Little Greenbrier Trail

Here’s a great little nature trail in the Smokies and a fairly moderate hike to the Laurel Falls Trail, it’s called the Little Greenbrier Trail. It covers 4.3 miles from its start at Wear Cove Gap Road to its meeting with the Laurel Falls Trail.

To get to the Little Greenbrier Trail, make your way to Wear Cove Road. The trail can also be accessed from the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, across the bridge. From there it’s 1.25 miles to the trailhead which is reached just prior to the park boundary. However, there is limited parking here, so be advised you may have to search for a spot if they’re all filled up at the trailhead.

As noted, if you’re a nature-lover of wildflowers and majestic scenery this is a great trail for you even though it is mostly an uphill hike. Still, if you feel that you can hack it, you’re rewarded with scenery that many have chosen to forego in their search for the perfect Smoky Mountain hike.

You’ll climb through mixed hardwoods throughout most of the trail. For those in the know, the Little Greenbrier Trail is known for its surplus of blueberries which make it a great summer/fall trail.

Notice Wear Cove as you hike along the ridge. This is just the first of many great look outs you’re afforded along the Little Greenbrier Trail. Markers along the trail will notify you when you cross the national park boundary, of which there are many.

A few of more popular wildflower species found on the trail include orchids and they’re seen throughout as you move on and reach the 1.9 mile marker and Little Brier Gap Trail. Taking a right onto the Little Brier Gap Trail will lead you to the Walker Sisters’ home site. It’s one of the more historical sites located in the park that is still standing and worth making a little side trip if you have time.

Continuing straight on the Little Greenbrier, you’ll keep climbing as you ascend Chinquapin Ridge. As you hike around the ridge, one of the best views in the park makes its presence known as Wear Cove comes into full view. From its beautiful valleys to its lush green hillsides, you’re gonna want to make good use of any camera you may have brought with you.

The rest of the trail takes hikers straight to the junction with Laurel Falls Trail. From there, it’s a 1.8 mile hike down to spectacular Laurel Falls. Enjoy the Smoky Mountains!

Little Cataloochee Trail

The Little Cataloochee Trail is a 5.2 mile hike filled with historic structures as well as rolling Smoky Mountain hills and valleys on the North Carolina side of the park.

To get you started, you need to make your way to the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, which lies 0.8 mile on Cataloochee Road. You’ll begin the trail along an old road through overgrown fields before crossing Little Davidson Branch by way of a few stepping stones. From here you’ll begin a steep ascent, crossing over the stream several more times.

You’ll notice a number of wildflower species as you move along the trail before reaching the first switchback a mile in. At 1.5 miles on the trail, you’ll see the first historic structure  on the left – on old farmstead.

Davidson Gap is reached at 1.8 miles on the trail following a rather steep climb. Hiking on, your descent begins in earnest as you hike past a rock wall before a switchback spits you out into the valley and the trail turns into a road. The farm is reached at 1.9 miles on the trail and you can take a break to observe the house and springhouse. To other structures, the apple house and the barn, are located in Oconaluftee and the Cataloochee Ranger Station respectively.

The Dan Cook log home is approached at the 2.5 mile marker. It’s not the original structure as it was reconstructed in 1999 following damage that had occurred at the site in years past. Dan Cook himself was known as a master carpenter in his day and built a number of structures in the area. Notice the fence posts that still stand in the vicinity where old homesteads once stood and at 3.2 miles you can climb up to the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church – one of the most picturesque places along the trail.

Follow the trail as it goes on behind the church and cross Little Cataloochee Creek around 3.7 miles in. The John Jackson Hannah cabin appears soon thereafter at about 4 miles via a side trail. This cabin was also restored, but in 1976 by the park service.

The Long Bunk Trail goes left at 4.1 miles leading to the Mount Sterling Trail. The Hannah Cemetery is just 0.2 miles in on this trail and one might think about making that quick side trip to view the historic cemetery.

Back on the Little Cataloochee Trail, you’ll hike around the end of a ridge until you cross Correll Branch and go on to the meeting of NC 284 and the finale of the Little Cataloochee Trail. Enjoy the Smokies!

Little Brier Gap Trail

As far as historical trails go in the Great Smoky Mountains, you’d be hard pressed to find a trail that packs as much history into as small a distance as the Little Brier Gap Trail.

It’s only a 1.4 mile trail, but during that time you’ll pass the Little Greenbrier School, as well as the Walker Sisters’ cabin and farm. It’s a great spot for taking shots of historic structures still standing that belonged to some of the region’s earliest settlers and some of the last to live in the park.

