31 May Roundtop, Flat Top Mountain, Spruce Mountain, and Balsam Mountain, and White Oak Branch Trails trails
Over a single weekend I completed day hikes in 3 separate areas of the Smoky Mountains. This completed the last of the 900 miles of trails that I have hiked in the Smoky Mountains.
May 30, 2015 – Roundtop Trail – 7.5 miles
One end of Roundtop Trail is at the Wye (a fork on the Little River) where the river turns toward Townsend, TN to exit the Smokies. The other end is at Wears Gap. There is no trail sign or bridge on the trail-head at the Wye. With all of the recent rain, I was worried that I would have to swim across the Little River; however, for some strange reason the water was low.
I parked at Wears Gap and rode my bicycle to Metcalf Bottoms, then along Little River Road to the Wye. Mountain Laurel was in full bloom all along the trail. Although the book states that this is a little hiked trail due to the river crossing, I saw 4 others while hiking this trail. Two ladies were members of the 900 mile club. One of them finished in 2 years. It was taking me 35 years to complete the 900 miles; however, I only made hiking all of the trails a goal about 7 or 8 years ago.
May 30, 2015 – The Balsams – Flattop Mountain Trail – 2.7 miles, Spruce Mountain Trail – 2.4 miles round-trip, Balsam Mountain Trail to Beech Gap Trail junction and return – 4.6 miles (Total – 9.7 miles)
After stopping at Subway for food in Townsend, I made the long drive along Little River Road, Hwy 441, and the Blue Ridge Parkway to Flat Mountain trail. Over the course of the weekend I had many sightings of wild turkey and a couple of sightings of Elk and deer. Most of the sightings were while driving from one hiking spot to another.
At Flattop I pulled over at the nearest trailhead and rode my bicycle uphill to the far end. Checking out Balsam Mountain Campground, one of the campers gave me incorrect directions to the other Flat Mountain trailhead. He was turned around and thought that the Blue Ridge Parkway was straight ahead. He tried to convince me that I needed to turn back. In fact, going straight ahead (the direction I was going) would have taken him to the long and tortuous one-way unpaved Balsam Mountain Gap Road and the other Flat Mountain trailhead.
Flat Mountain trail was a pleasant walk and very unique with a high elevation wet area with many intersecting creeks. Tall evergreens and grass covered understory with abundant trickling water gave the area a lush soft feel.
The drive down Balsam Mountain Gap Road to the next stop at Spruce Mountain Trail seemed like it would never end. I was surprised to see 2 cyclists on road bikes climbing up the rocky rutted road. Their tires were a little larger than narrow road bike tires. Perhaps they were 700 x 32 mm like those I have on my Novaro Randonnee touring cycle. Seeing this couple gave me the idea to try this climb on my Novaro Randonnee. Maybe I could climb to the top and camp at Balsam Mountain campground which in my opinion is the prettiest campground in the Smokies.
After driving miles, I almost gave up hope finding Spruce Mountain trail so I pulled over to examine the map on my Iphone. I quickly confirmed that I had not missed the trailhead. Putting my phone away, I started out again only to find the trailhead about 20 feet around the bend from where I had pulled over.
Campsite 42 is the only campsite in GSMNP that I have seen that did not have bear cables. At the end of Spruce Mountain trail, it is a difficult campsite to get to. Getting there means a long drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and a longer drive still down unpaved Balsam Mountain Gap road. Finally after a 1 mile climb along a dead end trail you arrive at the campsite. This is a trail to nowhere although it actually leads to Polls Gap trail which is a former trail leading to Polls Gap. From Polls Gap you could access Cattaloochee Valley on Rough Fork trail. If you like privacy, campsite 42 is a good choice. I doubt you will have human companions.
May 31, 2015 – Lakeshore Trail to White Oak Branch Trail – 2.0 miles, White Oak Branch Trail – 1.8 miles, Forney Creek Trail to Lakeshore Trail – 1.5 miles, Lakeshore Trail to Tunnel trailhead – 2.9 miles (Total – 8.2 miles)
After a night sleeping in the min-van with the sunroof and windows open I was ready to tackle the last trail of the GSMNP that I had yet to hike. Today I would become a 900 miler. Only by oversight had I missed hiking the little White Oak Branch trail. I had passed it several times thinking that I had taken this “shortcut” trail to Forney Creek sometime in the past. While reviewing my blog and memories, I realized that I had never hiked it. Now I needed to go out of my way, hiking 2 miles in just to hike this 1.8 mile trail.
It was a beautiful morning with deer and turkey walking about. The Mountain Laurel on Lakeshore trail was in full bloom and seemed fuller and whiter than that on Roundtop Trail. Some of it was so clustered and full headed that it looked more like snowy balls of Crepe Myrtle.
I completed White Oak Branch and did a lonesome cheer and took selfies.
Even though it was a Sunday morning and everywhere else in the Smokies seemed crowded, I did not see anyone else on this hike until a pair on horseback rode up just before I reached the Tunnel. One treat was spying a beautiful bluebird which gave away the location of one of his nesting friends.
When I finished, about 5 horse trailers were parked or lined up to park. It looked like it would be a busy day on this trail after all.