Hike and Camp to Gregory Bald-Great Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee Hikes

My friend Brenda and I decided to do our first ever camp out in the Smoky Mountains to be at campsite #12. Well, actually, the original plan was campsite #13 but in true ‘Lori’ fashion we, or I, was running somewhat late the morning we left (only by two hours). I just figured we would figure it all out when we got there ( I would like to insert here that if you are at all a type A person you will hate me). I had already reserved 13 but figured it would be no big deal to change it.

The plan was to camp and then go up to Gregory Bald the next morning. We stopped at the ranger station at Cades Cove and went in to see if we could change our reservations. The ranger had only been on the job two weeks and really could not tell us anything. We were looking for a less worse hike. Meaning, one that would not kill us like the one we had originally planned. He was zero help. But he did direct us to the phone on the porch where we could call the number that handles the reservations and they would be able to help us out. The ranger on the phone was very helpful and said that Campsite 12 would be a little over two miles in and then about 3 1/2 up to the bald. So, on his recommendation, we switched to that campsite.

To get to the trailhead you will need to go half way thru Cades Cove. The road to the trailhead is next to the visitors center. Stop there to do one last restroom stop and well, look around. Cades Cove is a gorgeous drive, but it is a one way road and once you are in it you are in it. If traffic comes to a standstill it is likely because a bear has been spotted and everyone is jumping out of their cars to get a picture.

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The hike in was very nice. They had recently gone through and cut back the rhododendrons and the clippings were laying all over the trail. I bet it would have been nice to walk through the tunnel I am sure they made before being cut. We were on the lookout for bears. The Smokies are filled with them. We saw none but every.single.hiker we met had seen one on trail. Figures. I would like to see one…from a distance and preferably with about 15 other people where I could be securely stuck in the middle of said 15 people.

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Anyways, the trail had three little bridge crossings. The bridges are the ones where a huge log has been cut in half and then a railing added on one side. I don’t know why, but I LOVE these bridges.

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While the hike in was not all that difficult, my hip flexor issue was raring its ugly head and I was even slower than usual. That meant I was hiking just slightly faster than a dead person would have been.  Brenda is a good sport and usually doesn’t get too far ahead. Hence the reason I always get backside shots of her. On occasion I will try to get in front, but most of the time it’s not worth the effort.

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We get to camp and start setting up. I set up in one place and then changed my mind and moved. The trees were a little bit too close together on the first site I chose, which had been closer to Brenda’s tent. Instead, I moved way across from her to some better spaced trees. Now, those who are ground dwellers might be saying ‘see, hammocks are a pain. You have to find the perfect trees to hang from.’ While it is true that the spacing does matter, I will still choose it over tent camping any day. With tents you have to find a smooth, level spot. With hammocks, even if there are no trees I can always go to ground if needed. It is quite easy to sit up my tarp with my trekking poles and sleep that way.

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I store my stuff in the bottom of the bug net. I put my shoes, camera bag and sit pad in there when not needed. My backpack got hung on bear cables.

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This was the first time I had ever hung my entire back pack. I normally do the old fashioned throw a rope over a branch using a rock method and I would ONLY hang my food bag. We decided not to chance anything tearing up our packs and just hung the whole thing using the cable system the park provide. It was so easy to use. We also left our packs here the next morning when we hiked up to the bald using just our day packs.

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Brenda was using her new Big Agnes tent. I don’t know which one this is. It looked very small to me though. I even loaned her a string of lights. I love lights on tents and hammocks. I just think it makes for a really pretty camping scene.

For breakfast I had brought oatmeal. I am sure it would have been delicious had I not kicked it over.

Oh, I want to mention my little stove. I got it at Academy Sports for under $20 and I love it. It’s the Magellan Outdoors Ultralight Backpacking Stove. The propane is sold separately.

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There is a really good water source at campsite 12. However, it is the LAST water source when going up to Gregory Bald. I highly recommend taking at least two large water bottles or at least a 3 liter bladder with you on the hike up. Granted, it was very hot and humid on the day we went. I took two liters and ran out. The hike up is extremely strenuous.

