Sunday, July 26, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Fork Ridge Trail

Today was the last day of my furlough. Tomorrow I head back to work. I've had a really good time with Sierra and Noelle, but I'm ready to get back into the swing of things, especially with school starting really soon. I took advantage of my last day off with a hike in the Smokies. Today's hike took place on the Fork Ridge Trail off of the Clingman's Dome Road. In doing some research about the trail, I could find little information on the internet. The best blog post I read regarding the hike (on Smokies Stories and Glories) described the trail as little-used, overgrown, and with lots of blown down trees to negotiate. I was prepared for the worst.

I arrived at the trailhead parking area just before 8 am.
Fork Ridge Trailhead
I hit the trail and found trail conditions to be as described on the web. However, after hiking down the trail a bit, I discovered the trail to be in much better shape than I had anticipated.
Fork Ridge Trail
The trail follows its namesake Fork Ridge, however, there aren't really any views to be had due to thick vegetation and summertime foliage. What the trail did offer was some nice wildflowers in bloom. Of course, there were the usual summer blossoms like rhododendron
rhododendron
and Turk's Cap Lily.
Turks Cap Lily
There were also bee-balm,
bee Balm
foxglove,
foxglove
and one of my new favorites yellow fringed orchis,
Yellow fringed orchis
along with a few others.
yellow flower

I didn't see any wildlife, other than a few birds and several millipedes.
millipede on log


I slowly made my way further and further down the mountain.
Eric on Trail
Eventually I began to hear the sound of rushing water. It was likely the Left Fork of Deep Creek that I was hearing.  Eventually I descended all the way down to a stream, the iconic Deep Creek.
Deep Creek
For all the hiking I've done in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this was my first view of Deep Creek. I'm sure it won't be my last. There was an illegal campsite on the west bank of the creek with a pair of sunglasses perched on a tree trunk there.
sunglasses on tree
I crossed the creek on slippery stepping stones and quickly found myself at the junction with the Deep Creek Trail
Trail Junction
and Campsite 53. I ate a snack along the banks of Deep Creek and then started the ascent back up the way I had come.

The hike back up to the car went pretty quickly. Although it is a nearly 3,000 foot ascent, the trail ascends pretty gradually for the most part. Once back at the car I drove through the thick traffic on Newfound Gap Road and then the nightmare that is Gatlinburg. About an hour and a half later I was home with Noelle and Sierra.

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