Total Miles Hiked: 17.7
1-2 June 2020
For this trip I drove up to Clingmans Dome Road and parked at the Fork Ridge trailhead. My route took me down Fork Ridge trail to Deep Creek trail to backcountry campsite #55 for the night. The next day I went up Pole Road Creek trail to Noland Divide trail back to Clingmans Dome Road. After a short road walk I hopped on to the AT to make my way back to the Fork Ridge trailhead. I've done Deep Creek trail before, but Fork Ridge, Pole Road Creek, and Noland Divide were all new trails for me.
|Upper section of Fork Ridge trail|
|Beautiful blue skies and mountain views|
|"long green tunnel"|
|Some flowers from Fork Ridge trail|
As you approach the bottom of the trail you can start to hear the roar of Deep Creek. Fork Ridge trail ends at a ford of Deep Creek - on the other side of the creek you pick up Deep Creek trail. In my 2001 edition of the Little Brown Book it says that there should be a bridge here, but I see no evidence of any bridge, and it's a knee-deep ford of cold and fast-flowing water.
|Deep Creek ford at the end of Fork Ridge trail|
|Fork Ridge - Deep Creek trail junction|
After fording the creek, the Deep Creek trail junction sign is just on the other side. The trail leads left (north) up to Newfound Gap Road / US 441 and right (south) toward Bryson City, NC. I turned right to descend toward Pole Road Creek trail. Backcountry campsite #53 is in a clearing near the trail junction. The trail goes right through the middle of the campsite and it's not terribly large to begin with - room for 3 or 4 tents maybe - but nicely located near the creek and open and sunny.
|Backcountry campsite #53|
|Mountain Laurel in flower along Deep Creek|
Even though it's only June, the trail is starting to get overgrown in places. Along the creek the dog hobble can get really thick and grow out into the trail making it feel more like you are wading through vegetation than hiking!
|Dog Hobble encroaching on Deep Creek trail|
About 2.7 miles from the Fork Ridge trail junction you reach backcountry campsite #54. This was where I had originally intended to stay. But right before my trip I read some campsite reviews that weren't great, and I saw that the campsite reservations were at capacity for the site. Whereas campsite #55 which was just 0.8 miles further down the trail only had 1 other person reserved, so I opted to change my reservation to #55. I'm really glad I did - campsite #54 looked FULL when I walked by and also looked small and closed in on all sides. It does sit very near the creek which is nice and I can imagine it would be a pleasant site if you were there with a small group.
|Campsite #54 trail marker|
|Backcountry campsite #54 view from the trail - the rest of the site is behind the vegetation to the right|
Campsite #55 is HUGE. It's a horse camp, so there is an open field with horse racks. There are two sets of bear cables. There's a big open area near the fire pit with a really cool rustic picnic table. And I had it completely to myself. Even though the reservation system listed 1 other person + horse, nobody else showed up. I love this campsite! The only downside is that it was a big buggy, but not bad at all.
|Campsite #55: fire ring + picnic table. Bear cables are to the right of the fire ring.|
|Campsite #55 trail marker|
|Campsite #55: 2nd set of bear cables & horse rack|
Just beyond campsite #55 is the junction with Pole Road Creek trail, where there is a classic tree-trunk bridge over Deep Creek. I love these old bridges and the views of the creeks they afford.
|Deep Creek selfie from the bridge.|
I am curious about the name - Pole Road Creek... Anyway, the trail is a 3.3. mile connector between two big ridges: Fork Ridge on the east, and Noland Divide on the west.
|Deep Creek - Pole Road Creek trail junction|
|Bridge over Deep Creek|
|Pole Road Creek trail|
|Noland Divide - Noland Creek trail junction sign at Upper Sassafras Gap|
|Noland Divide - Pole Road Creek trail junctions sign at Upper Sassafras Gap|
|Noland Divide trail|
|Noland Divide trail entering the spruce zone|
|Deep ruts on Noland Divide trail|
|Scientific research tower|
|Upper section of Noland Divide trail.|
Now all I needed to do was to get back to my car which was back at the Fork Ridge trailhead, 2 road miles away. I considered trying to hitch, but given the current Covid19 pandemic I decided that would be a poor choice. So I thought I'd be clever, and instead of road-walking all the back to my car I would hop on to the Appalachian Trail which parallels Clingmans Dome Road and take that back to the Fork Ridge trailhead. What I didn't realize / remember was that this little section of the AT actually goes UP and over Mt. Collins, well above Clingmans Dome Road... So I gave myself another 600 foot elevation gain up and over Mt. Collins over those 2 miles just to put a nice end to the trip. But I love the AT, and always take the opportunity to hike on it when I can.
|Appalachian Trail: trail jct with Sugarland Mtn trail near Mt. Collins, Fork Ridge trail, and roadside sign|
|A few flowers from the AT section including Spring Beauty which finished flowering over a month ago at low elevation.|
Planning to go spend some time in Bryson City and knock out a bunch of trails in that section later on this summer. I am hopeful that by the end of next summer I will be able to finish this quest! Got some big backpacking trips in my future.
Til next time, happy hiking!