Hiking Project Logo

Hemphill Bald Trail

 4.4 (5)

A rolling traverse along the Cataloochee Divide before descending to the Caldwell Fork Trail.

Your Rating:      Clear Rating
Your Difficulty:
Your Favorites: Add To-Do · Your List
Zoom in to see details
Map Key





Point to Point

5,537' 1,688 m


3,303' 1,007 m


966' 295 m


2,791' 851 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (14°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views


The Hemphill Bald Trail starts at the east end of Polls Gap along a wide, level, smooth trace that was once a railroad grade. The first noticeable change in grade is a mile and half beyond Polls Gap when the trail reaches the Cataloochee Divide and drops into Garretts Gap.

From the gap, the trail enters an easy 500-yard climb around the north side of Buck Knob. Upon circling the knob, the trail returns to the crest of the divide and begins a gentle three-quarter-mile descent to Maggot Spring Gap.

From Maggot Spring Gap, the trail resumes an easy cadence of climbing and descending along the spine of the Cataloochee Divide which, from this point, also corresponds with the park boundary. Over a two-mile interval, the trail visits Sheepback Knob, Little Bald Knob, Pine Tree Gap, and Hemphill Bald.

When it leaves the summit of Hemphill Bald, the trail enters a steep three-quarter-mile descent into Double Gap. For most of the way, the trail remains within the woods, offering no clear vantage points. At Double Gap, the path meets the western terminus of the Cataloochee Divide Trail.

From there, the Hemphill Bald Trail turns left and proceeds into the Cataloochee basin on a steep angling course across the north flank of the divide. The trail becomes progressively rougher, soon reaching a boulder-strewn terrain thick with vines and low woody infestations. A little more than a half-mile below Double Gap, the trail makes a sharp switchback across the boulder field. Seepages are frequent. In places where the slope is especially steep, openings in the forest permit views of Mount Sterling Ridge and the main Smoky divide.

Seven hundred yards below the switchback, the trail crosses the headwaters of Double Gap Branch. The trail continues descending steeply for a little more than a half-mile to a second switchback that brings it into the Double Gap Branch drainage. Over the next mile, the route crosses a couple of feeder streams and crosses the Double Gap Branch four more times.

Just prior to the third crossing, a large northern red oak sits to the right of the trail. This particular tree was once identified by the TVA Forestry Division as having superior timber-producing qualities and as a source for developing seed stock.

A little more than a half-mile below the third crossing, the trail clears Double Gap Branch for the final time before proceeding 250 yards to terminate into the Caldwell Fork Trail in a small forest opening.

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.

Flora & Fauna

The previously clear-cut slopes along the start of the trail is most populated by yellow birch, with sugar maples becoming noticeable about a half-mile out from Polls Gap.

Rhododendron thickets enclose much of the trail along the two-mile interval between Sheepback Knob and Hemphill Bald. In more open areas wild geranium, prostrate bluet, blue bead lily, false Solomon’s-seal, wood-betony, and Jack-in-the pulpit may be seen.

The descent into Double Gap is characterized by a progression from a red spruce, yellow birch, northern red oak mix to that of second-growth stands of white basswood, mountain maple, eastern hemlock, and sugar maple.

On the ridge near the Double Gap Branch drainage, black locust, greenbrier, and mountain laurel are prevalent. As the trail approaches the stream, hemlock and rhododendron become predominant.


Shared By:

Ken Wise

Trail Ratings

  4.4 from 5 votes


in Cataloochee


  4.4 from 5 votes
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Trail Rankings


in Cataloochee


in North Carolina


9 Views Last Month
2,636 Since Aug 1, 2016



View from the top of Hemphill Bald. Roughly 5500'.
Apr 13, 2016 near Maggie…, NC



Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Jun 5, 2022
buddy beavers
Sep 3, 2019
Jennah Rawahneh
Sep 1, 2019
Brian Carpenter
its a long climb from campsite 41 to Cataloochee divide trail 3mi
Jun 27, 2019
Shawn Carson
Trail is in great shape. Recent trail maintenance cut weeds and cleared blow downs. 8.5mi — 3h 15m
Sep 24, 2018
Chadwick Conner
Sep 24, 2017
Gretchen Pardon
Apr 9, 2016
Dave Emery
As of 4/9/16 there are quite a few downed trees on the trail once you leave Double Gap towards Caldwell. Difficult to get around. Park was notified 8.6mi