The Chestnut Branch Trail begins along Big Creek Road a few yards past the Big Creek Ranger Station. The trail starts steeply, but quickly moderates to an easier grade when it enters a stand of old-field hemlocks and pines. The trail continues with little variation in grade, eventually working its way into stands of yellow poplar, American beech, and a variety of oaks while passing the occasional rock wall and chestnut fence post that mark places of former human inhabitation.
A half-mile above Big Cove Road, the forest cover gives way to a clearing with discarded remnants from a mission school and grist mill that used to occupy the space. Above the clearing, the drainage narrows noticeably where the trail crosses a feeder stream and enters a closed oak association.
The trail soon reaches another clearing before switching away from Chestnut Branch and onto a steeper grade. At this juncture, the trail follows a newer roadbed that ascends the adjacent ridge.
When it turns to leave the old timber trace, the trail proceeds 180 yards to a switchback, then 200 yards to a second switchback. It then clears a ridge and levels out on a moderately easy grade. Four stream crossings intervene before the trail enters a thin copse of second-growth poplars now occupying what was once a mountain settlement.
The old-field poplars mark the onset of a steep half-mile approach to a minor swag on the main Smoky divide where the Chestnut Branch Trail terminates into the AT: Smoky Mountain Hiking Club (TN/NC)
portion of 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