Saturday, October 24, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Flat Creek Trail

This morning I made the drive down through Maggie Valley, North Carolina, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and into Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Heintooga Ridge Road. My goal for the day was to hike three short trails off of the Balsam Mountain/Straight Fork Road. I hit the Blue Ridge Parkway just as the sun was rising.
Blue Ridge Sunrise
Unfortunately, the sunny sky would not last very long. Still, the beautiful autumn colors more than made up for the lack of sunny skies.

Shortly after entering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I encountered a bull elk with his harem right along the side of the road.
elk
After passing the elk it was a quick drive over to the lower trailhead of the Flat Creek Trail.
Flat Creek trailhead
The hike began with a descent through the colorful forest.
oak leaves
Then the trail started a long, gradual ascent. I had read that there was once a side trail that led to Flat Creek Falls. I kept my eyes peeled for the old trail and found it at a trail sign.
start of old trail
The trail did not seem to be is bad shape as I had expected it to be. I followed it to Flat Creek and a set of cascades above the falls.
Flat Creek cascades
When I made my way down the trail to see the bottom of the falls I found out why the trail had been closed. It had eroded away and the only way to continue down was to slide down steep rock slabs. For once in my life I used good judgement and decided not to risk sliding down the slabs. I made my way back to the main trail.

I continued my ascent along the Flat Creek Trail which made its way through a rather grassy open forest,
grassy trail
evidence of past logging operations. Soon I arrived at the Heintooga Picnic Area. There is a really awesome overlook at the back of the picnic area.
view from picnic area
From the overlook it was evident that most of the leaves at the higher elevations had fallen off the trees and that he sky was clouding over. I explored the picnic area a bit, used the restroom and admired the rustic picnic tables.
cool picnic table
I made my way past a set of old, now-closed restrooms
old restroom
and back to the Flat Creek Trail for the descent back to my car.
straight trail

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