Monday, May 30, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains NP: Cosby Nature Trail (Blog Hike #574)

Trail: Cosby Nature Trail
Hike Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Geographic Location: south of Cosby, TN
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: A short campground loop over islands in Cosby Creek.

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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Turn 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.

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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  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.
            Several hiking trails start at the Cosby Campground.  The Gabes Mountain Trail heads west along the park’s northern boundary and passes scenic Hen Wallow Falls.  The Low Gap and Lower Mount Cammerer Trails give access to the 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.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains NP: Noah "Bud" Ogle Place and Nature Trail (Blog Hike #573)

Trail: Bud Ogle Place and Nature Trail
Hike Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Geographic Location: south of Gatlinburg, TN
Length: 0.75 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: A short, fairly flat, but occasionally rocky lollipop loop featuring a log cabin homestead.

Directions to the trailhead: In downtown Gatlinburg, take The Parkway (US 441) to Cherokee Orchard Road (traffic light #8).  Turn south on Cherokee Orchard Rd.  Follow signs for the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which starts at the edge of Gatlinburg.  Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail 2.7 miles from traffic light #8 to the signed parking area for the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place on the right.  Park in this parking lot.

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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The short hike described here explores the former property of Noah “Bud” Ogle, a subsistence farmer who lived here with his family from 1879 until his death in 1913.  This area is an underused part of the national park.  When I drove the congested Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail on a warm mid-May afternoon, most parking lots were overflowing, but this parking lot was less than half full.
Trailhead at Noah "Bud" Ogle Place
            At the signed trailhead, an interpretive guide dispenser offers pamphlets for $0.50, a small price to pay for the wealth of information contained in the guide.  The gravel trail heads downhill and very quickly arrives at the grassy clearing that contains the Ogle family homestead.  Though this land is too steep and rocky to make good farmland, the Ogles grew corn, hogs, and apple trees here for many years.  The log cabin is actually a pair of cabins built about 5 years apart that share a common chimney, a design called a saddlebag cabin.  Notice the large porch on either side, and imagine what life would have been like here 150 years ago.
Ogle homestead
            The barn you see further up the hill lies at the end of the nature trail loop.  To pass the numbered interpretive posts in increasing order, turn right, head into the woods, and rock hop a small tributary of LeConte Creek.  This portion of the trail follows the Ogle’s old driveway through a thick stand of rhododendron.
            At 0.2 miles, the Twin Creeks Trail exits right at a signed intersection.  The Twin Creeks Trail leads 1.9 miles downhill to the City of Gatlinburg, so this hike angles left to remain on the nature trail loop.  After passing between some old stone walls, you reach the bank of LeConte Creek at 0.3 miles.
Ogle's tub mill 
Flume at tub mill
            The trail curves left and heads slightly upstream to arrive at the Ogle’s tub mill.  Used mainly to mill corn, the tub mill was powered by water diverted from LeConte Creek via a wooden flume.  Part of the flume remains intact today.  Past the mill, the trail curves left to leave the creek.  The treadway becomes very rocky here.  Fortunately the terrain on this hike is fairly flat, so careful stepping will get you around and over the rocks.
Rocky trail
Ogle's barn
            The trail reaches its highest elevation at 0.45 miles before curving left and beginning a gradual descent.  After re-crossing the tributary of LeConte Creek on a footlog, you come out at the Ogle’s barn, a 4-pen single story barn with loft.  Continue past the barn to the homestead to close the loop, and then head back up the short gravel entrance trail to complete the hike.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains NP: Fighting Creek Nature Trail and Cataract Falls (Blog Hike #572)

Trails: Fighting Creek Nature and Cove Mountain Trails
Hike Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Gatlinburg, TN
Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: A short but interesting semi-loop featuring a small waterfall and an abandoned log cabin.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Sugarlands Visitor Center, which is located on the west side of US 441 2.7 miles south of Gatlinburg.

