Thursday, May 24, 2012

Laurel Falls 4/14/2012

We have passed this trail head many times without stopping.  The parking area was always packed and the idea of a paved trail didn't much appeal to us.  This 2.3 mile round trip hike turned out to be a better experience then we had expected.  It is an uphill hike and although not steep there are few level areas.  There are drop  offs beside the trail especially near the end so children needed to be closely supervised.

The trail winds around the side of the hill.  There were a variety of flowers along the way including the first flame azaleas that we had seen blooming this year.  We watched several chipmunks playing past the first turn in the trail.  Further up we saw a number of small birds in the rocks on the high side of the trail.

As we reached the higher parts of the trail there were some nice views of the mountains.  These views should still be good after the trees are fully green.  A ranger passed us carrying a bag of litter that he had collected.  Why can't people be more careful with their trash!.  The ranger cautions everyone that he passes on the trail that the big rock at the falls is slippery.

The creek is way below us when we first spot it.  The surprise is that we are so close to the falls.  There is a large series of cascades just below the main falls causing the creek to drop very quickly.  A small corner in the trail and we are there.  The trail crosses the creek on a small bridge  and continues.  We sat on the bench past the bridge to relax and listen to the falls.

We watched two groups with children go out on the rock that the ranger had cautioned about being slippery.  One wrong step could have been disastrous.  Maybe I am overly cautious but they make me nervous.  This is a good place to bring children and possibly even strollers if you don't mind pushing uphill but please be careful.

Grotto Falls 4/13/2012

We hiked this trail on a weekday and felt lucky to see someone backing out of a parking space in the main parking area.  There are chemical toilets at the parking and more parking spaces on down the road.  This very popular trail head is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail accessed from Gatlinburg, TN.  The hike to the falls is 2.6 miles round trip.

The trail is wide  enough to walk side by side and only had short sections with rocks and roots to step over.  It is not steep but gradually climbs around the sides of the hills.  There are steep drop offs beside the trail in places  We crossed  four small streams with no bridges but we did not get our feet wet.  There was some very fresh bear scat in the trail.

This trail doesn't have any wide open vistas but the woods are pretty and there were lots of wildflowers along both sides of the trail.  On the right were lots of little flowers mixed in the mossy areas on the uphill slope.  On the left were lots of trillium on the downhill slope.  No one seemed to be in a rush  to complete this trail.

It seems like there is no indication of being near a creek or waterfall when the trail rounds a corner and you are beside and above the creek.  There are a series of pretty cascades almost directly below us.  The falls can be seen in the distance only slightly above us.  The last hundred feet of so to the falls are the most difficult of this easy hike.  There are some wet slippery rocks to negotiate.

There were lots of people playing and relaxing at the falls.  This is not a place to go for solitude.  The trail passes behind the falls in a sort of cave  where you can feel the mist from the falls.  We found a nice rock on the far side of the falls to enjoy our picnic while watching children climb around the rocks and water.  This is the trail that the llama train takes to the Lodge on LeConte twice a week carrying supplies. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ogle Nature Trail 4/13/2012

This little nature trail is on Cherokee Orchard road accessed from Gatlinburg, Tennessee but in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We probably would have missed this neat little trail if there hadn't been a virtual geocache on it.  The house can be see from the parking lot. We walked through the house and Mitch spotted a bird nesting in the ceiling rafters. 

The nature trail begins to the right of the house and ends by the barn so we saved the barn for the end of the walk.  The trail leaves the house clearing and enter the woods.  There are small runs to cross and lots of flowers.  We took a short detour on the Twin Creeks trail to view more of the wildflowers.  This trail intersects the nature trail and leads back toGatlinburg.

Along the first half of the trail we followed an old road through areas that had once been fields and a cow pasture.  The trail passes the remains of the "weaner cabin."  There is a brochure available at the trail head that explains these and other stops along the trail.  Around the corner from the cabin site we reached the creek and a very interesting little building.

We have seen a number of mills in the parks we have visited but this is the first  tub mill that we have seen.  This is a small mill that is designed for  the use of a single family.  The water wheel was under the timy building and horizontal instead of vertical.  We went inside and looked at the grinding stomes still set up.

Outside the trail continues along the creek where the flume is still in place before  turning back toward the barn through an area that is much rockier.  There are a couple of places where the trail required stepping over or walking on rocks.  There is another small run to cross and lots more woodland flowers along the way.  This entire trail is mostly level.  The trail comes out behind the barn at the end of the house clearing.

