Eagle Creek Trail

The Eagle Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is an 8.9 miler with various streams crossing the trail throughout. Starting on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, the trail begins at the junction of the Lakeshore Trail – 6.1 miles northeast of Fontana Dam. To reach that point, you’ll have to take a boat across Fontana Lake to backcountry campsite No. 90. In other words, you’ve got to really want to hike the Eagle Creek Trail because it takes some maneuvering to get there.

eaglecreektrail1Eagle Creek has been used for years by various people to make a living, as well as for travel purposes. Today, the TVA harnesses its water for electricity. Hiking the Eagle Creek Trail starts out at the base of the creek. It’s a strenuous, challenging hike so be prepared and wear good shoes or boots.

At 0.5 miles past campsite No. 90, the trail crosses the stream by way of a foot log with a handrail. It’s a pretty aggressive stream at this point so proceed with caution when crossing the foot bridge.

The junction with Pinnacle Creek is reached at 0.7 miles on the trail. Eagle Creek is crossed again in about a quarter mile, sans a foot bridge. You’ll be tasked with crossing the creek at least 15 miles within the first 4.6 miles so be prepared and make sure to wear the appropriate gear. Sometimes the water levels may not allow you to go on. This trail depends a lot on the recent weather.

Backcountry campsite No. 89 is passed at mile 1.6 and can hold as many as 6 tents. You’ll rock hop Ekaneetlee Creek following the campsite and cross Eagle Creek again soon thereafter. And at the 2.6 mile mark, you’ll reach backcountry campsite No. 96, which is basically an island and can hold 4 tents. However, if you want to use the bathroom, you’ll have to ford the creek back to the other side as the island does not meet backcountry regulations when it comes to bathroom use.

More stream crossings are met 4 miles in. You’re beginning to get the picture when it comes to the large amounts of tributaries that crisscross the trail. Good shoes are imperative. Backcountry campsite No. 97 is passed before reaching Spence Field. The washtub at the campsite is to be left untouched, but feel free to imagine what early settlers may have used it, or in fact lived in the area.

Continuing along the shores of Eagle Creek, the trail begins to climb and get steeper. Gunna Creek – a major tributary of Eagle Creek is reached as you climb the mountain. It’s rough descent down the mountain in no way reminds the hiker of Eagle Creek.

You’ll cross Gunna Creek for the first time at mile 6.2 by way of a somewhat difficult rock hop. There is no fishing beyond this point either as the park looks to protect such species as the brook trout.

As you hike up and up, Spence Cabin Branch follows the trail. You won’t cross it until the path levels. On up the mountain you’ll come to Spence Field Shelter where hikers can find shelter and bathrooms. If you plan to stay here, be sure you make reservations beforehand. Spence Field is east only 0.1 miles. If you want a great view of Cades Cove, walk on over an admire the beauty of the Smokies. Enjoy it, you’ve hiked a very challenging trail and should be proud of your perseverance.

Forney Creek Trail

The Forney Ridge Trail joins the Forney Creek Trail on a 7.6 mile descent from Clingman’s Dome to the Jonas Creek Trail intersection. While few might choose this as an out-and-back, it’s part of a popular 20.5 mile backcountry loop that continues up to Silers Bald on the Appalachian Trail and back to Clingman’s Dome.

forneycreektrail2No matter your route, the Forney Creek Trail is compelling for its passage through several distinct ecotones, a stop at Forney Creek Cascade, light crowds, and several unaided, potentially challenging creek crossings:

Begin on the Forney Ridge Trail, which drops steeply past the Clingman’s Dome Bypass Trail through dense bands of Fraser fir and red spruce. Though swaths of forest exhibit extensive beetle damage, the trail corridor itself is healthy and verdant.

Forney Ridge drops in rugged stages to the Forney Creek Trail, which narrows on a variously steep and sloppy descent. Notable along the way are open grassy hillsides – a relative rarity in the Park – which are good places to find turkey and bear.