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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The hike described here is my favorite short hike near Gatlinburg.  This route features natural scenery in Cataract Falls, human history in John Ownby’s cabin, and scenic low-elevation forest all packed in 1.9 fairly easy miles.  What more could you ask for in a short front-country hike?
            Do not be dismayed by the huge parking lot and potentially large crowd of people in front of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  Most of these people simply stop in the Visitor Center to watch the park’s introductory film (a worthy 20 minute add-on after you finish this hike) or get some park information.  I passed a few people on this hike, but I found traffic on this trail surprisingly low given the hike’s location and ease.
Start of Fighting Creek Nature Trail
            Start on the paved asphalt path that begins at the rear of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  This asphalt trail is called the Gatlinburg Trail, and as its name suggests it leads 1.9 miles to the City of Gatlinburg.  The Gatlinburg Trail is popular with bikers and joggers, but it is too crowded and developed to make for good hiking.
            In 300 feet, you reach the start of the dirt Fighting Creek Nature Trail, which exits the pavement to the left.  A wooden park sign marks this junction.  Turn left to pass a trail guide dispenser as you start the nature trail.  The $0.50 required to purchase a trail guide is a small price to pay for the wealth of information contained in the pamphlet.
            The wide dirt trail heads west to cross tiny Ash Hopper Branch on a small wooden bridge.  Interpretive signs help you identify common trees in the forest, which include sweet gum and tulip poplars.  After crossing Fighting Creek on a larger wooden bridge, you reach a major trail intersection at 0.2 miles.  The trails going straight and left form the loop portion of the Fighting Creek Nature Trail, and we will use them later.  For now, turn right to begin the signed spur trail to Cataract Falls.
Hiking along Fighting Creek
            The fine gravel trail heads downstream with rushing Fighting Creek immediately to your right.  The pine woods along this portion of the creek form a very peaceful setting.  Some poison ivy also lives down here, but the trail is wide enough to make this irritating shrub easily avoided if you are looking for it.  At 0.3 miles, the trail passes under a stone vehicle bridge that carries a park maintenance road across Fighting Creek.  Some short wooden boardwalks get you over some wet areas.
            After passing under the bridge, the trail curves left and climbs a few steps to intersect the Cove Mountain Trail.  Turn right here to continue heading for Cataract Falls.  The wide trail continues its downstream course and, just shy of 0.5 miles, reaches the base of Cataract Falls.  Formed by a small tributary of Fighting Creek, Cataract Falls is a cascade-type waterfall that drops about 20 feet.  Though certainly not the most scenic waterfall in the park, Cataract Falls makes a nice easy add-on to this nature trail hike.
Cataract Falls
            The Cove Mountain Trail continues for many miles past Cataract Falls, but there are no other nearby points of interest in that direction.  Thus, this hike turns around and retraces its route back to the major trail intersection.  Continue straight to begin hiking the loop portion of the Fighting Creek Nature Trail clockwise.
            The trail passes under a power line as it angles right away from the creek.  Next you pass what remains of Noah McCarter’s homestead: some stone walls and part of a chimney.  The interpretive guide does a good job of describing Noah and his way of life.
Hiking through an old corn field
            The trail climbs slightly as it passes through some old farm fields.  After crossing a short footlog (a bridge constructed by splitting a large log in half lengthwise and laying it cut-side-up across a creek), I had to pause while a large black snake crossed the trail in front of me.  I know it is bad luck to have a black cat cross your path, but I am unsure about a black snake.
Black snake crossing my path
            At 1.1 miles, you descend slightly to reach John Ownby’s cabin.  Built in 1860, the small one-story cabin with sawn-wood floors is the last surviving structure from the Forks-of-the-River community, a settlement that existed in this area before the park was formed.  Take some time to admire the cabin’s rustic beauty and imagine life here 150 years ago.
John Ownby's cabin
The trail curves sharply right to leave the cabin clearing on the same side from which it entered.  More gradual climbing on nice sidehill trail brings you to the highest elevation of this hike, about 110 feet above Fighting Creek.  The descent that follows is quite sharp relative to the rest of this trail.  At 1.7 miles, you close the nature trail loop at the west bank of Fighting Creek.  Continue straight across the bridge over Fighting Creek to return to the Sugarlands Visitor Center in 0.2 miles and complete the hike.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains NP: Albright Grove (Blog Hike #571)

Trails: Maddron Bald and Albright Grove Loop Trails
Hike Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Cosby, TN
Length: 6.8 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: A long gradual to moderate climb to Albright Grove.

Directions to the trailhead: Between Gatlinburg and Cosby, take US 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 Rd.  Drive 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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park 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 Smoky Mountain hiking.
            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 Cocke County 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.
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 Cole Creek 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.
            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.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

South Mountains State Park: Chestnut Knob Trail (Blog Hike #570)

Trail: Chestnut Knob Trail
Hike Location: South Mountains State Park
Geographic Location: south of Morganton, NC
Length: 4.2 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: May 2016
Overview: An out-and-back, steep for about half of its distance, to two overlooks of Jacob Fork Gorge.

