It was getting late in the year and the 2010 season on Mt. LeConte was about to come to a close in another week. I would be chasing a lie that I wasn't ready to take a break from hiking as well. I was nearing my goal of eclipsing the 600 mile benchmark out of all the trails in the Smokies. The thing was that I didn't want to do anymore long hikes, long drives, or any more climbing than what was needed to get me up and down Mt. LeConte one more time. Now I recently gone to a hiking store and picked up the National Geographic maps of the park that split it in two halves and thus offer a more detailed topographic interpretation. It also provided the locations and distances of a few more trails, specifically the numerous nature trails and quiet walkways. Anywhere you drive through the park you are bound to see one beside the road. They are meant for people who are looking to get into the woods for a short time but not stray too far from the vehicle or get bogged down in some strenuous hike. Well, I did some calculations and determined that if you combine the distances of all these trails, you get about 15.5 miles worth. That's a good portion of trails in the grand scheme of things. I've decided to include them in my quest for completing the park because they fit the main criteria...they are marked on an official park map and the trailhead have signs. Good enough for me!
Since they are each short individually, I would need to knock out several of them in one day to get the miles I desired. This would require a lot of driving and getting in and out of the car. Nevertheless, I was up to the task. Now a number of them I had already done in years past, such as Elkmont, Cosby, Sugarlands, and Smokemont, so I had a good start. My plan this day was to hit the three paths between the visitor center and Elkmont first. So one by one I parked at each of the respective pulloffs, wandered into the woods til I found trails end or completed a loop, then came back. With all the leaves down, some of the paths were confusing. I ended up climbing a hill to find a cemetery on one of them. And the trails that weren't loops sort of just fizzled out and I was left to assume that I had reached the end. Here I am an experienced hiker and the description for these trails talk about people being able to relax and enjoy an easy walk in the woods. I was beginning to wonder.
Next up, I was going to complete the stretch of trails that connect at various points along Newfound Gap from a pulloff before the Huskey Gap Trail to another just past Campbell Overlook. There are four possible entryways leading down to a main path that parallels the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Some of the paths follow old road beds, pass between the locations of old settlements, and cross small footbridges. But don't let any of that fool you, because the majority of these trails are a joke. The conditions were awful because finding the actual trail was next to impossible. A trail meant for any tourist to enjoy a casual stroll was quickly becoming a chore and a dilemma. The freshly fallen leaves probably hid the path in places, but there were numerous blowdowns and creek crossings. On various occasions I thought I was following a path when in reality I was just wondering through the woods. I did my best to stick with the river and keep an out for the vehicle pulloffs up above. I did take some time to move closer to the river and admire the rushing waters brought on by the previous night's rain. The boulders, falls, and pools were large in this one particular area.
I'm not sure how I managed to come out to the road at each of the four correct points, because I truly guessed on two of them. When I reached the southern terminus of the trail, I just decided to take the road back to my vehicle and not even screw with going back that way. Quiet walkway and nature trail...yeah right. I still had the northernmost quarter to do because where I parked was at a fork in the trail. I took the right to start which brought me south, so now I had complete the other direction. Somewhere along the way I astonished by what I saw. Sticking out from the leaves were a number of blue violets. Here it was in the middle of November. I'm guessing that a recent warm spell confused the wildflowers into thinking it was spring again. Talk about a rare and pleasant surprise.
When I finished that particular nature trail, I had seen enough. I was closer to the 600 mile mark and that was just fine. Tomorrow's forecast looks to be better, so maybe I'll give the nature trails on the North Carolina side a shot. Here's to hoping that they're in better shape.