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Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 2nd Edition
by Johnny Molloy (Wilderness Press)
Explore highlands above scenic Cataloochee Valley on this two-night backpack circuit. An easy first day leads to Pretty Hollow campsite. The next day, ascend a deeply cut gorge, reaching spruce forest at Pretty Hollow Gap. Join Mount Sterling Ridge and cruise the high country to camp at Laurel Gap Shelter, over a mile high. From there, follow Balsam Mountain then dip into the lowlands via the lush Palmer Creek Trail.
Late spring to early summer is the best time to make this loop. The high country is relatively warm but still feels springlike. Fall presents great color. Winter can be harsh and snowy up high.
Day & Overnight Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
by Johnny Molloy (Menasha Ridge Press)
Leave scenic Cataloochee Valley, seeing an old school and former fields before heading up Pretty Hollow to make your first campsite. The next day, continue up a deeply cut gorge reaching spruce forest at Pretty Hollow Gap. From here, join Mount Sterling Ridge and cruise the high country to camp at Laurel Gap shelter, more than 1 mile high. Your last day is your longest as you follow Balsam Mountain then dip into the lowlands via the lush Palmer Creek Trail.
I did this last year, and yes it is hard. The second day is the best but you have to tread lightly as it is slick on the rocks and creek crossings. The mile up from site 61 really blows as its a precurser to going up the Noland Divide trail. Its long its hard and its tiring but the scenery is awsome with a really nice log bridge crossing Deep Creek. Be in shape and pack light and it will be a good hike. Oh and it rained the first and third day of my hike!!!
We started this hike on Fri morning and ended on Sun at about 2pm. I also think that day 2 is the hardest. We decided to go to the next campsite after Poke Patch since we had so much time left the first day. It was a good choice because we got a late start Sat due to rain. It was a very nice hike with good views of streams on day 2. The view from Mt Collins is great. It was also neat to get to walk part of the AT. This is the only place we saw other hikers. Overall it was great.
This is certainly an intense hike for late fall! The guidebook reads that the last day is the most difficult; however, my boyfriend and I found that the second day (Poke Patch campsite to site #61) is in fact the hardest. Slippery creek crossings and a muddy 1.1 mile uphill climb make for some difficult hiking. Yet the backcountry sites are well-equipped and fellow hikers seem to respect and care for the area. Do this hike in the summer when the number of daylight hours allows for moments of relaxation along the trail's numerous scenic spots.
The 3rd day (a gradual incline along a ridge - diverse ecosystems and plenty of great views) was by far the best.
If you want a trail with few encounters with other hikers, this trail is also for you.
Make sure you check out an elevation map before taking on Fork Ridge Loop...its worth knowing what you are getting yourself into.
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