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  1. #1

    Default Route recommendations for 3 day 2 night in October?

    Hello! I would be interested in getting some suggestions on a 3 day 2 night back country backpacking route on October 11-13. I am either going solo, or with a couple friends. Probably average 10-15 miles per day, and looking for scenic views and summits/ridge lines and would prefer to stay away from crowds if possible. We will only have one car, so either a loop or shuttle.

    I was thinking about doing a section of the AT through the park, but maybe there are some better options?

    When I did the Roan High Knob section of the AT, there was a hostel that provided us with parking spot, camping spot on the first night after driving, breakfast the first morning, shuttle, showers when we got back, food truck to get a bite to eat. It was kind of a nice experience when traveling 10 hours to the trailhead, and I was wondering if there is anything like that in the GSMNP area too?

    Thanks for any help!

  2. #2
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    The two places where the AT enters/leaves GSMNP is relatively remote... not much there in the way of services and such. Even non-AT trail heads are typically located in a relatively remote location or deep inside the park. So I don't think you will be able to include an adventure like Roan High Knob that doesn't include hitch hiking into town or hiring a shuttle.

    One possible loop that fills many of your check boxes would be to park at the ranger station in Big Creek (near the trailhead of Chestnut Branch) and hike Chestnut to the AT and over to Cosby Shelter for the 1st night (with a side trip to Mt. Camerer Fire lookout). The 2nd night can either be Laurel Gap shelter or CS38 at Mt Sterling. There is a fire tower you can climb for a view at Mt Sterling, but the campsite is pretty popular, so you would need to get your permit early. Once back down in Big Creek (via Baxter Creek or Big Creek trail) it's about a 3/4 mile road walk back to your car.

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    Another two night loop I've done that includes a part of the AT is to park at the Middle Prong trail head in the Tremont area and hike to Silers Bald shelter via Panther Creek and Miry Ridge trail. The 2nd day, double back and hike over Rocky Top on the way to Spence Field for the 2nd night (but Spence is a popular site). Finish the loop via Bote Mtn trail and the 3 mile road walk back to Middle Prong.

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    Option three: Cataloochee Divide trial. Park at the park entrance at the trailhead (depending upon how people position their vehicle, there is only room for 2 to 4 cars at this trailhead). Hike Cataloochee Divide. Turn down hill at Double Gap to CS41. The 2nd day, hike back up to Double Gap and continue to follow Hemphill Bald trail (where there's a terrific view about a mile from Double Gap) to Polls Gap, and then Rough Fork trail back to CS41 AGAIN for the 2nd night. Then just to be a little different, return to your car via McKee Branch and Cataloochee Divide. Don't forget a side trip to the view at purchase knob. There's an obvious but unmarked trail that's 0.2 miles east of the intersection of McKee Branch and Cataloochee Divide.

  5. #5

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    Thank you for the recommendations! I will look into them so I can grab permits as soon as they are available.

    I also got another recommendation. Not sure how it compares. I would probably opt for the shorter first day, and start from Cosby Knob if I did this route.

    Jealous! Hereís my ideal Smokies ridge hike on the AT, but beware ó itís an ass kicker

    Davenport Gap to clingmans dome(Shuttle required)

    Day 1: Tri-Corner Knob (16 insane elevation gain miles with a ridiculous octagonal fire tower, the highest peak on the east coast without a trail to the top, and a military planet crash)

    Day 2: Icewater Springs (ridgerunning 13 miles with Charlieís bunion and the jump off)

    Day 3: Hike to Clingmanís Dome (12 miles one of the worst sections of the park IMO, but itís the highest point on the AT so worth experiencing)


    A couple of things

    1) The smokies are hard, rugged, and remote. (Tricorner knob is one of the most remote places in the state of Tennessee). Unless youíre training and in killer shape, 15 miles is an unrealistic mileage to sustain during the hike. In fact, 8 miles on day 1 may be more realistic (Cosby knob).

    2) The smokies are unpredictable: there have been blizzards in October. I got snowed on during Cinco de Mayo with temperatures in the teens. You have been warned.


    Ps - donít try to do a loop. Just get a shuttle. Youíll have a much better trip, I promise.

    Ps2 - you can do this route in reverse and itís much easier, but I prefer the climb up from Davenport. Itís more of a challenge and a huge payoff to end at Clingmans.

    PS3 - ice water is a very popular shelter so youíre likely going to need to reserve it as early as possible

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    Expect a shuttle between Clingman's Dome and Davenport Gap (or Cosby Camp ground) to be $$$

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    I have done exactly the loop that HooKoo wrote about in post # and really enjoyed it. However one fly in the ointment is that Cosby Knob, CS 37 and Laurel Gap Shelters are closed due to "aggressive bear activity".

    Hopefully that will be resolved by the time the O.P. is planning to hike. I talked to a ranger last Thursday would said that one bear had be caught and fitted with a tracking collar and released. What is going on is that a bear is coming into the shelter at night.

    Thursday I cut weeds on the section and checked out the shelter and privy. The mulch bins in the privy were overturned and chewed. The privy seat had been chewed also.

    Despite posted signs a few people had stayed at the shelter and written in the shelter register about it. Either they didn't notice or care that there is a camera monitoring the shelter. The posting for Aug. 20 said a bear had come into the shelter and " left after banging and yelling ".