To get to the trailhead which is located at Little Greenbrier School, drive to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, or hike the 0.6 mile Metcalf Bottoms Trail to the school. From the school’s parking area, the trail starts just up the hill.

As you begin your hike on the Little Brier Gap Trail, take note of the trees that surround the trail. These same species were the ones that early settlers like the Walker family used to construct their homestead – tuliptrees, white oak, maple, and beech were all used in one aspect or another to build and maintain their cabin.

After hiking three quarters of way, notice that the grassy road continues on and a gravel trails back. The grassy way takes hikers on to the Little Greenbrier Trail, the gravel road takes hikers to the Walker Sisters’ cabin. Besides the cabin, the springhouse is also still standing at the site which stored items like milk and eggs. It was said that there used to be many outbuildings that once stood on the property due to the industriousness of John Walker. Today, all that remain are the springhouse and corn crib/gear shack. A barn, pigpen, smokehouse, apple house, and blacksmith shop are said to be among the buildings that once stood on the property.

In all, 5 Walker sisters lived on the property up until 1964 when the last, Louisa Susan, passed away. They even lived on the property after the land was designated as a national park through a “life-time lease” which allowed property owners to sell their land to the park, yet live out their lives there.

Back on the trail, continue on to the trails end at the junction with the Little Greenbrier Trail where you can head east to the Laurel Falls Trail, west to Wear Cove Road, or just circle back to Little Greenbrier School. Happy hiking!


Little Bottoms Trail

All you Smokies hikers out there looking for great little creek as well as backcountry campsite to camp out at need to look no further than the Little Bottoms Trail, a 2.3 miler on the Tennessee side of the park.

To get there, prepare to hike 1.3 miles by way of the Cooper Road Trail from the Abrams Creek ranger station. By the time you reach and hike Little Bottoms, you’ll have reached its junction with the Hatcher Mountain Trail.

To say that this trail gets its share of use would be an understatement. It’s THE people use to reach Abrams Falls from Happy Valley and a popular alternate route to the falls for those who wish to avoid the traffic of Cades Cove.

Starting out on the trail you’ll ascend a ridge of pine. The popular Indian Pipe blooms in abundance here from June through August in small clusters. Passing over the ridge, you’ll soon hear the flow Abrams Creek. Backcountry campsite No. 17 is reached at mile 1.6 on the trail and Abrams Creek moves musicly not far from here. An old Smokies homesite is still visible here and campers can use the creek as a water source.

The trail reaches its end at 2.3 miles at its intersection with the Hatcher Mountain Trail. Enjoy the Smokies!

Lead Cove Trail

Spence Field has become one of the most visited sites in the Great Smoky Mountains for its majestic views and vistas. There are a number of ways to get there including by way of the Lead Cove Trail – a 1.8 mile hike from Laurel Creek Road to the Bote Mountain Trail.

Not only does the Lead Cove Trail put you on the way to Spence Field, it also takes you by an old cabin site. To get there, by way of Big Spring Cove on Laurel Creek Road to Cades Cove, keep your eye out for a trail sign on the east side of the road. There is limited parking there (under 10 spots), so fair warning.

As the upper loop of a 7-mile trail to Spence Field, which also includes the Finley Cane and Bote Mountain trails, the Lead Cove Trail starts out following Laurel Creek Road before turning into the Smoky Mountain backcountry. You’ll find hemlock, tuliptrees, and a variety of hardwoods as you move along this first part of the trail. You’ll soon cross Sugar Cove Prong as the trail continues to rise. Sugar Cove follows the trail and you’ll see the ruins of an old chimney and stone foundation soon thereafter. The cabin that at one time stood here belonged to Gibson Tipton whose family were some of the first white settlers of Cades Cove.

Continuing your ascent, several areas with prevalent wildflower growth are hiked. Wildlife including bears are said to frequent these paths because of the appearance of the wildflower squawroot. Black cherry trees are also found in this area – a favorite of bears, as well as the chestnut oak.

You’ll come upon the trail’s lone overlook as you approach the junction with the Bote Mountain Trail. In the distance, Scott Mountain makes an appearance. Hiking on, you’ll reach the Bote Mountain Trail after a few hundred yards. Enjoy your time in the Smokies!

First Aid Kit for the Trail

One of the things that most people say that you ought to take with you when you hit the trail for a day or several days of hiking, is a first aid kit. You need to have a small kit with you so that you are prepared for those odd accidents that occur on the trail while you are hiking.  This kit should be small enough to fit in your backpack and should be sized in direct correlation to the length of time you are going to be spending on the trail.

