This moderate, 4-mile trail has an elevation gain of only 900 feet. It is well-known for the variety of magnificent trees. Do not miss this trail!
The trailhead is on Caldwell Fork Trail. After leaving Caldwell Fork, the trail ascends a low ridge to a gap, slabs (runs across the mountain slope with only gradual elevation change) the mountainside with only two additional short climbs, reaches a side ridge, and descends back to Caldwell Fork. It is best to do this trail as a day hike from Cataloochee Campground, a 7.5-mile roundtrip.
Caldwell Fork Trail
This moderate lower creek trail gains 1,300 feet in elevation. It follows a rushing mountain stream for nearly 5 miles and there are log footbridges at every stream crossing.
While any section would be suitable for a day hike, the trail is heavily used by horses and is mired in several spots. The prettiest sections are on Boogerman Trail or at the upper end of the trail near the three exceptionally large"Big Poplars," which are believed to be the among the largest yellow poplars in the Park. The largest of the three requires the outstretched and connected arms of six people to encircle the trunk, which is eight feet in diameter.
Rough Fork Trail
This 6.5-mile lower creek trail begins by following a stream along a gravel road for a couple of miles and then passes several restored farm houses. The middle section of the trail becomes a narrow footpath, travels through impressive forest to a side ridge, and follows a wide railroad grade for several miles to Polls Gap (indicated on older maps as Paul's Gap). The trail near Polls Gap is very gradual and makes a wonderful, short day hike. There is no water after Campsite #40.
Spruce Mountain Trail
This high ridge trail is deeply rutted due to overuse by horses. It is moderate in difficulty with an elevation change of only 800 feet. The trail follows the ridge from Polls Gap for 5.5 miles towards the summit of Spruce Mountain with a climb into a declining evergreen forest at Spruce Mountain Campsite #42. The view from the nearby Spruce Mountain Firetower (now removed) was once one of the best in the Park.
Cataloochee Divide Trail
This moderate trail gains nearly 1,500 feet in 6.5 miles. The trail travels east with a few major climbs from Double Gap just below Hemphill Bald to Cove Creek Gap at the junction with Cove Creek Road and Cataloochee Road.
This is a nice hike in a high ridge forest with a few good lookouts (best in winter) but no dependable water sources. This trail is most suitable for a day hike from Cove Creek Road or the private "The Swag" retreat at the head of Hemphill Bald Road.
Hemphill Bald/Double Gap Trail
This moderate low ridge trail ascends 1,800 feet in 8.5 miles. The trail starts fairly level at Polls Gap but begins to climb steeply on switchbacks after Maggot Spring and until Hemphill Bald.
There are several superb lookouts, most notably a view east from Hemphill Bald. The bald was named after a pioneer family. This trail is used extensively by horses but is generally in good condition. There are few water sources along this ridge, the most reliable is a strong spring about 1 mile east of Polls Gap.
McKee Branch Trail
This creek headwater trail ascends 2.3 miles from Caldwell Fork to Cataloochee Divide, which includes a 1,700-foot climb to the ridge. This trail is extremely strenuous and very steep in sections. There are some pretty stands of forest along this trail, but there are no dependable water sources after the second stream crossing.
Big Fork Ridge Trail
This low ridge trail links Caldwell Fork and Rough Fork in the middle of Cataloochee Valley. Crossing the low ridge separating these two parallel creeks and trails, you will hike a moderate, 3-mile stretch. This trail can be used for day hikes or as part of a longer loop.
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