Friday, May 4, 2012

Beech Gap Trail

A funny thing happened on the way to the top of the mountain.  Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Earlier this week we had an opportunity to hike again with Sharon.  She is coloring her Smokies Trail map, as well.  We need some of the same trails including the Beech Gap/Hyatt Ridge combo.  Sharon has a friend whom she hikes with from time to time and he needs these trails also so she brought him along. We were glad to have Bill with us and enjoyed getting to know him.

Beech Gap trail comes in two parts with two different trailheads which are separated by Straight Fork Creek and are a couple tenths of a mile apart.  It seems to me they have the names mixed up, but who am I to question the great trail namers?  Beech Gap I is the second trailhead.  It’s located at the end of Straight Fork Road just after crossing the bridge over Straight Fork Creek.  Beech Gap I begins with a steep climb then moderates about halfway up to Beech Gap where it meets Balsam Mountain Trail.  Beech Gap II begins within sight of the end of Straight Fork Road, but before you cross the bridge over Straight Fork Creek.  Beech Gap II climbs steeply and eventually meets Hyatt Ridge Trail.

Our plan was to take Beech Gap II to Hyatt Ridge were we would take a right and go over one mile to backcountry campsite 44.  After a break there we would return to the junction of Hyatt Ridge Trail and Beech Gap II then continue across Hyatt Ridge dropping back down to Straight Fork Road just a little over a mile from where we started.  We had driven two cars, parking one at the end of Hyatt Ridge Trail and the other at Beech Gap trailhead so we wouldn’t have to walk that extra mile along the road.

This was a great plan.  Eight miles of all new trail for everybody (except Gene who has already done all the trails in the Smokies.  Isn’t he nice to do them again with me?).  We  parked our car at the end point and piled into Sharon’s car for the short ride to the trailhead.  We were all excited.  You know how that goes--jabbering all the way.  We got to the trailhead, pulled on our boots and packs, and away we went.

There is no designated parking area at the end of Straight Fork Road (which is another of these gravel roads, by the way).  There is room for three or four cars off on the shoulder. Since there was no one else here, we had plenty of room.

Shortly after the start of our hike we crossed a small stream where we found this collection of cairns.

The trail begins as a steep ascent for about a mile before moderating slightly.  This trail gets a lot of horse use since Round Bottom Horse Camp is just down the road.  Like the lower end of Dry Sluice Gap Trail, this trail is beat up from horse hooves.  Past the first tough mile, the trail is a little less steep and the trail surface improves greatly.  The steep climb wore us out and we were exceedingly glad to reach the top.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the top of the mountain.  When we finally got to the next trail junction, the sign didn’t say Hyatt Ridge Trail at all--it said Balsam Mountain Trail.  Holy Cow, we’d taken Beech Gap I instead of Beech Gap II.  We weren’t anywhere near where we were supposed to be.

After a long break and much deliberation, we finally decided just to go back the way we came.  We all got 2.5 miles of new trail, we had a great hike, and we thoroughly enjoyed hiking with new friends.  What’s wrong with that?  Nothing at all.

In thinking about what happened, we finally decided to blame the park maintenance dud.  Just so happened, as we were driving to the trailhead, we met a maintenance tractor coming toward us on the road.  Sharon pulled over to give him plenty of room.  This happened right at the trailhead for Beech Gap II.  We were all watching the tractor and missed the trailhead sign.

Each year at the Tennessee Trails Association Annual Meeting the “Golden Squirrel” award is presented to the hike leader who got his group lost on a trail.  I wonder what kind of award we’d get for not being able to find the trail in the first place?

Tomorrow, Gene and I are planning to do the Beech Gap/Hyatt Ridge combo which was our original plan. We won’t have the luxury of a second car and will have to walk the mile along the road between trailheads, but it is what it is.

That it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. well at least you found your way out eventually!..

  2. I am so ready to hike again...looks like most of my hiking over the next week of so will be pavement hiking! I am going to get to finish biking the W and OD Railtrail that Tish and began in 2010, so am excited about that. Hope you got that loop done today. I suspect Bill and I will come back and do it for our traditional Fourth of July week hike. Where are you headed next?

    1. Rain all around the area today with severe thunderstorms predicted. No hiking for us today. Enjoy your summer trip and be safe in your travels.

  3. You keep mentioning coloring in trails on your map. Is there a detailed map available that you're using? Would love the details!

    1. That's a good question. Yes, there is a map available. In fact, there are two. I'll include more information in a post. Others might also be curious.

  4. I love reading hiker's descriptions of various trails. My friends and I love to ride our horses and see the beauty that nature provides in this area. It also sometimes helps me gauge the level of difficulty the trail holds. It does sadden me when I read negativity about horse use. We love our horses and there are very few places we can go to enjoy them in a natural setting.

    We just got back from a camping trip at Round Bottom. We did the trail you described among others. The most difficult by far was the Beech Gap II Trail. It begins where the traffic pattern of the road changes from bi-directional to one way. The road curves to your right and the trail goes off to the left. It is 2.5 miles nearly straight up. It took us 4 hours to make it to the trail crossroads. Our horses were conditioned for the most part before our trip but that climb was very difficult for them and LOTS of rock.

    The scenery and habitat is fabulous though. I suppose we were about a half mile or so from the top when we encountered some very aggressive bees. My horse was stung multiple times and I was stung 3 times. They resembled a cross between a yellow jacket and a honey bee. If you go back, be careful! They were along a semi-flat stretch where we stopped to give our horses a breather. Of course we did not stop for long ;o)..

    We lunched at the trail crossroads before taking the Balsam mountain trail back to the road. This trail was very pleasant also with beautiful scenery and I would love to do it again.

    There is parking for day use or hiking/camping use on either side of Round Bottom Horse Camp. It is not really marked but is in the form of two cleared areas. They do have greenery growing so it would be easy to miss them but there is gravel under neath.

    Some hikers camped up on the trail while we were there and left their cars at one of these pull outs.

    We found this area to be so very diverse and beautiful. The only thing we had hoped for that wasn't there was any sort of overlook. Thanks for writing about the trails you encounter and please keep a soft spot for those of us who love horses. We always try to be respectful of the trails and people we encounter. Have fun and watch out for bees!

    PS.. I did not know the trails were labeled as I and II until I read your blog. Thanks!