Chestnut Branch Trail November 2018


Not far from the Big Creek entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a straightforward hiking trail where a streamside 1890s-era logging settlement and other signs of former inhabitants have long since been reclaimed by the forest.

With my car parked in the lot sitting adjacent to the ranger station, I turned right on Big Creek Road, paused on a small bridge to enjoy the cascading waters and then hit the trail for a steady two-mile ascent to the Appalachian Trail intersection. 

It rained hard during my hike. There was something pleasant about that, though. The rain made the leaves sparkle, the waters rush and the air feel cold against my skin.

Once home to chestnut trees, this area of the Smokies saw this giant of the forest brought down by chestnut blight, a disease brought to New York from China, in the early 1900s. It’s a sad story for a tree that once dominated the Appalachians, but other species of trees are thriving here today.

Starting out I travelled through a forest of hemlock, oak and beech. As the trail levelled out, I followed the switchbacks the led me through a rhododendron tunnel, after which the trail gets pretty steep just below its intersection with the famed Appalachian Trail. I enjoyed my snack and gave thanks for the beauty that surrounds me in this park.

If I’d had more daylight hours I would have completed more miles and headed west for a visit to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower. Instead, I finished my hike by heading to Davenport Gap and the TN/NC state line located on Old Road Number 32.

Part of what makes this trail so lovely is that most of the time you’re hiking along Chestnut Branch waterway, and if you look carefully, you may spot fence posts, rock walls and other indications that a community inhabited this rugged land.