    I plan to revisit this thread and suggest some other loops when I return next week from a session with the Rocky Top crew.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HooKooDooKu View Post
    Expect a shuttle between Clingman's Dome and Davenport Gap (or Cosby Camp ground) to be $$$
    Yeah at 4 hours and 135 miles driving, I'd ask about 125. Plus 25 for 3rd passenger.
    Last edited by Mike Goodman; 09-04-2019 at 08:14.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Goodman View Post
    Yeah at 4 hours and 135 miles driving, I'd ask about 125. Plus 25 for 3rd passenger.
    Do you do shuttle runs? I haven't decided on a route yet, but wouldn't mind having that info if I choose to do a point A to B hike.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rmitchell View Post
    I have done exactly the loop that HooKoo wrote about in post # and really enjoyed it. However one fly in the ointment is that Cosby Knob, CS 37 and Laurel Gap Shelters are closed due to "aggressive bear activity".

    Hopefully that will be resolved by the time the O.P. is planning to hike. I talked to a ranger last Thursday would said that one bear had be caught and fitted with a tracking collar and released.
    Since the permits need to be reserved ahead, is there a place I can go to find out if they are open? Will they even let you reserve a site if it's marked as closed? Would these be better questions to get answered by calling the park?

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    Would these be better questions to get answered by calling the park?



    or just go to their website...

    and find the reservations website and that should answer both of the questions you asked...

  12. #12

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    Called the Backcountry office, and they said that the Cosby to Laurel gap loop would be pretty ideal for that time of the year, and would avoid the "leafers"

    Haven't checked into it yet, but as a backup, they recommended 37 to 38 or 34 to 29 as alternate routes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BanjoSHOES View Post
    Haven't checked into it yet, but as a backup, they recommended 37 to 38 or 34 to 29 as alternate routes.
    Both are short 2 night loops... 5 to 7 miles per day... That is unless you want to take the long way around...
    Again, start of the Big Creek ranger station. Hike up Chestnut Branch to the AT and on to Mt. Cammerer, but then take Low Gap trail down to #37. The next day, rather than the direct route of Swallow Fork, take the longer (and I think more interesting) route of Gunter Fork and Mt Sterling Ridge to get to #38. Then finish the loop with Baxter Creek and a 3/4 mile road walk back to your car.

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    The next day, rather than the direct route of Swallow Fork, take the longer (and I think more interesting) route of Gunter Fork and Mt Sterling Ridge to get to #38


    i agree.......

    swallow fork was a drudge for me.......an unexciting uphill..

    just keep an eye on the weather----if it rains, that initial crossing to get to gunter will be high...

    it's still an uphill climb but there are some views and a waterfall.....

    then mount sterling ridge is one of the highest, and flattest ridge walks....

    you'll cruise on that.....

    then dip to the gap and another climb to 38.....

    and make sure you have a container to gather water either before you get to 38 or downhill on baxter a touch....

  15. #15

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    Since Cosby, Laurel Gap, and campsites 24 and 37 are all closed currently for bear activity, is campsite 36 a substitute for 37 and/or Cosby or is it geographically separated?

    I want to at least pull some permits so I have something to work with, then I can change it later if they open back up.

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    Campsite 36 is around a 1/2 mile along Big Creek trail beyond campsite 37.
    Campsite 36 is considered a horse camp while campsite 37 only allows hikers.
    The park service asks that hikers not utilize campsite 36 unless campsite 37 is full (or in this case, closed).

  17. #17

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    I pulled the permit for Silers Bald and Spence Field a bit ago. It looks like they have opened up Cosby Knob and Laurel Gap shelters since then.

    Would it be worthwhile to change the permit?

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    Quote Originally Posted by BanjoSHOES View Post
    I pulled the permit for Silers Bald and Spence Field a bit ago. It looks like they have opened up Cosby Knob and Laurel Gap shelters since then.

    Would it be worthwhile to change the permit?

    If you plan to change your itinerary, it might be best to do it as soon as possible. You are talking about a fall weekend in Smokies.

    Either loop is good, but my preference would be the Cosby/ Laurel Gap trip. Less of a road walk.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TNhiker View Post
    i agree.......

    swallow fork was a drudge for me.......an unexciting uphill..

    just keep an eye on the weather----if it rains, that initial crossing to get to gunter will be high...

    it's still an uphill climb but there are some views and a waterfall.....

    then mount sterling ridge is one of the highest, and flattest ridge walks....

    you'll cruise on that.....

    then dip to the gap and another climb to 38.....

    and make sure you have a container to gather water either before you get to 38 or downhill on baxter a touch....
    Is it suicidal to try from 29 to 38 (or visa versa) in one day? The elev profiles of Balsam mtn trail and Mt Sterling ridge make it look like you could cover the middle 10 of what would be 17 miles very easily. But have been deceived before.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hajra View Post
    Is it suicidal to try from 29 to 38 (or visa versa) in one day? The elev profiles of Balsam mtn trail and Mt Sterling ridge make it look like you could cover the middle 10 of what would be 17 miles very easily. But have been deceived before.

    it's long that's for sure....

    but mount sterling ridge from balsam to the gap is flat and a downhill to gap....

    i cruised that part when I have been up on it.....

    then its another uphill climb from the gap to mount sterling....

    so as long as you can handle mileage and an uphill at the end of the day, then you should be good....

    basically that avoids while putting more miles on, going down to big creek and coming back up....

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