Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Jakes Creek Trail
Our hike up Jakes Creek Trail began near the Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. During the time before the establishment of the National Park, there were settlements in this valley as far back as the early 1800s. The logging companies had moved in by the early 1900s. After the logging companies had done as much damage as they could, the area was again claimed by settlers. A number of vacation homes are located in the vicinity of the parking lot and trailhead, but that a subject for a later post. Today is all about our hike.
We have not hiked this trail in several years so were very surprised to find a large new parking lot. Actually, there are two parking lots and there is a new restroom facility in the lower lot. All of that is the good news. The bad news is that this parking lot is about four-tenths of a mile from the trailhead. Oh well, such is progress. I’m grateful for the restroom.
We began our hike by skirting around the locked gate which prevented us from accessing the old parking area, and started our climb toward Jakes Gap. The trail is wide, well graded, and graveled following first the old Jakes Creek Road then the track of the old logging railroad up Jakes Creek. The trail is gravel for about the first mile and a half before becoming the usual dirt path which we prefer. The trail climbs steadily (but never very steeply) for 1800 feet over its length of 3.7 miles. It is a pleasant walk through hardwoods, rhododendron, and magnolia. We had one stream crossing on a footbridge and a couple of easy rock hops.
At the three mile mark we came to backcountry campsite 27. There is a huge boulder here and a very inviting place for a break. The guidebook indicates this campsite will accommodate 8 tents and the map says 12 plus horses. We spent a little time looking around. To us it didn’t look large enough for 8 much less 12 and we didn’t see a hitching post for horses. Perhaps we didn’t look carefully enough.
After our short break we continued the last seven-tenths of a mile to the top at Jakes Gap. Jakes Gap is the intersection for three trails. Entering the gap from Jakes Creek Trail we could go left up Miry Ridge Trail 5 more miles to the Appalachian Trail or we could go straight and head down Panther Creek Trail to Middle Prong and the Tremont area. The Panther Creek option would have been a nice 8.5 mile hike if we’d run a shuttle and left a car at the Middle Prong trailhead. Something to consider for another day. What we actually did when we got to Jakes Gap was pull up a log and had lunch.
We retraced our steps to return to the car with a short side trip. On our way up the mountain, I had noticed a side trail leading off to the right of the main trail. Sharon was with us and she knew all about where that side trail led. Apparently, very well hidden across the creek and back in the trees is the Avent Cabin, one of the best preserved and one of the oldest cabins in the Park.
The trail to the Avent Cabin is not on any map that we’ve ever seen and it is not mentioned in the guidebook we use. The trail to this little well-kept secret is maintained and even has a footbridge across the creek. Avent Cabin was originally built around the mid-1800s and was the home of Humphrey Ownby and remained in the Ownby family until 1918 when it was sold to Frank and Mayna Avent which they used as a summer cottage. Mayna is an accomplished artist and she used this small cabin as her summer studio. Sharon found this blog post about the cabin. Take a look if you’re interested. It has a much more complete story of Mayna Avent and some wonderful photos taken inside the cabin.
After exploring the cabin and the area surrounding it, we returned to the main trail and continued our trek downhill to the car.
This was a wonderful hike. Our weather was perfect with almost a fall like feel in the air with temperatures near 50 when we started. The hike was pleasant and having Sharon along was great. The side trip to Avent Cabin, a place we didn’t even know existed, was icing on the cake and if Sharon hadn’t been along to tell us what was down that path we would have missed it all together. Thanks, Sharon.
That’s all for now. Thanks for tagging along.