Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mingus Creek Trail

After a couple of rain days and several days of sitting around visiting and eating with family, you can guess what we wanted to do as soon as we got back to the mountains.  We were up and ready to go almost before the last cup of coffee was drank.

The trail Gene chose was one we’ve done before, perhaps more than once--Mingus Creek Trail.  The trailhead is at the back of the parking lot for Mingus Mill.  This is a large parking lot just a half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road.  Even if there are lots of folks visiting the mill there should still be ample parking for hikers.

Mingus Creek
The trail starts just across the Creek from the Mill and follows Mingus Creek then Madcap Branch as it steadily climbs toward the junction with Deeplow Gap Trail where it turns right and continues up to Newton Bald Trail.  The entire trail is almost 6 miles in length.  We didn’t want to do that whole thing in and out, so we stopped about halfway at the junction with Deeplow Gap Trail.

The trail, for the first mile or so, is an old road built by the CCC in the 1930s.  The road is still used by the park service so is kept in good repair and has wide auto bridges for the creek crossings along this stretch of trail.  At about the half mile point we passed the target range for the National Park Rangers.  At about the one mile point we passed a side trail to the right which leads to an old cemetery.  More on that later.  At this junction, Mingus Creek veered to the right and we began following Madcap Fork as we made our way uphill.

Beyond the trail to the cemetery, Mingus Creek Trail is no longer passable except by foot.  The creek crossings no longer have bridges, but they are easy rock hops.  The pitch of the trail also increases and for the next mile the going was sometimes pretty rough.

As we gained elevation and left the creek behind, the trail became a smooth, narrow foot path and we made several switchbacks as we climbed the last 750 feet.  The junction with Deeplow Gap Trail was a welcome sight and we plopped down on a soggy log for a lunch break.

Mingus Creek Trail is part of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-the Sea Trail (MTS), a long distance trail which begins at Clingman’s Dome and stretches across North Carolina to the Outer Banks.  In the Smokies the MTS follows the Appalachian Trail north from Clingman’s Dome for about 3.5 miles where it crosses Clingman’s Dome Road and comes down the mountain using Fork Ridge Trail and several others.  Mingus Creek is the trail the MTS uses to exit the park at Oconaluftee.

After our lunch break, we retraced our steps down the mountain to the junction with the cemetery trail.  We wanted to see the old cemetery so we headed off on that trail.  This trail is also an old roadbed and is well maintained.  There are footbridges for crossing the creeks.  There are dozens of old cemeteries inside the Park boundary and the park service does a decent job of keeping them accessible.  We followed this trail almost a mile up Mingus Creek before we finally came to an old, rotting sign pointing us in the direction of the cemetery.

We were somewhat disappointed in what we found after such a long walk (and uphill, too, I might add).  We were unable to find a name for this pioneer cemetery which consisted of field stones marking 29 gravesites.  Only one had an inscription--Polly Mathis, 1888-1934.  The grass had not yet been mowed this season, so it was a bit overgrown.  Many of the cemeteries in the park have flowers on the tombstones, but not this one.  It didn’t look like anyone had been here in a very long time.

The mountain laurel was in bloom, however, and there were several bushes at the edge of the old fence row in full bloom.  They livened things up a bit.

May be the last Yellow Lady Slipper of the season
When we got home and started investigating the name of that cemetery, we discovered there are 4 cemeteries along that trail, including one slave cemetery.  Perhaps we should have read the guidebook description before we started.

We were all about hiking so didn’t even walk across Mingus Creek to the Mill.  We’ve been to the mill several times in the past and it is very interesting.  In fact, the whole Mingus Creek area is interesting, so look for a post in a week or so about the history of this area including those cemeteries that I’m gonna have to go to.

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


  1. It's interesting to read that there are so many cemetery's inside the park boundaries. I'm not sure if that's a common thing or not as I've never really thought about it.

    Nice photo of Mingus Creek.

  2. Too bad you're not going to be in town for Damascus Trail Days---parade starts at 2 pm ---if you hurry you can make it....I love old cemeteries I would be interested in searching out this one!!