Sunday, September 10, 2017

Clingman's Dome - AT - Goshen Prong - Little River - Elkmont

New Miles Completed: 7.6
Total Miles Hiked: 19.3
9 September 2017

The Hiking merit badge for the Boy Scouts of America requires (among many other things) a 20-mile hike completed in one day. The Troop that I am scoutmaster for has been working on the hiking merit badge, having completed a 5-mile, three 10-mile, and a 15-mile hike. The last requirement was the 20-miler so we were looking for a route that we could do mostly downhill. We decided to start at Clingman's Dome, hike the AT out to the Goshen Prong trail, take Goshen Prong down to Little River trail, and then hike UP Little River trail to campsite #30, and then back DOWN to Elkmont. On the National Geographic map this is a 19.3 mile route; the GPS on my phone said I actually hiked about 21 miles. In the process I completed one new trail: Goshen Prong for 7.6 new miles.

View from Clingman's Dome parking lot.

Our hiking crew: 8 scouts + 2 dads.
The weather for this trip was absolutely perfect. The high temperature for the day was predicted to be in the low 70s and lots of sunshine. It was a bit chilly at Clingman's Dome at 8:30 am, but the sun was out and we warmed up pretty quickly going up the trail to the top of the Dome.

Trail sign on the Appalachian Trail just west of Clingman's Dome
It's about 2 miles on the AT from Clingman's Dome to Goshen Prong trail, and pretty much downhill the whole way. The trail is narrow and rocky, and there are some amazing views off to either side. We met several folks hiking up from Silers Bald or Double Spring Gap shelters toward Clingman's Dome.

Appalachian Trail - Goshen Prong Trail junction
We reached the junction of the AT with the Goshen Prong trail and headed down - this is where my new trail miles began. The Goshen Prong trail leaves the main spine of the Smokies and heads down hill following the Goshen Prong creek to its junction with the Little River at the Little River trail. For the first mile or so the trail is to the east of and high up above the prong. The section of the trail is pretty steep and pretty rocky. I have heard that is often fairly overgrown in the late summer as well so I was a little worried about how our progress would be along this part. Never fear - the trail had very recently been cleared of brush, and there was a LOT of it! Whoever did the trail maintenance, THANK YOU and great job!

Typical view of the upper section of Goshen Prong - the trail is littered with recently cleared Rhododendron leaves.
After a while the trail reaches the banks of the prong itself, and starts to flatten out a bit. The Goshen Prong is a beautiful creek! Lots of rock formations (including a shallow cave) and waterfalls, and lined with Rhododendrons.

Cool cave right on the trail.

Remnants of the logging railroad.

Beautiful waterfall on the Goshen Prong.
A little over 4 miles down the trail you reach what appears to be a trail junction: there is a trail sign, and a clear trail that leads into the woods to what I assumed was campsite #23. But no - if you walk back into the woods there is a nice clearing, but also a sign that says No Camping. Puzzled, we walked on for a very little way and came to the real side trail to campsite #23. We still had a long way to go and wanted to get to the Little River trail before breaking for lunch so we did not stay to explore the campsite, but maybe someday I will go back...

Trail sign at the false trail to the "not-campsite"

Trail marker for the real entrance to Campsite #23
From here the Goshen Prong trail continues to follow the Goshen Prong, and continues to flatten out as you approach the Little River. The trail travels through a wide flood-plain that is dominated by Rhododendron. The trail here is nice and easy walking. Shortly before reaching the Little River trail, the Goshen Prong trail crosses the Little River on a very sturdy bridge.

Bridge over the Little River.
We stopped for lunch at the trail junction of the Goshen Prong trail and Little River trail. We had made good time, averaging around 2.5 mph so far.

Goshen Prong - Little River trail junction.
After a lunch break we headed up-trail. With the exception of the 0.5 mile hike up Clingman's Dome trail from the parking lot, this was the only real uphill of the day, and it's not much of an uphill. Just enough to raise your temperature and breathing rate a little bit... We stopped at campsite #24 (which is closed due to bear activity) and hung our packs on the bear cables while we hiked the 1.8 miles further up to campsite #30. Along the way we passed the entrance to Rough Creek trail which is still closed because of damage from last year's fires. We all arrived at campsite #30, and promptly all got wet feet crossing the creek to get to the campsite. We also found some lost/abandoned camping gear that we added to our load and carried out.

We took a short break at campsite #30 and then turned around and headed back down toward Elkmont, picking up our packs at #24 along the way. This was the home stretch and by now everyone was getting sore and tired, and ready to be back. We made good time on this last stretch, taking in the beauty of the Little River and enjoying the wide, flat trail. We stopped for one more picture at the big bridge over the Little River and then hoofed it on down to Elkmont and the waiting parents to shuttle us back home.

Little River bridge.
All in all it was a great day! The weather was wonderful, the trail was great (mostly downhill!), the scenery was amazing, and the scouts all did really well on the hike. I really hope that I am instilling a love of, and appreciation for the outdoors in these guys. They are all turning into really great outdoorsmen, and I was super proud of how well they did on this really long hike.

Looking forward to doing some more hiking now that cooler weather is upon us.

Til next time, happy hiking!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this post! Not an avid hiker, but I'm thinking of giving it another shot