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Fall Foliage 2016 - Cosby

posted Oct 24, 2016, 7:28 AM by Justin P   [ updated Oct 31, 2016, 5:34 PM ]

This past weekend, we headed out to the Smokies for our annual Fall Foliage trip.  We left early Friday morning and headed west.  Originally, we were planning to head towards Max Patch for a hike, but the weather forecast was for rain and cloudy conditions.  Considering we wouldn’t see much fall color, we moved this hike to Sunday and headed to the Curtis Creek area of Pisgah National Forest near Old Fort.  Driving in on Curtis Creek Road, which becomes Forest Service Road 482, we parked at the Curtis Creek Campground.  After getting our stuff together, we started hiking the Hickory Branch Trail (#213).  The trail heads up then back down a ridge and then crosses Hickory Branch and follows it upstream.  Shortly before the waterfall, we got off the trail and followed a path to the creek and then upstream to the base.  A big tree had fallen at the base, so we had to climb over to get a good picture.

While we were here, a hunting dog came over and greeted us before running off.  We got a couple pictures here and then headed back to the trail.  I thought that there was an upper part of this waterfall, so we continued a short ways further on the trail.  We had pretty decent views of the main waterfall from the trail and soon we came to a small cascade above the falls.

The water level was rather low, but I think it would be really pretty in higher water flow.  After a picture or two, we started heading back to the car.  Although it was fall, there were some late-blooming wildflowers along Hickory Branch.

Back at the car, we drove back on FSR-482 about 0.1 miles and parked along the side of the road at the trailhead for Snooks Nose Trail (#211).  The trail starts off moderate, then gets quite steep as it heads up along Slick Falls Branch via switchbacks.  I think there is a waterfall along here, but the water level was so low, I didn’t think it would be worth the difficult bushwhack.  Past the waterfall, the trail passed a campsite and then got really steep as it continued up the mountain.  A couple much-needed rest breaks along the way gave me an opportunity to see some gentians blooming along the trail.

Finally, in just under 2 miles from the trailhead, we reached Snooks Nose.  A rocky outcrop provided nice views, but we were still a little low in elevation to see peak color.

From here, the trail regained some sanity as we continued up and up.  It was still steep, but not nearly so bad.  We found a rock outcrop just off the trail where we had some nice views looking up towards the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Another short climb took us up to near the peak of Laurel Knob, but there was nowhere to get to the actual summit from here and most views were partially obscured by trees and shrubs on the mountain.  Looking north, we could see the Black Mountains towering in the distance, the summits concealed by clouds.

It was starting to get late and we needed to continue west, so we started heading back.  The really steep part past Snooks Nose was probably even worse going down then going up, but finally we made it back to the car.

Driving back to I-40 and heading west, we stopped in Clyde for dinner at Blue Rooster.  There aren't a lot of options and this place was crowded, so there was a bit of a wait.  We saw a rainbow across the parking and lot and headed to Food Lion for lunch the following day while we waited.  When we finally got seated, it was worth the wait - the food and service were great.  After dinner, we drove into Tennessee.  Heading into Cosby Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we set up at Group Site 2 and enjoyed the campfire for a bit before going to bed. Saturday morning, we woke up to a very cold morning in the Smokies.  After eating breakfast, we hiked to the end of the campground and got on Low Gap Trail heading up the mountain. In less than a half-mile, there was a footbridge over Cosby Creek and then the trail started heading up in earnest.

This trail is quite steep, gaining almost 2000 vertical feet in 2.5 miles.  But it wasn’t as bad Snooks Nose Trail.  At a couple points there were breaks in the trees and we could see sleet and ice high up on the summits of the highest peaks.  At least the cold weather made the steep climb a little more bearable.  When we finally got up to Low Gap, we took a short break and then continued northbound on the Appalachian Trail.  Up on the ridge, it was very cold and windy, so we didn’t take too long of a break.  Although there was no ice along the AT, there were a couple spots where we saw icicles along the trail.


And through breaks in the trees, we could see ice and sleet on the highest trees on Cammerer Ridge.

It was about 2 miles or so on the AT to Mount Cammerer Trail and then another 0.6 miles to the lookout tower at the summit with great 360 degree views.

It was really cold and windy up here, so we went inside the tower to eat lunch.  Fortunately, the inside of the tower is closed off, so it provides nice protection from the wind, though it was still cold inside.  Mount Cammerer is a popular destination, so there were lots of others here.  I was surprised to see several people in shorts – they must have been freezing!  After lunch, I walked around the tower and climbed on the rocks to get some pictures of different views.  It was a little early for peak color, but the views were still great.

But it was too cold to linger here for long, so after some pictures, we started making our way back.  At the AT, we turned left to continue southbound.  In less than a mile, we came to a rock outcrop with great views looking into North Carolina.  I climbed all around on the rocks to get some more nice pictures of fall color.

I think that if I had continued climbing up, I would have eventually reach the summit of Mount Cammerer.  It was about 2.5 miles on the AT to Lower Mount Cammerer Trail, where we turned left and headed down the mountain.  Fortunately, it was all downhill from here.  And unlike the rather steep Low Gap Trail, this trail headed down much more gradually.  In about 3 miles from the start, we found a little cemetery just off the trail.  The gravestones were very small and most were unmarked.  One indicated a 2 year old boy who had died in the early 20th century.  

Continuing on along the trail, we passed backcountry campsite 35, a very nice group camp site, and then about another 3 miles to Cosby Campground.  After a long hike of nearly 16 miles, we were quite hungry when we got back to camp.  So we headed into Cosby for dinner at Carvers Applehouse.  It was a short wait for a table, so we browsed the store while waiting and picked up some apples, apple butter, and apple cider.

Dinner was very good as always and after, headed back to camp.  We had a nice bonfire before retiring for the evening.  Sunday morning, we broke camp and drove just outside the campground to park at the hiker parking.  From here, we got on the Gabes Mountain Trail and began hiking towards Hen Wallow Falls.  Near the start was a footbridge over Rock Creek, the trail from the campground intersecting just past.

From here, the trail was mostly uphill, but gradual, so not too strenuous.  A pleasant relief after the past couple days' hikes.  In about 2 miles or so, we reached the split, where a spur trail leads steeply down to the base of Hen Wallow Falls.  The water tumbles down a steep rock face, but unfortunately today, the water level was very low.

I climbed around the rocks to get pictures from different angles.  The base of the waterfall was particularly scenic, even if there wasn’t much water here.

Just past the waterfall was an interesting cave formed by falling rocks.  It looked too dangerous to try and climb into the cave and generally caves are off-limits to protect bats.

After some pictures, we started hiking back.  After climbing up to Gabes Mountain Trail, there was some nice cliffs near the split.

Then it was all downhill back to the car.  From here, we headed back into North Carolina, getting off I-40 at Harmon Den and driving up towards Max Patch.  It was not surprising that this area was extremely crowded, but we were able to find a spot at the parking lot.  We did just a short loop trail around Max Patch, but it took a while as we kept stopping for pictures.

Max Patch is a grassy bald, so there were no trees or bushes to obscure the view.  Looking all around, the views were phenomenal.

Although it was just a little bit before peak color, the views were just amazing.

There were also a lot of woolly worm caterpillars all around the grassy bald.  We had to be careful not to step on them.

Finishing up the loop, we drove back down the mountain and continued driving east.  We stopped in Morganton for Las Salsas for dinner before completing the drive home.