, don’t feel bad. Once you’ve stepped onto the trail, you’ll realize that most other people haven’t heard of it, either.
Outside of the residents and frequent visitors of Rugby — the quaint Victorian English village that is positioned adjacent to the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area — few people ever make this hike, which falls entirely within the Rugby State Natural Area. But it’s actually quite an enjoyable hike with an awesome destination awaiting.

Kellogg’s Crack is actually located within sight of S.R. 52 on the banks of White Oak Creek. As the name suggests, it is a crack through the sandstone rock. As geological features go, it’s similar in nature to Cracks in the Rock near Blue Heron, which the hiking challenge visited in Week 2. It’s a much smaller crack, but it’s also unique in its own way, offering hikers the rare opportunity to hike through a cave.

You don’t have to hike through the cave, of course. In fact, you might not want to if you’re claustrophobic, because it’s a tight fit. Fortunately, there’s an easy way around it. But if you aren’t just deathly scared of cramped, dark places, you should definitely hike through the crack. It’s what makes this trail especially unique.

A Gentle Hike: In its entirety, the hike to Kellogg’s Crack is only 2.3 miles, with a little over 200 feet of elevation gain. That’s only about half the distance of last week’s hike to the O&W Bridge, and only about half of the elevation gain. In other words: it’s an easy hike.

Pay Close Attention: The only drawback to hiking at Rugby is that the trails are poorly signed and very lightly traveled. The “lightly traveled” part is both a positive and a negative. Lightly traveled means you aren’t going to encounter anyone else on the trail. But lightly traveled also means the trails can be difficult to follow if they aren’t blazed well. And since Rugby’s trails are built and maintained by a team of volunteers without the resources that the National Park Service has, they’re not blazed very well relative to the trails you’ll find in the Big South Fork.

Start at the Creek: The hike will begin at White Oak Creek on Rugby Parkway. If you’re not familiar with Rugby Parkway, it’s what used to be S.R. 52 through the village itself. The TN Dept. of Transportation recently bypassed Rugby when S.R. 52 was rebuilt to the south of the village. The trailhead is not signed, but it is a small parking lot that is located right on the creek, next to the old steel bridge that hasn’t been used in generations but still sits on the creek. (According to Rugby historian George Zepp, the old bridge dates back to the 1920s.)

From the trailhead, you’ll head north along White Oak Creek. Almost immediately, however, you’ll take a left and head up the hill. Be sure to note: This trail intersection is not signed. If you miss the turn-off and continue straight, you’ll be heading along the White Oak Trail, which is an entirely different trail that leads in the opposite direction from Kellogg’s Crack.

The Link Trail follows the old road that was once the main route into Rugby before Highway 52 was built in 1935 | Ben Garrett/IH

Following the Old Road: As you start up the hill, you’ll notice that you’re following an old road trace. This is one of the many perspectives of this hike that make it unique. This old road was a precursor to S.R. 52. It was the main route into Rugby from Elgin before the state highway was built in 1935. As you walk along the old road, you can imagine that this was very likely the same route that British author (and Rugby founder) Thomas Hughes took when he traveled from the train depot at Elgin (called Sedgemoor back then) to his idealistic English settlement in the late 19th century. Indeed, this is the route that most of Rugby’s early settlers would have taken.

The trail up the hill and along the old road trace is not named. On trail maps, it’s simply called “Link Trail.” It links the trailhead to Cox Branch Trail, which is the next trail we’ll be joining.

Reaching the Highway: After you’ve crested the hill, the Link Trail will re-emerge along the main road that is Rugby Parkway. You won’t see a sign, but head east along the highway (as if you’re headed back to your vehicle) and you’ll quickly reach a trail leading away from the roadway on the opposite side. This is Cox Branch Trail, which will lead us to Kellogg’s Loop.

It’s three-tenths of a mile down the Cox Branch Trail to Kellogg’s Loop, following the stream that is the trail’s namesake. Cox Branch drains the lands on the east side of Rugby. The trail along this segment continues to follow old road traces.

Just before Cox Branch Trail crosses the stream, there’s a trail intersection. You’ll turn right to follow the Kellogg’s Loop Trail | Ben Garrett/IH

The Trail Intersection: Just before the trail crosses Cox Branch, there’s a trail intersection. Kellogg’s Loop turns left. This is the way we want to travel to reach Kellogg’s Crack.

Just after Kellogg’s Loop leaves Cox Branch Trail, it crosses the stream. Please note: the bridge over the stream is out, having recently been washed away by flood waters. The good news is that, unless the stream is swollen by recent heavy rains, you’ll be able to rock-hop across it without getting your feet wet, and then scramble up the bank on the opposite side. This adds just a little difficulty to the hike, but it adds more adventure than anything else.

This is all that remains of the bridge over Cox Branch, after recent heavy rains washed away the bridge | Ben Garrett/IH

A Man Named Kellogg: According to Zepp, a retired journalist with Scott County roots who has made Rugby his home and volunteers in various capacities within the village, the trail is believed to be named for someone in the Nelson Kellogg (1850-1925) family. Kellogg was a Pennsylvania transplant, who arrived in Rugby near the start of settlement there in 1880. He had two sons, Clark (born 1878) and Donald (born 1885).

“A good supposition is that one of these three ‘discovered’ and claimed the name in local references,” Zepp said.