Things to make sure you have in your first aid kit (this is a place to start not the end-all-be-all):

  • first aid kitSelf-Adhesive Bandages – Seems like it is obvious but a box of multi-sized, self-adhesive bandages is a must.  If you get a scrap or a cut, you will be prepared to stop the bleeding.
  • Disinfectant Spray – Another easy to explain item. It is nice to have something to disinfect those cuts when they happen.
  • Gauze  & Gauze Tape – Good for cuts and abrasions that need a little more treatment than a BandAid. Carry enough gauze rolls to treat a wound and at least 4-5 4 inch gauze pads.
  • Alcohol Swabs – Great for cleaning a scrap or a cut.  These sting a little but they are small and easy to carry. Remember though your goal is to leave no trace – pack out what you take in.
  • Aspirin – A no brainer. Pick your favorite painkiller and keep some in your first aid kit.
  • Triple-Antibiotic Ointment – First line of defense for any cut or scrap whether you are on the trail or at home. A little tube of this in your first aid kit does not take up much room and is perfect for easy the pain on that cut, keeping it clean and making it feel better.
  • Tweezers – Splinters, bits of wood, glass, whatever may have found its way into your body, a simple pair of tweezers can remove that object quickly and easily.
  • Moleskin – For blisters, this si the best relief ever invented. Keep a roll of it in your pack even if it is not in your first aid kit.
  • Water-Proof Matches – A good rule of thumb is to pack for your day hike as if you might end up spending the night.  Waterproof matches are have coated heads that will allow them to light even if you are caught in a downpour.
  • Magnesium Based Firestarter – If you have to start a small fire, you will not be able to depend on finding enough tender to make a fire or that the tender you find will be dry enough to light.  A magnesium firestarter comes with a bar of magnesium that can be shaved off into your tender or campfire.  With a waterproof match or with a strike of flint on soem steel you will have a nice fire going without any problem.
  • Signal Mirror – A small highly polished mirror that an allow you to signal passing aircraft or people that you see on other trails.
  • Reflective Emergency Blanket – This reflective blanket harnesses the light and your own body heat to form a temperature barrier between you and the cold.  Staying warm when you find yourself on the trail, stuck overnight.

The best thing is that you can buy small pre-made first aid kits with almost everything you need.  Stop by your favorite big box store and pick up those first aid supplies that you think you might need on the trail .

Kanati Fork Trail

The Kanati Fork Trail isn’t just a Smoky Mountain trail with a funny name. It’s a challenging uphill hike that with test even the most experienced of hikers and one where you can get some incredible shots of spring wildflowers.

In all, it’s a 2.9 mile hike from its trailhead on Newfound Gap Road to the junction with the Thomas Divide Trail. To reach the trailhead, walk 0.3 miles north of the Kephart Prong Trail parking area which is eight miles north of the Oconoluftee Visitor Center.

Like many other trails in the Smokies, the Kenati Fork Trail is a wonderful trail for viewing spring wildflowers, but it’s also a trail that can be fairly muddy if a storm has come through the area recently. The name “Kanati” comes from an old Cherokee tale, though there is no known reason as to why it was applied to this stream.

As you ascend this trail, notice the lush forest of birch and magnolia, as well as the creek valley on your left. Wildflowers that can be found along the Kanati Fork Trail include bee-balm, great chickweed, Dutchman’s britches, rue anemone, violets, trillium, and trout-lily.

Hikers will cross, then cross again, one of Kanati Fork’s feeder creeks, climb a switchback, then crosses the creek for a third time at 0.9 mile on the trail.

Thomas Divide creeps ever closer at the 2-mike marker and you cross another feeder creek before the trail levels off somewhat and another switchback come into play. At 2.9 miles, you reach the intersection with the Thomas Divide Trail and the end of the Kenati Fork Trail. Happy hiking!

Juney Whank Falls Trail

Though the Juney Whank Falls Trail is only 0.3 mile, it packs quite a punch at the end. It’s sole purpose is to take hikers to one of the most picturesque falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Juney Whank Falls.

To reach this trail, you’ll drive over to the North Carolina side of the park to Bryson City. From there, you’ll follow the signs through downtown to the Deep Creek Campground in the national park. Once you reach Deep Creek itself, don’t cross it, just park at the area at the end of the road. You’ll find the trailhead at one end of the parking area.

Juney Whank actually takes its name from the Cherokee Indian tribe and means “place where the bear passes”. Although you’re as likely to see a bear here as you would be anywhere else in the national park. Others say it gets its name from Junaluska “Juney” Whank, who according to historians was said to have been buried near the falls.

As you make you’re way along the trail, signs point the way to the falls and as you get closer the roar of the water gets clearer and clearer. You’ll soon find a narrow path that travels away from the trail to the base of the falls.

