Starting at the abrupt termination of the Big Creek Trail
near the Upper Walnut Bottom Backcountry Campsite (#36), the Camel Gap Trail proceeds on an easy, level course through the bottomland flanking Big Creek. After little more than a half-mile, the Camel Gap Trail intersects the lower terminus of the Gunter Fork Trail
At this juncture, the Camel Gap Trail eases out of the bottomland and into a low hummocky terrain strewn with boulders. Through here, the trail continues tracing the grade of the old rail line, though it occasionally drifts away from the stream. Big Creek at this elevation is a remarkably attractive stream characterized by large boulders and deep pools, rapidly flowing cataracts, and charming falls cloistered in luxuriant arbors of rhododendron.
Little elevation is gained until the trail reaches Rocky Branch one mile above the trailhead. It crosses a nameless tributary 500 yards farther along and then settles into a long, modulating course that remains high above Big Creek. Almost a half-dozen feeder streams intervene at various intervals as they make their way to Big Creek.
A conspicuous stand of beech trees heralds the approach to a switchback that directs the trail up and away from the Big Creek drainage. On completing the switchback, the trail passes through a corridor of rhododendron and then reaches a fairly level clearing that was likely the site of some heavy industrial use by the logging operations. Beyond the clearing, the trail passes back through the upper end of the same beech stand encountered below the switchback. The grade stiffens, and the forest begins showing the first signs of transition to a northern hardwood mix. Over the next 300 yards, the trail proceeds on an easterly course across a south-facing exposure, then veers north and enters the moist, cool, shaded environs of a high-elevation ravine.
For the most part, the trail surface remains smooth underfoot and unimpeded by rocks. As it reaches higher elevations, however, the surface becomes rockier and the grade increases noticeably until reaching Camel Gap, where the trail terminates into the Appalachian Trail.
This content was contributed by author Ken Wise. For a comprehensive hiking guide to the Great Smoky Mountains and to see more by Ken, click here
In places, large eastern hemlocks, a variety of oaks, white basswood, American beech, yellow birch, red and sugar maple, and Fraser magnolia appear in great profusion. Dense thickets of rhododendron and dog-hobble form the understory.