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A moderate climb with views in and out of the park.


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Map Key

6.6

Miles

10.6

KM

Point to Point

5,089' 1,551 m

High

4,079' 1,243 m

Low

1,518' 463 m

Up

508' 155 m

Down

6%

Avg Grade (3°)

18%

Max Grade (10°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Fall Colors · Views

Family Friendly The moderate grade and plenty of views make this a good option for older kids who are used to longer outings.

Description

The Cataloochee Divide Trail begins by easing out of the Cove Creek Gap on an unexacting climb along the broad spine of the Cataloochee Divide. Open fields spaced irregularly along the south flank of the divide afford glimpses down into the Jonathan Creek drainage.

A readily noticeable break in the forest cover about a mile beyond Cove Creek Gap affords the only good vantage point along the trail for looking down into the Cataloochee basin. In the intermediate distance, Noland Mountain slants across the basin, marking the boundary between Big and Little Cataloochee. Mount Sterling Ridge, anchored by Big Cataloochee Mountain on the west, forms the distant northern edge of the basin. Scottish Mountain appears as the prominent peak to the east.

From there, the trail continues along the spine of the divide for almost a mile before reaching Panther Spring Gap. Past the gap, the route follows the park boundary while traversing several minor knobs. The trail remains on the ridgeline except where it diverts from the boundary to avoid climbs over two of the higher knobs. For much of the way, the trail is accompanied by a split-rail fence that separates the trail from a nearby wagon road. Pleasant views abound on both sides of the trail along this section. Two miles beyond Panther Spring Gap the Science Center Trail exits to the left toward the Appalachian Highland Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob.

The trail continues along the boundary 450 yards to an intersection with the upper terminus of the McKee Branch Trail. On the left side of the intersection an access path exits to the Ferguson Cabin.

When leaving the McKee Branch intersection, the Cataloochee Divide Trail again deviates off the ridgeline to skirt another high knob. Along here, the track is frequently churned up by horse traffic, leaving wide pockets of mud. In places, boardwalks have been installed to provide an elevated surface. The views north and south contrast each other as visitors compare the patchwork of meadows and a nearby resort outside the boundary fence to heavily forested slopes within the park.

Beyond the resort, the Cataloochee Divide Trail clears another minor knob and then descends into Double Gap to terminate in an intersection with the Hemphill Bald Trail approaching straight along the divide. The distance from the resort to Double Gap is slightly less than a half-mile.

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

This trail enters into a forest cover of fairly open second-growth hardwood stands of northern red, southern red, white, black, and chestnut oak; mountain and red maple; yellow birch; and pignut hickory.

Past the McKee Branch intersection, the park side of the trail is forested in a riot of yellow birch, red maple, white basswood, black locust, yellow buckeye, red maple, black cherry, eastern hemlock, and a variety of oaks, all of which obstruct any view into Cataloochee.

Contacts

Shared By:

Ken Wise

Trail Ratings

  3.8 from 5 votes

#9

in Cataloochee

#14354

Overall
  3.8 from 5 votes
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Trail Rankings

#9

in Cataloochee

#592

in North Carolina

#14,354

Overall
20 Views Last Month
4,830 Since Aug 2, 2016
Intermediate Intermediate

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Photos

The oldest wall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Jun 8, 2016 near Cove Creek, NC
Along McKee Branch at the beginning of the trail.
Oct 9, 2017 near Cove Creek, NC
Trailhead
Jun 13, 2020 near Cove Creek, NC

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Weather


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Check-Ins

Dec 28, 2021
buddy beavers
8h 00m
Sep 15, 2020
Debbie Bell
Swag to Hemphill. Caldwell fork and Rough Fork
Jan 12, 2020
Angie Boone
Aug 31, 2019
Brian Carpenter
nice hike to Hemphill bald and back. beautiful views from the swag and from the bald,. 13.2mi
Apr 6, 2019
Jeremy Mason
Beautiful trail running out to Hemphill Bald and the Swag. Be sure to take a break at Gooseberry Knob! 6.4mi
Sep 24, 2018
Chadwick Conner
6.6mi
Jul 17, 2018
Bob Crawford
Vacation 2018
Jun 16, 2018
Darlene Willis
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