Trail: Cosby Nature Trail
Mountains National Park
Geographic Location: south of
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: A short campground loop over islands in Cosby Creek.
Park Information: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=522531
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 321 and SR 32 south of Cosby, take SR 32 south 1.2 miles to the signed Cosby Entrance of
right to enter the park. Drive the
entrance road 2.1 miles to the campground registration station, and stop at the
registration station to ask for a campground map, which also serves as a trail
map. Continue uphill another 0.2 miles
to the signed paved perpendicular parking area for the Cosby Nature Trail on
the left. Great Smoky Mountains National
The hike: For an introduction to my history of hiking in the Smokies, see my hike to Albright Grove, the first hike on this (my third) visit to
The Cosby section of Great
Smoky Mountains National Park
comprises the park’s extreme northeast corner.
The section’s only amenity is a 93-site campground, and its location far
away from the tourist trap hustle and bustle that pervades places such as Gatlinburg,
Cades Cove, and Cherokee provides a more tranquil park-like setting at Cosby. Great
Smoky Mountains National Park
Several hiking trails start at the Cosby Campground. The Gabes Mountain Trail heads west along the park’s northern boundary and passes scenic
. The Low Gap and Lower Mount Cammerer Trails
give access to the Hen Wallow
Falls Appalachian Trail. The Lower Mount Cammerer Trail also leads to
the unusual Mount Cammerer Fire Tower. I
came to Cosby late one afternoon trying to squeeze in one more hike before
heading back home to South Carolina,
so among the many hiking options I chose to hike only the short 1 mile Cosby
Nature Trail described here. Campground nature
trails typically do not make for inspiring hiking, but this one provides a
pleasant walk over some secluded islands in the middle of Cosby Creek, thus
making the trail more pleasant than a typical campground nature trail.
|Trailhead: Cosby Nature Trail|
A trail guide dispenser sits at the trailhead, but it was broken on my visit. If there are no brochures available here when you arrive, you can purchase one at the campground registration station you passed on your way in. The gravel trail heads downhill and almost immediately intersects the Low Gap Trail, which goes left and right. A wooden trail sign indicates that the Cosby Nature Trail turns right to run conjointly with the Low Gap Trail. The campground’s amphitheater appears uphill to the right.
The trail dips to rock-hop a small tributary of Cosby Creek before reaching the junction that forms the nature trail’s loop. To follow the numbered interpretive posts in increasing order, turn left to begin hiking the loop clockwise, as indicated by another wooden sign. Next you cross the first in a series of footlogs that take you over the many channels of Cosby Creek, thus putting you on an island in the stream. Some of these footlogs were a little springy on my visit, but they all got me across the rocks and water without incident.
|Footlogs across channels of Cosby Creek|
The trail curves left to head downhill through the cluster of islands, which are covered with rhododendron and other shrubbery. Your car may be visible uphill to the left, an indication of how much you have descended. The constant gurgle of flowing water immerses you with surround-sound quality while you are on these islands.
Just shy of 0.4 miles, you cross the eastern-most channel of Cosby Creek as the trail curves right at its lowest elevation. Next comes a gradual climb upstream with the creek on your right. At 0.6 miles, you pass through an old homesite. Today only some black walnut and spicebush trees along with some old stone walls indicate this site.
|Stone wall near old homesite|
0.7 miles into the hike, you reach a potentially confusing intersection with the Low Gap Trail. A wooden trail sign indicates that the Cosby Nature Trail turns right and heads for Cosby Creek. While wading the creek is easy under normal water levels, the footlog that once spanned the creek here collapsed a few years ago, and there are no immediate plans to replace it. The volunteer campground ranger on duty during my visit recommended the alternative route described in the next paragraph.
If you turn left on the Low Gap Trail and climb slightly, you reach an intersection with the wide gravel Lower Mount Cammerer Trail in only a couple hundred feet. Turning right on the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail will quickly bring you to a nice large and fairly new footlog over Cosby Creek. Cross the footlog and walk a couple hundred more feet to reach the Cosby Campground road, where a pair of right turns will get you back on the Cosby Nature Trail west of Cosby Creek.
|New footlog on Lower Mount Cammerer Trail|
The last 0.1 miles run parallel to and just downhill from the campground road. At 1 mile you close the loop. Continue straight to return to the trailhead and complete the hike.