The trail reaches the top of Forney Creek and turns down beside it, transitioning from spruce and fir into an upper-hardwood forest. Birch and rhododendron appear as you head downstream to the 1st of two spurs for Backcountry Campsite #68.

This is potentially confusing, as the falls and 2nd site are still .4 miles away, and the two are not depicted separately on most maps.

Continue through a steep hairpin turn down to the second site #68 at the base of Forney Creek Cascade. This long, two-tier fall slides down wide rock slabs into a narrow pool along the creek.

Grades moderate past the falls across a tributary, the first of many wet encounters. Hardwoods emerge in greater numbers on a steady, if uneventful descent along dry southwest-facing slopes.

The creek is audible but mostly concealed until reaching the first major crossing at 4.95 miles. This scenic area is highlighted by a tumbling tributary and several cascades upstream.

The trail continues above and away from the creek into the heart of a northern hardwood forest. Rhododendron envelops portions of the trail while vines drape from towering maple, beech, and poplar. The understory is notably lush and diverse at these lower, wetter elevations.

You’ll reach a second major crossing at 6.0 miles to Backcountry Campsite #69, which is unceremoniously located right along the trail.

Travel levels considerably to consecutive crossings at 6.25 miles, 6.6 miles, and 7.0 miles. Concentration and fatigue management are key on these more voluminous fords.

The Forney Creek Trail meets the Jonas Creek Trail at a log bridge near the creeks’ confluence. Whether continuing on a loop or returning the way you came, a minimum 3,800′ net climb awaits back to Clingman’s Dome.


The hillsides, valleys and peaks of the Smoky Mountains are covered with color in the late spring and early summer.  As you drive across the mountains on Newfound Gap Road you will notice that the brilliant swatches of white and pink seem to be almost endless.  The main source of these colors are the vast quantities of rhododendrons that cover the landscape.

The Rhododendron in the Smoky Mountains fall to two types:  Rosebay and Catawba.  Certainly there are several forms of Azalea that fall into the same category but that is for another discussion.  The Rosebay rhododendron is the source for the whitish flashes of color that you find in the lower elevations of the park, up to about 5,000 feet.  The Catawba rhododendron is the source of the pinkish swatches of color that cover the high elevations.  Throughout most of the year, both types of rhododendrons are dark green with oily looking leaves.  Rhododendrons don’t like lots of sun and tend to be in the shady areas of the park and along the streams and creeks.  All of a sudden in late June and early July, the buds on these plants burst forth and there is color everywhere.  People flock to the Smokies at these times to take in the color and to photograph these majestic plants.

Where can you see the rhododendrons the best:

  • Roan Mountain – This is by far the best place to see lots of Catawba rhododendrons.  There is a rhododendron garden at the top of Roan Mountain that comes alive when the Catawbas are blooming.  You walk through a sea of pink that seems to stretch from one side of the horizon to the other.
  • Newfound Gap Road – As you travel along Newfound Gap Road from Sugarlands to Oconaluftee (or vice-versa) you will watch the rhododendrons change from white to pink to white as you start up the mountain and then come back down.

One thing to remember about rhododendrons is that each bush does not bloom every year.  So a clump that you were particularly taken with last year may not bloom at all this year.  Search out clumps of them in the park and take some pictures, use them as a backdrop for your family portraits or maybe even plop down and have a picnic at the side of a stream near a rhododendron in full bloom.  Let the whites and the pinks roll over you.  Get set for summer with the rhododendrons in bloom.

Baxter Creek Trail

Looking for a Smoky Mountain trail the really gets your heart and leg muscles going? Look no further than the Baxter Creek Trail – a 6.1 mile rocky trail that goes no where but up. Get your good fitting boots ready and stretch those quads because this trail will make a man, or woman, out of you.

The trail starts out at the Big Creek Picnic area at the Big Creek Campground in Newport, TN and travels upward to the junction of the Mount Sterling Trail and Campsite #38. A handful of logging companies used the land over the course of a century to 1930s with various degrees of success. Still, the mountain’s steep grade seemed to have its way with most as each eventually abandoned its efforts.

