Trails: Maddron Bald and Albright Grove Loop Trails
Mountains National Park
Geographic Location: southwest of
Length: 6.8 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: A long gradual to moderate climb to Albright Grove.
Park Information: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=522523
Directions to the trailhead: Between Gatlinburg and Cosby, take
321 to Baxter Road. This intersection is located 4.4 miles
southwest of Cosby or 15.7 miles east of Gatlinburg. There is a green street sign but no park sign
at this intersection. Turn south on Baxter
narrow but paved Baxter Rd.
0.3 miles to the turnoff for the Maddron Bald Trailhead. There is a park sign at this turn, but it may
be obscured by rhododendron. Take a
sharp right on the gravel trailhead access road, and reach the trailhead on the
left 150 feet later. Park on the left
side of the road, taking care not to block the vehicle gate.
The hike: Each of my return visits to
reminds me that there is nothing quite like hiking in the Smokies. This and the next three hikes mark my third
visit to the park. See my Abrams Falls hike from 2007 and my Flat Creek Trail hike from 2012 for my first two visits and an introduction to Great
Smoky Mountains National Park hiking. Smoky
This hike leads to Albright Grove, one of the few patches of virgin forest remaining in the national park. The grove is named for Horace Albright, who served as the second director of the National Park Service from 1929 until 1933. The loop trail through the grove is only 1 mile long, but to get to the loop you have to hike the first 2.9 miles of the Maddron Bald Trail, thus forming the 6.8 mile route described here. This hike gains roughly 1500 feet of elevation, but the gradual, persistent grade combined with the well-developed treadway make this hike doable for most people in decent physical condition.
|Maddron Bald trailhead|
The first 2.3 miles of the Maddron Bald Trail uses an old gravel road that is now closed to public vehicles, so this hike starts by walking around an orange and white vehicle gate. The Maddron Bald Trail and its namesake summit are named for Lawson Maddron, a
minister who lived in the
late 1800’s. The winding gravel road
uses a couple of switchbacks to climb above a branch of Buckeye Creek, which
can be heard but not seen through rhododendron downhill to the left. Cocke
When I hiked this trail in mid-May, I passed a park maintenance crew using hedge trimmers to tame the vegetation that lined the trail. The crew called this procedure “cutting” the trail, and it was being done to make the gravel road passable for Memorial Day visitors (descendents of people who lived here) to decorate cemeteries located up this old road. This encounter was a strong reminder of the people who lived and farmed this land before the park was established.
At 0.7 miles, you reach another reminder of the people who lived on this land: the Willis Baxter Cabin. Made of chestnut logs, the Willis Baxter Cabin was built by Willis Baxter in 1889 as a wedding present for his son. Today the cabin sits in a sunny grassy clearing that had been mowed recently on my visit.
|Willis Baxter cabin|
Continuing to climb, the trail crosses
on a concrete and stone culvert before beginning the steepest part of the old road. At 1.2 miles, you top the steep area and
reach a major trail intersection at a wide spot in the road. The Old Settlers Trail exits right to head
15.8 miles west to the Greenbrier section of the park, while the Gabe Mountain
Trail exits left to head 6.6 miles east to the park’s Cosby Campground. Our hike continues straight on the old gravel
road. A pair of wooden benches made of
fallen logs provide an opportunity to rest here if needed, and some
strategically placed boulders block further vehicle access. Cole Creek
The grade becomes nearly level for awhile as the trail traces the hillside with Indian Camp Creek audible but not visible downhill to the right. At 2.3 miles, you reach a very overgrown cul de sac where the old gravel road ends. The Maddron Bald Trail now assumes a dirt treadway built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The grade intensifies once again, and some large hemlocks beside the trail provide a nice prelude to the real tree show that is to come.
|A large hemlock beside the trail|
|Crossing Indian Camp Creek on a footlog|
2.7 miles into the hike, you cross Indian Camp Creek on a footlog, the only footlog on this hike. After crossing the creek, the trail curves right and then left while climbing a little more to reach the fork that forms the Albright Grove Loop at 2.9 miles. You could go either way here, but I chose to angle right and use the left trail as a return route in order to take my time climbing through Albright Grove. Such a route hikes the loop counterclockwise.
The narrow dirt trail climbs in fits and starts as it heads into the grove’s virgin forest, or forest that has never been logged. The tallest trees in the grove are tulip poplars, although some large hemlocks also make great scenery. Some of the grove’s trees are estimated to be over 200 years old. The sound of cascading water from nearby Dunn and Indian Camp Creeks reverberates through the grove. Some logs from fallen trees make nice places to sit, eat a trail snack, and enjoy the ambience.
|A large tulip poplar in Albright Grove|
|Another large tulip poplar in Albright Grove|
After a brief steep drop, you reach the upper end of the Albright Grove Loop at 3.6 miles, where it intersects again with the Maddron Bald Trail. Turning right would continue the climb to Maddron Bald, so you need to turn left to begin heading back to the trailhead. 0.3 miles of moderately steep descending closes the loop. 2.9 miles of retracing your steps mostly downhill returns you to your car to complete the hike.