Porters Creek Trail 4/10/2012

Porters Creek is in the Greenbriar section of the Smokies east of Gatlinburg.  It is accessed by several miles of gravel road that passes two picnic areas with restrooms.The first part of the trail is gravel road in good shape following the creek.   On the other side of the road are side trails leading to stone walls and old foundations.

 The trail is almost level and lined with flowers.  This is a pleasant shaded walk with lots of chances to explore.  There are stone steps leading up to the old homestead site and more leading to an old cemetary.  Past the cemetary are the remains of an old vehicle.  At one point there is a foot bridge where vehicles would have forded the stream.

At about one mile the road ends in a "cul-de-sac."  Our trail continues to the left.  Straight ahead is another hiking trail and to the right is a short detour to several buildings.  There is a well preserved cantilever barn, a springhouse with the water still flowing through it, and a restored cabin.  We  took a few minutes to wander through the buildings.

The main trail from this point is narrower but still easy walking through pleasant woods.  We saw a few flowers but the best was yet to come.  There was a stream crossing with a long footbridge.  The creek was pretty here as it tumbled down the rock. Just across the bridge was a natural garden area with lots of wild flowers.

After  the bridge  the trail climbs away from the creek and up on a good size hill.  This is the hardest part of the hike but it is not long to the waterfall.  It came upon us by surprise.  We were crossing a few stepping stones across what looked like just a little run when I looked to the left and spotted the falls.  Fern Branch falls are set back a hundred feet of so from the main trail and may be reached by a primitive side trail if you want a closer look.

This was a busy trail even on a weekday during the Spring wildflower season.  There  were less people on the second mile section past the road..I would recommend this hike for families as there is lots of variety to interest the children and just enough difficulty for them to feel they accomplished something.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chimneys Picnic Area 4/09/2012

We had heard that the little nature trail at the Chimneys Picnic Area had a spectacular wildflower display in the Spring so we stopped by on our way from Clingmans Dome to Gatlinburg.  The picnic area is not at the parking for the Chimney Rocks trail but closer to the Sugarland side of the park.  This is a nice picnic area with water and flush toilets. 

The stream along side provides a chance to play in the water.  Even without the nature trail this is a great place to stop but what a bonus the trail is.  This walk begins at a few steps on your right soon after entering the picnic area.   We began seeing flowers before we even got out of the van.  There were flowers everywhere along this trail.

There is a short section of trail before the intersection that forms the loop.  You can go either way at this point.  This narrow trail is not easy but that's alright because we weren't in a hurry to finish it.  There were many varieties of flowers to enjoy and a pretty little run appearing in several places.  This is a trail to just wander along slowly and enjoy.  I will let the flowers speak for themselves.

A Resting spot near the top of the trail.

Andrews Bald 4/09/2012

Andrews Bald is the easiest bald to access in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This hike is 1.8 miles each way starting from the Clingmans Dome parking lot.  Near the parking area are chemical toilets and a park store.  The store has maps, books, and souvenirs but no snacks or drinks.  As you leave the parking lot heading towards Clingmans Dome the trail head is almost immediately on your left.

 It is an short easy downhill walk to another trail intersection.  We take a left turn here and head further downhill.  The trail in this area is quite rocky but not overly difficult.  After descending the trail levels off and we have a view of our destination.  The bald is on the backs side of the far end of the ridge we can see ahead of us and to the right.

The trail is leveler here although still somewhat downhill.  We crossed several sections that were damp even on this dry day.  There are board "bridges" in these areas.  The earliest flowers of Spring were beginning to bloom along here.  We reached another trail intersection and continued straight ahead .  All of the intersections were well signed.

After this intersection it is slightly uphill through a peaceful woods to the edge of the bald.  When we come out onto the grassy area we still had about 500 feet to the open viewpoints.  We ate a picnic lunch and enjoyed the views here.  The bald was smaller then others we have visited but large enough for the several groups relaxing here to spread out and have some privacy.

There were several children enjoying running around on the bald as we were preparing to leave.  This would be a fun walk to take with children.  We enjoyed imagining animal shapes in the rocks and walking the "bridges" and we aren't children.  Just remember there is no water available at the trail head so come prepared.  And of course the walk back is harder then the walk out.

After returning to the parking lot we made the half mile walk to the top of Clingmans Dome.  The views are beautiful up there and the wind was really blowing.  The trail is wide and paved but uphill all the way.  This short trail actually felt more strenuous to me then the Andrews Bald trail.