The trail starts off at the Big Creek Picnic Area before crossing a metal bridge over Big Creek. From there, the trail begins to rise and you’ll notice a large island in Big Creek to the right. You’ll encounter number tree and wildflower species along the trail from toothwort to the American beech before moving through forests of hickory, maple, and dogwood. A side trail leads to a large stone chimney at 0.3 miles.

You’ll hear Baxter Creek before coming to a large Eastern hemlock with a number of branches on its lower trunk. The trail is becoming narrower, rockier, steeper, and at times more hazardous at this point as you approach Baxter Creek again. This is where the climbing really begins and doesn’t end till you reach the fire tower. Eventually you’ll reach a small ridge overlooking Big Creek Valley where you can see Mount Cammerer.

Newfound Gap Road Re-Opens Early Following January Landslide

Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) which runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC reopened Monday, April 15 2013 following a three month closure. The road was closed due to a January landslide that washed away a 200-foot section of pavement.

Work on the road was actually completed a month ahead of time, and as a reward for finishing the job early, contractors Phillips and Jordan Inc. will receive a $500,000 bonus, funded by the National Park Service and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The contract awarded to Phillips & Jordan, Inc. in January, totaled nearly $4 million and included incentives totaling $8,000 per day that the project was completed ahead of the May deadline.

In re-constructing the damaged section of Newfound Gap Road, engineers installed pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow along with side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope.

Heavy rainfall and an underground stream combined to loosen thousands of tons of rock, soil and trees in January. It was estimated that 9,000 dump truck-loads of dirt, rock and road slid 45 feet down the side of the mountain.

A subsurface spring underneath the road was believed to be the mitigating factor for the landslide, in addition to the heavy rain that had poured over the area for a number of days. Between Monday and Wednesday the week of January 14, nearly 8 inches of rain were said to have fallen in the area.


Classification:  Plantae – Angiosperms – Eudictos – Asterids – Apiales – Araliaceae – Aralioideae – Panax

GinsengIt is funny the plants that they have found in the Smokies over the years.  The climate, the elevation the forest canopy and other factors have produced a biosphere that includes some very unusual plants and animals. One of the plants that’s grows in the shady areas of the National Park is Ginseng.  Ginseng.  Just like the ingredient that you see in the energy drinks in the convenience store.

Ginseng is normally found in Asia, specifically in China.  In fact China gave the name to this wonder herb.  The term Ginseng means man-root.  This is in reference to the way that the Ginseng plant looks when you pull it out of the ground.  The tuber grows in two pieces underground that looks like a man’s legs.  In Asian cultures, the root was boiled as a tea or maybe ingested whole.  In the Greek the term for the genus of the ginseng plant is Panax.  Panax means all-heal.  In other words, ginseng has been known as a heal-all herb for a long time.

In the Smokies, due to the fact that the ecosystems are very similar to the mountain regions were ginseng grows in China, it is possible that early prehistoric people that came to North America across the Bering Strait.  These plants, coming to a new area found purchase in the shady land and lush undergrowth of the mountains that the Cherokee would come to call the Smoky Mountains.  In fact the Cherokee used this herb in medicines and remedies.  And though the European settlers that came to the area and certainly knew about the herb from the Native Americans that they met, they did not embrace the Ginseng root.

Then you have the resurgence of the use of Ginseng in the 20th and 21st centuries.  With the popularization of the ginseng and guarana, Ginseng in the Southern Appalachians became a going concern.  There are certainly people that harvest Ginseng as a crop in the privately owned parts of the Smokies but remember that it is illegal to harvest any plant, including Ginseng from the National Park.  People that try to take any plant from the GSMNP.  People who break this regulation – law – are subject to imprisonment and a fine.

At some farmers markets around the area you will find Ginseng root being sold.  It is still known as a cure all, it is a home remedy though some of the effects of this plant are known and have been studied by science, little is definitely known about this strange herb that grows in the shade of the canopies in the Smoky Mountains.