A Symbolic 12 Miles for National Park Week
It’s National Park Week! All National Parks have free admission this week. Of course, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always free. Spending the first day of National Park Week in the Smokies was more symbolic than thrifty. While deciding which trail I wanted to hang out on Saturday, I found out about the Smokies Centennial Challenge–Hike 100. To honor and celebrate the 100 years of the National Park Service, Park Superintendent Cash is hiking 100 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is challeneging others to do the same. As I am one who is always up for a challenge, I’ve decided to try it. I’ve got until December to hike 100 miles in the park. For my efforts, I will receive a pin and a dinner. Two summers ago my challenge was a mere 13.1. This is seems much easier. And more fun!
The Cataloochee Divide Trail is blazed along a ridgeline with Maggie Valley (and private property) to the left and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park to the right. It skirts the border of the park, and you can clearly see it. You follow an old fence that opens up quite a bit to allow for picture-taking on the other side. The first 4.6 mile section of the the trail ends at crossroads with no payoff and nothing spectacular to see that you haven’t already. As you begin the 1.8 mile trek along the Hemphill Bald trail, you come to an outcropping of on a small bald with a hammock, adirondack chairs, and a swing. This is the beginning of the Swag House’s property. There were hikers utilizing the amenities as I passed, and on my return, I ate my lunch in one of the adirondack chairs overlooking a beautiful panorama from Maggie Valley to the presently-abandoned slopes of Cataloochee Ski Resort. There are clear demarcations in the fence that seems to allow hikers to take advantage of the area. After the output, you continue walking adjacent to the property until you hit Hemphill Bald. I turned around here as I had already hit my quota for the day in that direction (and still had 6.4 miles to go in the reverse). The path continues up Hemphill Bald along a barbedwire fence. I do love a bald!
One of the lovelier things about going on double-digit mile hikes is how different the path, vegetation, and mountains look in the changing sunlight. One of all my all-time favorite scenes from living in this area is the way the sun scatters over them to highlight all the ridges and waves that make up what most of the time looks like one mountain. On the hike up to Hemphill Bald, I saw perhaps one flower. By the time I was headed back down, the planes and trail were filled with tiny purple and white flowers that had opened from the afternoon sun. Some might escchew a long out-and-back trail thinking it could be boring seeing the same thing twice. If one stays out long enough, the trail back is much different than the one hiked in on.
Trailhead: Cataloochie Divide Trail
Length: 12.8 miles
Type: Out & Back
Where: Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Description: From Cove Creek Gap to Hemphill Bald. It is not technical. It’s difficulty comes from its length and uphill climbs. It is very well marked with different trailhead signs and mileage. There aren’t any colored blazes, but you don’t need them.
Directions & Parking: From Asheville, take I-40 West to Exit 20. Take the ramp until you turn right on Cove Creek Road. Follow Cove Creek Rd until you see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign. The road starts paved but becomes dirt. It is very windy. There aren’t many parking spots, but you can park around the sign. The trailhead is clearly marked on the path across from the National Park sign.