Sunday, December 27, 2015

Birthday Hike: Little River and Rough Creek trails

New miles completed: 2.8
Total miles hiked: 14.8
26 December 2015

Let me get this out of the way: Rough Creek is a trail that I am glad that I did, and that I am glad that I will probably never do again...

I had previously hiked both the Little River trail and the Sugarland Mountain trail.  The Rough Creek trail is a connector between these two.  To get there, I started in Elkmont and took the Little River trail up about 4.6 miles to its junction with the lower end of the Rough Creek trail.

Little River trailhead in Elkmont
It has rained a LOT the last week or so, and the water was very high in the Little River, and in all of the creeks running in to it.  New waterfalls appeared in places they did not normally exist.

LOTS of water!
The stroll up Little River is easy and pleasant.  It's an old road / railroad grade so the path is wide and flat and mostly graveled.  It follows the bank of the Little River which was fun to watch and listen to with the exceptionally high water levels.  Along the way the trail passes intersections with the Cucumber Gap trail, the Huskey Gap trail, and the Goshen Prong trail.  The first water crossing was just below backcountry campsite #24 - I managed to rock-hop that one without incident.  The next crossing was at the entrance to campsite #24.  Normally just a step or two across a narrow channel, this had become a bit more of a challenge.

Crossing to Campsite #24
I found a downed tree that crossed the channel just downstream from the normal crossing spot and managed to get across without falling off, and continued my way up the trail to the junction with the lower end of the Rough Creek trail.

Little River trail - Rough Creek trail junction
Rough Creek trail is only 2.8 miles long.  The lower end is on the Little River trail, and the upper end is on the Sugarland Mountain trail.  You gain about 1500 feet of elevation along the way.  The first couple of miles of the trail follow Rough Creek on an east-west course through a very pleasant valley.  There are several unbridged crossings of the creek.  Under normal water flow these would likely all be easy rock-hops.  With the high water level of this week they were all knee-deep fords.

Ford across Rough Creek
Rough Creek is very pretty - a typical mountain stream for the Smokies with lots of little waterfalls, riffles and rocks.  One of the good things about winter hikes is that you can see much farther because all of the leaves are gone.  This made for some nice views of the cascading creek from the trail above.

Rough Creek is a beautiful little mountain stream.
The first two-thirds of the Rough Creek trail are nice - good trail, pleasant views, pretty creek.  The last mile, once you've crossed Rough Creek for the last time and are starting to climb up and around the ridge that leads to the Sugarland Mountain trail, is hellish...

The trail gets much steeper, much narrower, and becomes very rooty & rocky.  On top of that, it doesn't seem to be the object of much trail maintenance - there were a LOT of blow-downs across the trail making it more time-consuming and difficult to get through.

Upper section of Rough Creek trail is pretty rough...

Lots of downed trees on the upper section of Rough Creek trail

There are some nice views along this section, and once you get to the junction with Sugarlands Mountain trail you get a great view of Chimney Tops!

Rough Creek trail - Sugarland Mountain trail junction

View of Chimney Tops from Sugarland Mountain trail
I stopped here and rested and snacked for about 15 minutes before heading back down.  The way back down was easier because of the elevation loss, but the numerous blow-downs still made it take a lot longer than it should have.  There were some cool maroon shelf fungi growing on the sides of some of the trees along here too.

Shelf fungus
Because of the wet weather, a lot of the Rough Creek trail looked more like a stream than a trail.

The trail/creek
I made it back down to Elkmont in good time.  On my way up in the morning, the only other hiker I saw was a Park Ranger, but on my way back down to the car I passed dozens of folks out for a Saturday, after-Christmas stroll.  It was a beautiful day of sun after several days of rain, and crazy warm for December with temperatures in the 70s!

It was a good way to spend my birthday, and nice to get one more trail checked off.  Looking forward to some actual winter hiking early in the new year.

Til next time, happy hiking!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story! Your blog is a great resource for camp site pictures and recommendations. I too am attempting to hike the whole park. Keep it up and thanks again!