Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sugarland Mountain Trail

I think I’ve said before that we love the high elevation spruce fir forest in the Smokies.  Any of the trails accessible from Clingmans Dome Road are among our favorites.  The Appalachian Trail runs along the crest, but the numerous other trails that junction with the AT or with the road are also nice hikes.  Of course, all of these trails except for the AT are heading downhill which means (unless you’ve run a shuttle) the last half of your hike is an uphill climb.  Some things are just worth it.

Bear breakfast
Sugarland Mountain Trail runs for 12 miles from the Appalachian Trail near Mt. Collins Shelter down, down, down to the parking lot at Laurel Falls Trail on Little River Road.  If your knees can stand that much downhill, hiking through from top to bottom would be a real Smokies experience.  Starting at 6000 feet in the lush, wet rain forest zone and dropping down through every forest type to the bottom at 2300 feet would give the hiker a good sample of the entire park.  Not to mention some great views, a backcountry shelter and a campsite.  You’ve got it all in one hike.

We didn’t do that, however.  We started at the top and hiked down about three miles then turned around and hiked back up to the car.

The parking area on Clingmans Dome Road is at the Fork Ridge trailhead.  The parking area is really a couple of small pull outs which will accommodate about 6 cars.  There is a signpost almost directly across the street from the Fork Ridge Trail which directs you to the Appalachian Trail.  This short access trail goes right up to the AT where we turned left, or Southbound.  Sugarland Mountain Trail intersects the AT in two-tenths of a mile.

We had gotten an early start so were ready to start hiking by 8:30.  We were surprised to feel the nip in the air when we got out of the car at 6000 ft.  We could actually see our breath!  What a relief from the oppressive heat down below.  I love the early morning in the Smokies with the sun beams shining through the trees and the fog.

It was a treat to see trail blazes along the short distance we hiked on the AT.  The Appalachian Trail is the only trail inside the Park which is blazed.  It was comforting seeing those white rectangles guiding our way.

British Soldier moss.  I think it's really a lichen, not a moss.
A third of a mile down Sugarland Mountain Trail we passed a side trail to Mt. Collins Shelter.  We wanted to stop in there because it has been renovated since the last time we were here, but we could hear voices indicating the shelter was occupied at least by two people.  We decided to leave them in peace and save our visit for later.

Another tenth of a mile down the trail brought us to another side trail to a piped spring.  This is the water source for the shelter and it was flowing nicely after last night’s thunderstorms.  A tenth of a mile doesn’t sound like far, but carrying a couple quarts of water uphill can make it seem like a long way.

We continued our journey downhill.  Instead of hiking distance today we were hiking time.  After our long hike on Monday, we wanted something much shorter today.  We had determined that we would hike for two hours then turn around.

On our way back, we took the short side trail to Mt Collins Shelter.  This shelter, like the others in the Park, has been renovated.  The overnight guests had vacated the place and we had it all to ourselves.  We took a long lunch break here before hiking the last half mile to the car.

We found a large patch of these pink turtleheads
It was a short hike, especially compared to the drive to get to the trailhead, but oh so worth the effort.  The temperatures were cool, the sun bright in a beautiful blue sky, and the trail, though a little wet from last night’s rain, was delightful.  I could do this hike, or one like it, every day of the week.

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


  1. Another great looking Smokies trail. I'd love to hike that area some day. Nice flower pics!

    Those shelters for hikers are a great idea.

    1. We like the shelters and often stop in for lunch. The shelters in the Smokies have all been recently renovated and are very nice. Sleeping in a shelter is a different matter. We prefer our own tent.

  2. Ahhh... I like the second photo with the sunbeams shining down. Nice! Makes me excited to hit the trail this weekend.

  3. Love the British Soldier moss which does look like a lichen to me, too. Love lichens! The mushrooms are always fun to shoot - glad you were able to escape the heat, which I could say the same!