Friday, August 24, 2012

Low Gap and Camel Gap Trails

I’m not exactly sure how we ended up hiking fifteen miles to complete these trails, but I absolutely know my feet are still complaining.  My knees, too, for that matter.

The decision to do this came about something like this--Gene made a list of trails that he thought would be good hikes where the trailheads were down roads that would be closed during the winter.  His goal was to get them hiked before the roads are closed.  There are several of these roads in the Smokies; one happens to be the road to Cosby Campground.  On my Smokies trail map I still had not hiked the 2.5 mile section of Low Gap from the Appalachian Trail down to Walnut Bottoms.  So for our hike he suggested we do that section of trail.

Of course, as is the case with a lot of trails in the Smokies, the trailhead for this section of trail was not at a road anywhere; it is 2.5 miles up the mountain where Low Gap Trail junctions with the Appalachian Trail in Low Gap.  This is a good hike of 10 miles--2.5 miles up the mountain and 2.5 miles down the other side then retrace our steps back to the car.

The real problem occurred after he mentioned the hike to me and I got to rolling it around in my head.  Near the end of Low Gap Trail in Walnut Bottoms is Camel Gap Trail which I also needed to hike for the sake of coloring in my map.  By using the AT it is possible to make what we call a lollypop hike--a loop at the end of a stick.  The only problem with that is the total distance of 15 miles.  I thought about it almost all day.  I surely didn’t want to do 15 miles, but it was going to be the only way to get Camel Gap Trail without doing an overnight backpack.

I went to bed thinking it would be easier to hike 15 miles with a small day pack than carry a heavy backpack up that mountain.  When Gene came to bed I asked him what he thought about doing 15 miles.  We slept on the idea.  The next morning we threw more food in our packs and ran out the door with coffee mugs in hand to get a very early start--the trailhead was a 2-hour drive from our house.

As I said earlier, the trailhead for Low Gap Trail is in Cosby Campground.  There is a gigantic parking lot for hikers just before you pass through the campground check-in office and the trailhead is at the end of this parking area.  However, there is a very small parking area which will accommodate about 2 cars located at a spur trail which leads to Low Gap Trail.  This spur trail saves about a half or three-quarters of a mile on the hike.  We wanted to save every step we could.

The first quarter mile or so is along a gravel road which is used by Park Service to access the water supply for the campground.  The trail then crosses Cosby Creek on a footbridge and the trail then becomes a regular dirt path.  The trail climbs steeply, following Cosby Creek upstream for about the first mile.  The trail continues to climb, using switchbacks to gain 2000 feet before coming out at Low Gap at the junction with the Appalachian Trail.

Cosby Creek
We stopped for a short break in the gap before heading down hill on the other side of Low Gap.  We’d be back here later in the day.  This side of Low Gap Trail is as steep as what we had come up losing 1500 feet as it drops down to Big Creek at Walnut Bottoms.  We came down pretty quickly and were more than ready for a lunch break by the time we got to the junction with Big Creek Trail.

After our lunch we headed right for a half mile to the junction with Camel Gap Trail.  After the steep climb and steep descent on Low Gap Trail, Camel Gap Trail was a delight.  The trail is along a well graded old logging railroad bed and gains only 1500 over the course of 4.7 miles.  That seemed like nothing compared to the steepness of Low Gap Trail.

Camel Gap is a beautiful trail at first following along side Big Creek then smaller creeks as it gained the slope through hardwood forest.  The trail became only slightly steeper as we turned away from the water and headed up to Camel Gap at the junction with the Appalachian Trail.

Another break was in order at this junction.  At this point we had completed 10 of the 15 miles and were feeling pretty good.  After our short break we turned right onto the Appalachian Trail and started our last climb for the day--300 feet over Cosby Knob.  This short climb was easier than I expected.  Then it was downhill for the rest of the way.

Taking a break and checking the map in Camel Gap
After 1.8 miles on the AT, we stopped in at Cosby Knob Shelter.  Gene needed water and that was the best place to get it.  We took a short break at the shelter, but it may have been a mistake.  Cosby Knob Shelter is several feet below the trail and we noticed on the climb back up that we were getting pretty tired.  It was a good thing we didn’t have any more up hill.

This section of the AT is very steep and rocky.  We were worn out by the time we descended the 700 feet to Low Gap.  Our feet and legs hurt, but our spirits were high.  It was only 5 PM and only 2.5 miles to go.

We took another short break in the gap then started our final leg of the hike.  All those other miles were taking their toll and it was pretty slow going. Down hill is so much harder on the feet and legs.  You cannot believe how happy I was to see that footbridge over Cosby Creek.  Still, it seemed to take forever to get down that short section of gravel road and I didn’t even have the energy to get out the camera when the bear crossed the road about 50 yards in front of me.  It’s a good thing the bear went on about his own business because I didn’t even have the energy or desire to stop.  I was headed for the car.

All the trails in this loop are nice, but I particularly enjoyed Camel Gap Trail.  I love hiking by the water and the trail was so gentle it gave me a chance to enjoy what I was seeing.  It’s too bad this trail is so far from a road.  The distance prevents most people from ever enjoying its beauty.

That’s all I have to say for today.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. Great fungus, love how the stem is red like the cap!

  2. I aid with trail maintenance with the GSMNP, and Low Gap is one of 'my' trails. I have done the out-and-back roite from Cosby Campground....up steep 2.5 miles, down to Big Creek, then back up 2.5 miles and down 2.5 to the campground...and I have enjoyed Big Creek from the Big Creek side, just to cover the 'other' less-traveled side of Low Gap.
    I very much wanted to try a new route, and this lollipop is not a common google result!!! That said, as a committed hiker in the Park, I SO very much appreciate your blog!
    I do humbly apologize for your blowdowns, as I hiked this trail in November and we had some new blowdowns bad :-D
    But YES! Thanks for the report. I will be taking this route tomorrow....seems easier than the dayhike to LeConte via the Boulevard, which is one of which I am accustomed. I will surely enjoy the scenery, as a result of smaller elevation gains (and drops....then re-gains).
    Happy hiking! Thanks, one last time.

  3. meant to say, "enjoyed Low Gap from the Big Creek side"