Probably the best spot to view the Juney Whank Falls is on the foot bridge located across Juney Whank Branch. From there, you can either turn around or head on down the trail to the next junction. Though you probably want to stay around the falls for a bit.

Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians

cherokee crestAs I have been writing about various locations, cities, restaurants and other touristy concepts in the Smoky Mountains area, one thing that I have realized that I have not focused on is the people that inhabited the area before the European settlers moved in. To that end, let’s talk about the Native Americans that dominated both sides of the mountains in the pre-pioneer days: the Cherokee Indians.  I will attempt to build a very brief history of the people.  Obviously, in the space of this article I am not going to touch on everything that is interesting, remarkable and culturally relevant about the Cherokee people but I hope that it spurs you on to go read more about them.

Before the English settlers first made their appearance on the scene, the people known as the Cherokee, or the Tsalagi as they call themselves, had an established culture and society.  They were hunter gathers but they also had a very advanced economic and political structure.  At their height, they took in parts of 7 southern states and they numbered over 150,000 people.  Their economy included trade routes that reached out to Native American tribes on the coast of North Carolina and even included reaching out to the first Europeans in the area, which came with DeSoto.

With the incursion of European people into the area, whether they were traders, trappers, explorers or settlers, the Cherokee way of life began to change.  The Cherokee lifestyle was governed by everyone, the women of the tribes appointed the leaders who ran the seven clans.  The women also controlled marriage and property while the men were in charge of educating the children.  The Cherokee chose to change their society and adapt some of the European ways as a chance to coexist with the new people that were moving to the area.  This was the Cherokee means of survival.  During this time of acculturation, the Cherokee adopted a very English way of educating their young and they taught their people English so that they could further their contact and interactions with their new neighbors.  By the time that the 1800s rolled around, the Cherokee had adopted a written constitution and they had establish boundaries to their lands, schools and they had even accepted the Christian missionaries into their communities.

ebci signThe start of the downfall of the Cherokee people was the passing of the Removal Act of 1830.  When President Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act, the Cherokee people, 20,000 of them were forced to leave their tribal lands in North Carolina and walk, along the Trail of Tears, to reservation land in Oklahoma.  Only 16,000 of those 20,000 that started the walk, survived the journey westward.  You would think that this would have been the end to the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, but a small group stayed behind, defying the US Government.

The Reservation Act of 1819 and the fact that some of the Cherokee evaded the army, left this small group landless but looking for a way to stay on their lands.  Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee, started buying land using these displaced people money, seeing as the Cherokee could not buy land.  Over time, the Cherokee formed a corporation to own the land and they became a thriving community.  Fast forward to now and the Qualla Boundary or the reservation that is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is a destination in the Smokies and the heart of gaming in the Southern Appalachians.

Again, this is not a complete or even concise history of this amazing group of people.  If you want to have a much better understanding of the Cherokee and their history in the Smokies, then you might want to visit Cherokee, NC and experience many of the historical and cultural legacies of the Cherokee.

Jonas Creek Trail

The 4.1 mile Jonas Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is an uphill hike complete with scenic views and sporadic cascades as it makes its way from the junction of the Forney Creek Trail at backcountry campsite No. 70  to the trail’s meeting with the Welch Ridge Trail.

To reach the Jonas Creek Trail, you’ll have to really be wanting to hike this section of the national park. First, hikers must travel the Forney Creek Trail to the starting point – 3.7 miles north of its junction with the Lakeshore Trail.

Hikers begin by crossing a foot log over Forney Creek and passing through backcountry campsite No. 70 – a horse camp as well. You’ll go on to cross Jonas Creek once you reach 0.4 mile on the trail. The rocks are slick and mossy so take care as you cross the stream. The trail becomes rocky on the other side and you’ll pass a majestic waterfall just to the right of the trail.

After crossing Jonas Creek a second time, you must skirt or walk through creek runoff as it flows over the trail. At this point it’s a very wet walk along the trail. You’ll cross Jonas Creek a third time but there is a rock hop to help you across.

You’ll hike across Jonas Creek a couple more times before you reach the junction with Little Jonas Creek 1.3 on the trail. You’re on the way to Welch Ridge. Some of the various trees you pass along the way include sassafras, sourwood, oak, and American beech. Yanu Branch follows the trail and you’ll eventually have to cross it by way of a foot log.

The next part of the Jonas Creek Trail is especially eye-catching so be sure you’ve packed a camera. The 100-foot cascade that comes up on the right of the trail is very notable. This is followed by a series of switchbacks that make up the trail before you start your climb up Yanu Ridge. You reach the top at the 3.4 mile marker. The finale of the Jonas Creek Trail is reached at the junction with the Welch Ridge Trail. Enjoy the Smokies!