Saturday, April 7, 2012

White Oak Sinks

Over the years, I’ve studied the hiking trail map for Great Smoky Mountain National Park and I’d never seen a White Oak Sinks trail.  That’s because it doesn’t exist, at least not on paper.
Beaked violet

Dog Hobble
There are somewhere between 800 and 900 miles of hiking and horse trails in the Smokies.  Additionally, there are numerous “quiet walkways” and nature trails.  There are many miles of abandon trails that were once official trails which have been closed for one reason or another and are no longer maintained, but are still used by some brave souls.  There are still other “trails” which are somewhat maintained which are not listed on trail maps, but are used by those in the know.  White Oak Sinks is one such trail and, lucky for us, we were introduced to this trail by our friend, Sharon.
Little Brown Jug

People in the know flock to White Oak Sinks in the spring for the wildflower display.  Since the spring wildflowers peak only briefly, we wanted to get there as soon as possible.  Gene, myself, nor Sharon are fond of crowds on the trail, so we made our plan to be at the trailhead just after sunrise on Wednesday, hopefully ahead of one of the largest hiking clubs in the area.
Showy Orchid

Wild geranium a little droopy from the rain.
We met at 7:15 at the large parking lot for the Schoolhouse Gap Trail.  To begin our hike we headed up Schoolhouse Gap Trail.  This trail was originally part of a toll-road project begun in the 1830s to connect Tuckaleechee Cove in Tennessee with the Little Tennessee River valley in North Carolina.  The road was built on the Tennessee side, but never completed in North Carolina.  We hiked along this old roadbed for 1.1 mile to just past the junction with Turkeypen Ridge Trail.   Just off Schoolhouse Gap Trail to the left is a stile of the type used to prevent horses from passing through.  We walked through the stile and began our gradual descent into White Oak Sinks.
Wild ginger

Yellow Lady Slipper
Although the main trail is not an “official” trail and is not maintained to the standard of official National Park trails, it is maintained to some degree.  It is very easy to follow and we had no difficulty distinguishing between main trail and side trails.  There are numerous side trails, all more narrow than the main trail, leading off in every direction to who knows where.  Once we made our way to the floor of the sink, these little side trails were everywhere.  It would be very easy to get lost on these little trails.

Sharon is very familiar with White Oak Sinks and was our guide for the hike.  She knew just which of these trails to follow to find the yellow lady slipper and which to find the wild ginger.  Gene brought along the wildflower book so we didn’t have to rely on our memories to identify the flowers we saw.
Blowhole Cave
There are other items of interest in White Oak Sinks besides wildflowers.  There are several caves.  The one we saw was Blowhole Cave located at the far end of the main trail.  The cave has been barricaded to prevent entry and to protect the hibernating bats.
Phlox all over the floor of the sink
White Oak Sink was home to Abraham Law way back in the day and his tombstone is located somewhere in the sink though we didn’t search it out.  Mr. Law’s daughter, Caroline, married a man named Spence and they moved to one of the grassy balds nearby which eventually became known as Spence Field.

For our break, we made our way back to a pretty little waterfall.  Apparently, the falls has never been named.  What little information I could find indicates that this falls drops into a cave and eventually emerges some 3 miles northwest of White Oak Sink in the Tuckaleechee Caverns area.  Not sure about the accuracy of that information.  True or not, it was a lovely spot for a break.
Smokies are sorta famous for their salamanders
By the time we left the falls, we began to see some of the many folks we expected would visit White Oak Sinks on Wednesday.  We were so grateful we had had a couple hours to ourselves to enjoy the beauty of that special place.  Thanks, Sharon, for sharing it with us.

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


  1. Sure enjoyed all the wildflower pictures and the lesson on White Oak Sink. That waterfall is lovely. I can see why you chose that place to take your break.

  2. Beautiful wildflowers!! That was a very nice trail to hike and what a beautiful day you guys had!! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Great post - really interesting. I sure liked that photo of the waterfall as well as all the wildflowers. The Smokies sure look like a nice place to go hiking.

  4. Thanks for this very interesting and informative and very well photographed post.
    I've been to the Smokies several times and always enjoy its ever changing beauty.
    The natural history I can pick up from more informed locals locals like Sharon etches most cherished in my memory.