Nelson Kellogg and his wife operated Rugby’s Newbury House — which is still in operation — in the earliest years of the 20th century.

The bridge over Cox Branch is out. If the creek isn’t up too much, you can cross it by rock-hopping. If there’s been a lot of rainfall recently, the stream may be too high to cross. In the unlikely event that the stream is too high to cross, you can actually reach Kellogg’s Crack a different way. From S.R. 52, continue west towards the Clear Fork River and look for the first gated old road on the right after you cross the bridge over White Oak Creek. Hike along the road until Kellogg’s Loop Trail crosses it. Turn right and follow Kellogg’s Loop to the crack | Ben Garrett/IH

Continuing On: Once you’ve scrambled up the bank on the opposite side of the stream, the trail is best hiked in a counter-clockwise direction. The Kellogg Loop doesn’t follow road traces, like the rest of the route to this point, and it is so lightly trafficked that it can be difficult to follow at times. The only blazes are strips of green tape that are placed on trees at eye-level along the route. Watch carefully and you’ll see the trail faintly impressioned into the fallen leaves.

The entire Kellogg Loop — beginning and ending at the Cox Branch Trail — is only 0.85 mile in length, so it won’t take long to reach Kellogg’s Crack. When you come to a point where the trail crosses an administrative access road, you’ll know you’re getting close. Just after the road crossing, the trail descends a set of steps towards White Oak Creek. You’ll see the crack opening in the rocks just ahead of you. If you don’t want to go through the crack itself, hang to the right and you’ll find a faint footpath leading around the rocks. If you want to go through the crack, head down the crevice between the giant sandstone boulders.

Kellogg’s Crack is a tight fit, but passable | Ben Garrett/IH

Through the Crack: It’s a tight fit, but just anyone who will be making the hike can fit through Kellogg’s Crack. It gets dark inside, so carrying a flashlight along isn’t a terrible idea. At the far side, the crack becomes a shallow opening that requires you to stoop and almost crawl to exit it. It’s a little muddy and you will get your hands and knees dirty! (You may not want to wear your Sunday best on this hike.)

As you look into the opening to Kellogg’s Crack from the opposite side, you’ll realize that if you hiked this trail in a clockwise direction and didn’t know where you were supposed to enter, you’d miss the crack entirely. It’s a very unassuming entrance.

Kellogg’s Loop is difficult to follow in places. Watch for strips of green tape placed at eye level along the trail | Ben Garrett/IH

Back to the Trailhead: Once you’ve left the crack and continued on along Kellogg Loop, you’ll find that the trail becomes even more difficult to follow through a hemlock forest. You’ll have to look carefully to see the green tape that serves as trail blazes. Before long, the trail re-emerges on the access road. Head down the road to the right, towards the creek, and you’ll again see the faint trail leading off into the forest.

Once you’ve arrived back at the washed-away bridge on Cox Branch, simply retrace your steps to your vehicle. After you reach Rugby Parkway, you may wish to offer yourself a change of scenery by simply following the asphalt back to the trailhead rather than following the Link Trail back down the old road trace.

The trailhead for the hike to Kellogg’s Crack is located at the White Oak Creek bridge on Rugby Parkway | Ben Garrett/IH

Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 south to Elgin, and turn right onto S.R. 52. Continue west on S.R. 52 to Rugby Parkway. (If you cross the bridge over White Oak Creek, you’ve gone too far. If you cross the big bridge over the Clear Fork River, you’ve gone much too far.) Turn right onto Rugby Parkway and, immediately after crossing the bridge over White Oak Creek, park in the small gravel lot on the right.

Look For: As you near White Oak Creek, you’ll notice more and more hemlock trees along the trail. Look for small dots, painted in various colors, near the bases of some of these trees. The paint is used to indicate that the trees have been treated for hemlock woolly adelgid, the tiny insect that is slowly killing all untreated hemlocks across the Cumberland Plateau. Hemlocks are often found along streams and in shaded forest areas, and play an important role in the ecosystem. Snap a picture of yourself with one of these hemlocks and post it on social media with the hashtag #40MileChallenge.

Be Careful For: The start of the Link Trail is often muddy and “squishy” during the spring. The washed-out bridge over Cox Branch will present a bit of a challenge to avoid getting your feet wet. The exit of Kellogg’s Crack will cause you to get your hands and knees a little dirty.

Make It Better: Want more trail? Once you’ve completed the hike to Kellogg’s Crack, head down White Oak Creek from the trailhead and complete the White Oak Trail. It’s a 2.3-mile hike that is a combination of a loop trail and an out-and-back trail, following the creek for most of its length.

Also, be sure to drive into Rugby once you’ve completed your hike and explore the town and its history. The Rugby Visitor Centre will be open from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday and noon to 5 pm on Sunday. Tours are offered at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm on Saturday, and 1 pm and 3 pm on Sunday.

Additionally, the Rugby Commissary is open from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday and noon to 4 pm on Sunday. The Rugby Printing Works are open from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday and 1 pm to 4 pm on Sunday. The Spirit of Red Hill shop is open from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm on Saturday and noon to 5 pm on Sunday. Lunch is available at the R.M. Brooks General Store on the west side of the village, except for Sunday.

Remember To: Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Memories. Please pack out anything you pack in!

GC Staff
GC Staff
Go Cumberlands is the premiere source of information for visitors to Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains and Cumberland Plateau region.

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