The hike from the campsite to the top of the bald is 3.6 miles. That is 3.6 HARD miles with the last .6 being the most difficult. I believe the ranger said the elevation gain is about 750 feet per mile or something like that. When we started out the next morning my hip flexor was really hurting. About ten minutes in I told Brenda I didn’t think I could do it. I was in more pain than I had ever been in while hiking. I was almost in tears. She looked so disappointed. So, I took 3 extra strength ibuprofen and told her I would try for another thirty minutes, but if that did not help the pain I was going to have to turn back. Remember, the hike out from the campsite is two miles. I was sensing that if I tried to continue on in that much pain I was going to do some serious damage to that muscle. She agreed and on we went. It was a much slower go than I normally move. Hills and I have a hate hate relationship. There is nothing about a hill I like. However, the meds kicked in and the pain went away so on we went.  I started doing the ‘rest step’ on the way up and it really did seem to make it easier. Well, actually less worse.

Here is a good video demonstrating the Rest Step.

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It really is impossible to show the steepness in a photo.

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On the way up we got a couple of views thru the trees.

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Once we made it to the top the trail forks. You can go left or right. We went right. I have to say that, while it is beautiful, I was not wow’d by it. It could be that my pain was back and I was also concerned with the time. I had an almost 4 hour drive home and work the next morning. We walked up and chatted with a couple of hikers who were resting. They had come up from campsite 13 and said it was a really hard hike. The ranger had told me that it was more difficult than coming from campsite 12 so I was glad that I switched sites. The blueberries were all just about gone and there zero flowers. We hiked over to where the marker was and sat down to rest and eat a bite.

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Where we rested was a small grove of trees. I hoped up after a few and went in to look around. It was pretty neat. There was bear scat and holes where they had been digging.  I have never seen branches like this.

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The views were as expected. We did not explore as much as we would have wanted to. We were both pretty tired and it was one of the hottest days of the year.

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I popped three more ibuprofen and we headed back down after about 30 minutes on the bald. The hike down went considerably faster than going up.

Day one consisted of a 2.3 mile hike. My Alltrails recording is here.

Day two was 9.9. It was from the campsite to the bald and then back to the car. My Alltrails recording is here.

Other than the limitations of my own body, it was a very nice trip. I can’t say enough good about the Smokies and the rangers there. They are very helpful and the area is just beautiful.  Brenda and I enjoyed it so much that we are going to attempt to be part of the 900 miler club. It will take me eons to accomplish this since I live 4 hours away, but it’s still good to have goals and well, why not just try it?

And that’s it.

Happy Hiking!

Lori

Hike To Slave Falls and Needle Arch

Tennessee Hikes

March 30, 2017

The weather could not have been more perfect. While they were predicting storms of biblical proportions back in west and middle Tennessee, I decided to head about three hours north east and take in some hiking.

My original plans were to take a good friend of mine on a birthday hike to Twin Arches. However, the weather alerts spooked her and she dropped out. No amount of reasoning was going to convince her that the storms were not going to be anywhere near the area where we would be hiking. She thought I was nuts for going. I knew I would be fine.

So, I hit the road and headed out for yet another solo hike. Early on I decided to ditch the Twin Arches hike. I have been several times and wanted to see a new area of Big South Fork. So, I decided on Slave Falls.

According to the sign at the falls the area is named Slave Falls because escaping slaves would often hide in the caves around the falls.  The area, like all of Big South Fork, is gorgeous. I imagine there were plenty of places for someone to hide. There are many caves in the area and water is everywhere.

After you turn onto Divide Road just follow the signs to the Sawmill Trail head.

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Looking back up the trail after starting the descend.

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The trail hugs the sandstone walls all the way to the falls.

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The falls were not flowing that great, but it was still a hike worth doing. There is a fence to keep people from trying to get to the base.

Hike to Needle Arch

After coming back up the hill at the Slave Falls trail I went left and took the short path up to Needle Arch. It’s a small arch created after thousands of years of erosion. NOTHING compared to the Twin Arches a few miles away. Now THOSE are some arches. While this wasn’t anything monumental, kids will like seeing it. There is a sign posted to keep off the arches. Since the hike to it isn’t all that far it’s worth doing.

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 From the National Park Service Website:

Slave Falls/Needle Arch
This short, easy hike includes a good view of a 60 foot waterfall as well as a natural arch. The hike is approximately 1.5 miles one way and can be done in about an hour. There may be very little water coming over the falls in late summer and fall but the hike is still worthwhile. To access Slave Falls use the Sawmill trailhead located on the western part of the park in Tennessee. Turn on Divide Road and travel one mile from Hwy 154. At the next intersection turn right on to Fork Ridge Road. Sawmill will be on your left just past the Middle Creek Equestrian trailhead.

Need to know:

  • Easy hike for beginners and children
  • Take a camera
  • water/snacks/comfortable shoes