Directions to the trailhead: Take I-40 to SR 18 (exit 105).  Exit and go south on SR 18.  Take SR 18 9 miles to Sugarloaf Road and turn right on Sugarloaf Rd.  Take Sugarloaf Rd. to Old SR 18 and turn left on Old SR 18.  Drive Old SR 18 4 miles to Ward’s Gap Road and turn right on Ward’s Gap Rd.  Take Ward’s Gap Rd. 1.4 miles to South Mountains Park Ave. and take a very soft right onto South Mountains Park Ave.  This road becomes the main park road at the park entrance.  Drive the main park road to its very end and park in the large paved Jacob Fork Parking Area.

The hike: For my introduction to South Mountains State Park, see my blog entry for the High Shoals Falls Loop, which is this park’s signature hike.  Built in the mid 1990’s, the Chestnut Knob Trail described here is one of the park’s newest trails.  The trail takes you to a pair of scenic overlooks located high above Jacob Fork.  While some hikers are deterred by the relative steepness and occasional rockiness of this trail, conditioned and prepared hikers will enjoy getting away from the crowds that can plague the Jacob Fork section of the park.  I passed only four other people on this trail during my hike on a warm mid-May afternoon.
Trailhead
            Of the two trailheads at the rear of the main parking area, choose the one on the right.  A sign for High Shoals Falls Loop Trail and Chestnut Knob, among other destinations, sits at this trailhead.  The wide trail starts as blacktop and then turns to dirt and gravel as it joins an old road on a westward course.
            At 0.2 miles, you reach the start of the Chestnut Knob Trail, which exits right.  As directed by a trail sign, turn right to begin the climb to Chestnut Knob.  The Chestnut Knob Trail is marked with white plastic diamonds nailed to trees.  The markers are plenteous, making it very hard to get lost.
The Chestnut Knob Trail is the most direct route out of Jacob Fork Gorge, and soon you start to see the price of the directness.  Over the next 0.7 miles the trail gains over 500 feet of elevation as it climbs out of the gorge.  The route is steep, but the trail is well-built with good grading, switchbacks, and wooden steps/waterbars.  Therefore, this climb is not as rough as it could be.  As I entered the higher elevations, mountain laurel lining the trail was in the late stages of its bloom cycle, and a nice breeze moved the air around me.
Mountain laurel along the trail
            At 0.9 miles, you reach a signed trail intersection at the top of a steep set of wooden steps.  The main trail turns left here to continue toward Chestnut Knob.  We will eventually go that way, but first turn right to hike the 250-foot long spur trail to Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook, the first of two overlooks on this hike.  A short but fairly steep climb brings you to a single bench that sits at the south-facing vista.  This view may be my favorite one on this hike: High Shoals Falls appears as a white splotch on the otherwise solid green mountainside.  You can even hear the waterfall all of the way across the gorge.
Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook
            Back on the main trail, the trail continues climbing but at a much more gradual rate.  At 1.3 miles, you briefly trace the upper reaches of a rhododendron-choked ravine before curving sharply left to continue the gradual climb.  The rhododendron was just getting ready to flower on my visit.  Soon the trail reaches a saddle in the ridge where it temporarily levels out.  Mixed pine and oak forest dominates at this elevation.
Climbing toward Chestnut Knob
            A brief steep climb brings you to another signed trail intersection at 1.9 miles.  A nice bench sits at this intersection.  The official Chestnut Knob Trail turns right here and leads another 0.2 miles to its upper terminus at the Sawtooth Trail.  To reach the Chestnut Knob Overlook, you need to turn left on a wide trail that also permits horse travel. 
After descending gently to pass through a high saddle, a brief gradual climb leads to the highest elevation of this hike.  A hitching bar to the right can be used to tie horses, which are not allowed on the final steep and rocky descent to the overlook.  The overlook is basically a small rough rock outcrop with no amenities such as benches or protection railings, so take care where you step up here.  This overlook gives a nice view of the Shinny Creek portion of the Jacob Fork Gorge.
Chestnut Knob Overlook
The Mathprofhiker at Chestnut Knob Overlook
The trail ends at the overlook.  Some long loop options involving the Sawtooth Trail are possible, but most hikers simply retrace their steps back down the Chestnut Knob Trail to return to the parking area.  As another scenic add-on, energetic hikers could also hike the High Shoals Falls Loop, which starts at this same trailhead and is described elsewhere in this blog.