The Goldmine Loop Trail eases out on a gentle grade off the Tunnel Bypass Trail
NC. Soon, the rate of descent begins to increase, progressing to a steep, winding drop into a narrow hollow drained by Tunnel Branch. When the trail reaches the floor of the hollow, it switches back sharply right to pursue a more moderate course downstream along Tunnel Branch. Close by, ridgelines and overhanging rhododendron block out the direct sunlight, casting the hollow in a perpetual shadow.
The trail continues a quarter-mile until coming in sight of the Goldmine Branch embayment of Fontana Lake. Here it leaves Tunnel Branch, circles the end of the embayment, and turns right on an uphill course along Goldmine Branch. The course here is occasionally wet and muddy, and always shaded by leggy stands of rhododendron.
A quarter-mile above the embayment, the trail crosses Hyatt Branch to intersect an access path exiting right 330 yards to Backcountry Camp 67, Goldmine Branch. Above the access path, the Goldmine Loop Trail continues its easy grade, often through muddy seepages. On the left, 200 yards above the camp access is a set of steps and a rock-lined cellar.
Conditions remain essentially unchanged until the trail coalesces into an old farm road. Almost a half-mile above the access path, the trail skirts a large grassy field that harbors the gaunt remains of an old home. During the growing season the field is too heavily infested with weeds to make exploration a satisfactory exercise, but in the cooler seasons considerable refuse from former inhabitation can be seen scattered about the old farmyard.
A brisk climb from the field leads quickly through to a notch in the ridgeline where the trail turns sharply left and into a steep 200-yard climb to connect with the Lakeshore 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
Hikers will encounter a mix of sugar maple, pignut hickory, Fraser magnolia, American holly, and a variety of oaks at the start of this trail.
During the last three-quarters of a mile the trail climbs through a mix of laurel, ferns, galax, rhododendron, and dog-hobble shaded by eastern hemlocks and chestnut oaks. Before exiting through American holly and Fraser magnolia.