Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rabbit Creek trail, western end

New miles completed: 2.7
Total miles hiked: 5.4
19 January 2015

Almost a year ago exactly I hiked the eastern part of Rabbit Creek trail from Cades Cove over to Scott Gap and the Hannah Mountain trail.  Martin Luther King Jr. day this year proved to be outstanding hiking weather again, so I got out on the trail with my wife and youngest son to finish off the Rabbit Creek trail from Abrams Creek Ranger Station over to Scott Gap.  It's a short chunk - just 2.7 miles, but it gains about a 1000' in elevation from Abrams Creek up to the top of Pine Mountain, before descending another 400' down to Scott Gap and the Hannah Mountain trail.

Rabbit Creek trailhead @ Abrams Creek
 The weather was perfect for a hike, and the Rabbit Creek trailhead is just 40 minutes from our front door, so everything worked out really well.  We packed up some snacks and water and hit the road.  The trailhead is directly across from the Abrams Creek Ranger Station, and the trail wanders through some wet woods on one side of Abrams Creek, crosses over a long footbridge to the other side and then wanders through some wet woods on the other side of Abrams Creek.

Log bridge over Abrams Creek
In the flat areas above the creek on the other side of the bridge is evidence of some old home sites.  There are remainders of old chimneys and yucca plants that clearly mark habitations of old.  Shortly though, the trail begins to gain elevation as it slowly but steadily makes its way up toward Pine Mountain.  This area is relatively dry and very piney - lots of pine trees and mountain laurels, and the trail consists of weathered sandstone covered in oak leaves and pine needles.  

Wide, soft trail through the piney woods
There were signs of wildlife along the way include bark scraped away from a tree (presumably by a bear?), and woodpecker holes in old stumps.

Bear scraping
Woodpecker holes
The trail reaches the crest of Pine Mountain about 2 1/4 miles in, before descending down into Scott Gap.  The section along here is very exposed - lots of dead & downed pine trees.  Maybe due to Pine Beetle outbreaks, or storms, or both?  But also lots of good views over toward Chilhowee Mountain.  You can even get some pretty good views of the Look Rock observation tower.

Views toward Chilhowee Mountain from below the summit of Pine Mountain
The trail from the crest of Pine Mountain then drops down about 400' in elevation to Scott Gap and the junction with the Hannah Mountain trail.

coming down into Scott Gap
trail sign marking the Rabbit Creek & Hannah Mountain trail junction
Backcountry campsite #16 is just a 100 yards or so down a side trail from Scott Gap.  Apparently there used to be a backcountry shelter here, but it was taken out many years ago by the Park Service.  The campite is in nice open woods, and has the usual fire ring and bear cable system.  There are not a lot of flat spots to put a tent though.

Campsite #16 marker
Campsite#16 fire ring & sitting area
We stopped and had lunch in the campsite and just hung out enjoying the beautiful weather for a while before heading back up.  The 2.7 miles back to the trailhead went much quicker than the 2.7 miles in.  But it was mostly downhill, and not as many stops for pictures.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this hike.  There are no big payoffs on this trail like waterfalls or spectacular rock formations, but the views were wonderful (good hike for the winter) and the trail is pleasant and well-maintained.  And it was close and quick, and sometimes that's all you need.

Looking forward to some more winter hikes and backpacking trips, and then spring is not too far around the corner.  Hope you all are enjoying every opportunity to explore our big backyard.

Til next time, happy hiking!