Trail Miles Completed: 5.0
Trail Miles Hiked: 7.9
21 June 2011
Happy Summer Solstice! The beginning of summer seemed like a great excuse to go for a hike, so I headed down to Gatlinburg to the Cherokee Orchard / Roaring Fork area. Given that it was the longest day of the year I figured I'd have a little extra daylight and didn't leave my house until about 5 pm. What I forgot to take into account is Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg traffic... I didn't get to the trailhead until almost 7 pm! Undaunted I forged ahead. My loop started at the lower trailhead for Baskins Creek Trail (on Roaring Fork) and went up Baskins Creek trail to Cherokee Orchard where I hopped onto Trillium Gap trail. I did the 0.7 mile section to the west (junction w/ Rainbow Falls trail) and then back again and continued on to the east to the Grotto Falls parking area, and then road-walked back down to my car.
The Baskins Creek trail is very nice, and at 2.7 miles in length, a very reasonable hike. Baskins Creek Falls is roughly in the middle, and is at the lowest point on the trail, so either way you go in you're going to go down and then back up. I started at the Roaring Fork end, and just a little ways in you pass an old cemetery with a sign that says it's being renovated. The signs that say it's being renovated look like they need to be renovated, so I'm guessing this has been going on for a while...
The trail passes through prototypical Smokies deep, dark forest (I kind of felt like I was in Fangorn Forest in Middle Earth). It's dark and damp, the trail lined with rhododendron and hemlock. The Rosebay Rhododendron are just about at their peak right now, so I was walking under a ceiling of flowers and on a carpet of fallen flowers. Absolutely gorgeous!
The side trail to Baskins Creek Falls appears about mid-way through the hike. I'd guess it's about a quarter mile from the main trail down to the falls, with the last little bit being very steep and rocky down to the base of the falls. The falls themselves are impressive - there is a very wide rock rim with the falls spilling over one little section into a rocky pool at the base. A salamander was sitting on a rock looking at me when I arrived, but unfortunately he dove for the water as soon as I reached for my camera. This would be a lovely spot for a picnic on a hot summer afternoon.
From Baskins Creek Falls the trail steadily gains elevation on its way up toward Cherokee Orchard. The trail follows Falls Branch much of the way, and there are some really pretty little cascades and cool rock shelters along the trail as well. Along the way there is another side trail, this one leading to Baskins Creek Cemetery. About a quarter mile hike takes you up to a small clearing with a dozen or so graves, almost all of them marked with roughly shaped pieces of slate as gravestones. While you can make out some writing on some of them, they are all so worn that they are illegible.
As the trail nears the top it comes out on a drier side of the ridge and the mountain laurels abound. There are some nice views here out toward Mt. LeConte and points further west. The trail ends at Cherokee Orchard Road, and I arrived at about 8:30. It was starting to get fairly twilightish by now - a combination of the late hour and the clouds.
From here I took the little spur trail that connects Baskins Creek trail with Trillium Gap trail. I took the Trillium Gap trail west 0.7 miles to its junction with Rainbow Falls trail, and then turned around and headed back up Trillium Gap to its junction with the spur trail that leads down to Roaring Fork Road at the Grotto Falls parking area. This particular section of the Trillium Gap trail parallels Roaring Fork Road and is not often used during the summer. But it's a nice trail - fairly level with just a few ups and downs, and the trail is remarkably flat and generally free of rocks and tree roots. Which is a good thing, since by now it was getting full dark and I was still hiking. At one point the winds started howling and rushing through the trees - a pretty amazing feeling to be hiking through! Ultimately the rain started in, but luckily not terribly hard, nor for very long. I discovered (happily) that my rain coat is big enough to cover both me and my daypack, which is a good thing since I didn't bring my pack cover.
About a half mile from the Grotto Falls parking area I finally had to dig out my head-lamp - it was so dark under the trees that I couldn't even pretend I could see the trail anymore. So I finished the hike up via head-lamp and made it safely back to Roaring Fork Road. The evening finished up with a 1.2 mile road walk back down to my car.
All in all it was a neat hike. Baskins Creek Falls and the Baskins Creek Cemetery are both well worth a visit, and the Baskins Creek trail in general is quite nice. Plus I got to finish off the lower section of Trillium Gap trail to complete the loop and I was surprised at how pleasant a walk it was. I'll be back in this area soon - going up Trillium Gap trail to Brushy Mountain with some friends from church on Saturday!
Til next time, happy hiking!
(and don't forget your raincoat and headlamp)