Friday, October 28, 2011

Grapeyard Ridge Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 7.6
Trail Miles Hiked: 7.6
26 October 2011

Autumn is, without a doubt, my favorite season for hiking.  The temperatures are ideal, the fall colors are amazing, the views are outstanding...  Add in some good company and you've got an excellent combination.  Today I had the pleasure of hiking with a friend who's also working on hiking all of the trails in the Smokies.  Margie and I started our quests independently, but at nearly the same time (Dec. 2009).  We met at the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Smokies several years ago and got reacquainted through our mutual interest in hiking in the Smokies.  Margie blogs about her hikes here.

Today's trail was the Grapeyard Ridge trail - a 7.6 mile trail that connects Roaring Fork and Greenbrier.  I arrived at the Greenbrier trailhead at about 8 am so we could leave a car there (our ending point) and then shuttle up to Roaring Fork where we would start our hike.  I had a few minutes alone just as the sun was starting to peek over the top of the ridges.  Early morning is a magical time in the mountains.

Sunrise over the Little Pigeon River

Our hiking party: me, Allen, Clarence, Margie and Susan

The Roaring Fork end of the Grapeyard Ridge trail starts out with about a 1 mile section with a steady elevation gain of about 600 feet, and then it's (mostly) downhill from there.  The first 3 miles or so of the trail skirt the northern edges of Mt. Winnesoka and travel through beautiful mixed woods - lots of hardwoods and the occasional patch of pines as well.  The tree color was great - the maples and tulip poplars in their yellows, and the sourwoods in the scarlet.

There's not a lot going on wildflower-wise this time of year.  A few asters are still flowering, but most everything else is settling in for winter.  There were patches of the showy gentian still in flower here and there that were quite beautiful!  I didn't get any good pictures, but Margie had her awesome camera and got some nice shots.

The trail is named for the proliferation of grape vines in the area, and I have to say I've never seen more grape vines or bigger grape vines any place else.  Some of the vines were as big around as me!

REALLY big grapevine climbing up a tree

About 4.4 miles from the Roaring Fork end of the trail you come to the site of Backcountry campsite #32 which is a little ways down a side trail.  While we didn't take the time to visit the campsite, you could see it from the trail above and it looks to be in a nice flat spot with a nearby creek for water.

After the trail rounds the base of Mt. Winnesoka it crosses over Grapeyard Ridge proper and then drops down into the creek bottoms of Injun Creek and then Rhododendron Creek.  Depending on which book you consult, the name Injun Creek either comes from the Native Americans that lived in the area, or from the wrecked steam engine that still lies in the creek ("Engine Creek" thus became "Injun Creek").  The steam engine was being used by a lumber company in 1920 when it went off the road and crashed into the creek.  It was too big to remove so there it is still, over 90 years later.

The last mile or so of the trail follows Rhododendron Creek and crosses it several times.  There are no bridges and several of the crossings are 5-10 feet across so it was game of rock-hopping to make it across.  Water is low this time of year, so it wasn't any problem, but I could imagine it could be challenging in the spring.  Somewhere in this area is a side trail that leads to the Dodgen-Rayfield Cemetery.  It's supposed to be marked by a pile of rocks, but despite keeping an eye open we somehow missed it.  There are apparently a LOT of old homesites, etc. in this area near the Greenbrier end of the trail.  I look forward to going back sometime and exploring off-trail in this area more.  We did run across a single gravestone just off the side of the trail.  No discernible writing on it - just one lonely grave marker.

Shortly thereafter we made it back to Greenbrier Road and my car.  What an absolutely gorgeous day to be out on the trails!  Thanks to Margie for the invitation, and to Margie, Allen, Susan and Clarence for the great company.  I look forward to more opportunities to hike together.

Til next time, happy hiking!


  1. I'll have to check this trail out soon. Crazy the things you find in the smokies. Have you ever seen the car off of Middle Prong? Probably from the early 30s I would guess.

    Nice trail!

  2. Discovered your blog recently, can't believe I haven't seen it before. I completed the Smokies 900 within one year, April 2008 to April 2009, and blogged about all my hikes at Blogger's updates have messed up the formatting on my older posts and I've been slow to correct them because I keep going hiking and writing about new places :) I miss the Smokies and recently began marking a map for a second go-round. Anyway, I'm enjoying your quality posts and wish you happy trails!