Total miles hiked: 11.5
8 November 2015
Sunny and 60 degrees in early November? What else is there to do but go for a hike! I have had a few trails down in the Cades Cove / Abrams Creek area of the park that I need to finish off, so today I knocked the Hatcher Mountain trail (all 2.6 miles of it!) off the list.
This loop starts out at the Abrams Creek Ranger Station which is where hiker parking is. It's about 0.5 mile walk in through the campground to get to the trailhead from the parking area.
Trailhead at Abrams Creek Campground
Cooper Road starts out going northeast out of the campground up to Cane Gap and then takes a sharp right to head southeast into Cades Cove. It is indeed an old road, so it is generally wide and smooth. From the campground it rises for a total of about 800' elevation gain by the time you reach the junction with Beard Cane & Hatcher Mountain trails. But it's rarely steep, so it's not a bad hike at all.
Cooper Road trail - wide and smooth
Shortly (~ 1 mile) up the Cooper Road trail you pass the Little Bottoms trail junction and backcountry campsite #1. This is a nice, big, open campsite and a great intro site for beginner backpackers. 1.7 miles further up the trail you run into the junction with the Gold Mine trail, and then just 0.4 miles beyond that you reach Cane Gap and the junction with Cane Creek trail.
Gold Mine Trail junction
Cane Gap - Cane Creek trail junction
1.8 miles further on you come to the junctions with Beard Cane trail (which leads off to the northeast toward campsite 3 and ultimately Ace Gap trail), and Hatcher Mountain trail (leading southwest toward Little Bottoms trail). I still need to do the section of Beard Cane between campsite 3 and Cooper Road, but I guess that will have to wait for another day.
Hatcher Mountain trail is just 2.6 miles long. It connects Cooper Road trail with Little Bottoms trail, and begins near the top of a ridge and then comes back down the other side toward Abrams Creek.
Cooper Road - Beard Cane - Hatcher Mountain trail junctions
This whole area is fairly dry and rocky, with a sandstone base and a tree canopy consisting primarily of oak, hickory and pine. Hatcher Mountain trail pretty quickly leads up and over a ridge that is covered with the skeletons of dead pine trees. I'm not sure if it was the pine beetle that got them, or the tornado that ripped through this area a few years ago, but there are a LOT of standing dead trees.
Dead pine trees on Hatcher Mountain trail
View of Chilhowee Mountain (you can see the Look Rock tower on the ridge to the right of the gap)
As Hatcher Mountain trail descends from the ridge you get into a rhythm of following the trail out along the edge of the ridge, and then diving back in to a draw between ridges, and then back out to a ridge. Ultimately you come out on the side of the ridge overlooking Abrams Creek and begin to descend on an open, sunny, and rocky trail and then meet up with the Little Bottoms trail.
Eastern end of Little Bottoms trail - dry, rocky, and exposed.
Little Bottoms trail (2.3 miles) leads back northwest toward the beginning of the Cooper Road trail and Abrams Creek campground. The eastern end is on the ridge above the creek and is dry and exposed, but the western end drops down to the creek near campsite 17 and follows Abrams Creek for a ways. Ultimately the creek goes left to find its way through the ridge, while the trail goes up and over the ridge. This section is not long, but is a bit steep, especially near to the top. It then drops quickly back down the other side to meet up with Cooper Road trail.
Little Bottoms - Cooper Road trail junction
From here it's just 0.9 miles back down Cooper Road trail to the campground, and then 0.5 miles along the road back to the car. It was a bit after 4 pm by now, and the sun was starting to get a little low in the sky. I love the way the light filters through the trees at this time of day.
Sunlight through the trees
Despite the fact that it was a warm, sunny afternoon in November I only saw two other families on the hike. It was a good day for solitude and to push my pace. I always love hikes along creeks, and the section of Abrams Creek along the Little Bottoms trail is beautiful.
This area of the park will always make me think of my boys. Our oldest's first backpacking trip was to campsite 17 on Little Bottoms trail, and our youngest's first backpacking trip was to campsite 1 on Cooper Road trail. We've also camped at the campground on a few occasions. It's less than 30 minutes from our house to the trailhead here, so it's a great place for a quick getaway.
Hope to get some more hiking in soon. Been doing a lot of hiking & backpacking this year, just not much of it in the Smokies, so I'm not making much progress on my 900 miles. But that's ok - it'll still be there when I get a chance.
Til next time, happy hiking!