Monday, April 9, 2012

Chestnut Top Trail

We moved over to the North Carolina side of Smoky Mountain National Park today and are all set up in Creekwood Farm RV Park.  We haven’t had a chance to check things out very much, but our first impression is that this is going to be a nice place to spend the week while we do some hiking in the Cataloochee area of the Park.

We did one other hike last week which I want to share.  Chestnut Top Trail is one of the premier trails for spring wildflowers.  Since the season seems to be peaking early this year, we were not sure there would be many flowers on Chestnut Top, but didn’t want to just  leave without giving it a check.  Saturday morning, we were tossing around a few possibilities for the day and decided on this hike.  We were not disappointed.
One flowered Cancer Root
The trailhead is at the Townsend “Y”, that fork in the road at the Townsend entrance to the Park where the left goes to Cades Cove and the right fork leads to Sugarlands Visitor Center and the main entrance to the Park near Gatlinburg.  There is a large parking lot, but this is also a very popular spot for swimmers, tubing enthusiasts, and picnickers.  This parking lot fills up quickly.  The trailhead is across the road from the parking lot.
We really didn’t have a plan; just thought we’d walk along to see whatever happened to be there.  Sure enough, many of the early flowers were either gone or past their prime, but there was still plenty to see.  So much, in fact, that it took us 70 minutes to walk up the first half mile.

This trail is all uphill from the road to the top of Chestnut Top then a slight down then a bump before it goes slightly down to Schoolhouse Gap.  The first half mile gains a thousand feet and is the steepest section of the entire 4.25 mile trail.  The early flowers may have been gone, but we saw plenty of False Solomon’s Seal, Solomon’s Seal, a few Dwarf Crested Iris, Phacelia, stonecrop, and even a couple Little Brown Jugs.
I can't believe Mountain Laurel is starting to bloom already
After the first half mile the flowers thinned out considerably and we were able to pick up our pace a little bit.  It was a beautiful day to be outside and there were several others along the trail, as well.  The trees are pretty much in full leaf at this elevation, so there weren’t any spectacular views from the trail until we got closer to the top.  As the trail comes around to the other side of the mountain, we were rewarded with some great views of the ridge which is the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina.  The Appalachian Trail runs along that ridge.
State line on top of that ridge.  That may be Thunderhead, I'm not sure
By the time we got hungry we were near the top of Chestnut Top.  We found a flat spot beside the trail which worked well for our lunch break.

The highlight of the day came shortly after we left our lunch spot.  Two pink Lady Slippers were in bloom just off the edge of the trail.  They were in an area open to views of the ridge beyond so I guess we were looking at that and missed the Lady Slippers on our way up.  That pretty much made our day.

Since we had stopped to examine every blooming thing on our way up, we didn’t bother with that on our way down and the return trip moved along much faster.

Not all flowers bloom in the spring and there’ll be something to see all during the summer, but there’s no time quite as magnificent as spring.

Tomorrow will be a little orientation and sightseeing in Waynesville, North Carolina.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

1 comment:

  1. What a nice Lady Slipper! I liked the mountain laurel also. :)