“A steady ascent to the AT along Eagle Creek, rich with wildflowers and historic logging camps.”
— Ken Wise
Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring
The Eagle Creek Trail begins along the old Montvale rail grade, tracing a wide curvature of Eagle Creek known as Horseshoe Bend. A ways into the bend, the trail crosses Eagle Creek on a long slender footlog. This is the first of eighteen stream crossings that grace the Eagle Creek Trail.
After crossing the stream 3 times, the trail continues on to the Lower Ekaneetlee Backcountry Campsite (#89), situated on the site of the former Montvale Logging Camp 9. On leaving the campsite, the Eagle Creek Trail immediately crosses Ekaneetlee Creek a few feet above the stream’s confluence with Eagle Creek.
Navigate a series of stream crossings alongside forest and farm fields before entering the Eagle Creek Island Backcountry Campsite (#96). After completing another series of stream crossings, the trail enters a narrow creek bottom that once housed Montvale Camp 11. Various pieces of logging equipment including a circular sawmill blade, steel cables, logging hooks, and washtubs can be found on the side of the trail where it enters the Big Walnut Backcountry Campsite (#97). Above the campsite, the trail crosses Gunna Creek near an upper annex of the Big Walnut Camp.
On leaving the Big Walnut Camp, the trail follows Gunna Creek before easing into a switchback placing the trail on a narrow berm high over the stream. The trail remains on this higher trajectory for a short time before returning to a streamside course. It then follows Gunna Creek for a mile before crossing the stream twice more. A series of switchbacks over the next mile work the trail to a higher elevation where it crosses Gunna Creek for the final time. From this juncture, the trail edges away from Gunna Creek following the old railroad berm into boulder-strewn terrain.
Above the boulders, the trail switches away from the drainage to pursue a steep, wet, and slippery course along Spence Field Branch. Here the terrain is heavily congested with boulders and shaded by hardwood forest. At the one point where the trail levels out momentarily, offering a brief respite from the climbing, it crosses Spence Field Branch.
Thick grass appearing at the trail’s edge heralds the long final approach to Spence Field
. The trail follows the stream before turning up into a steep climb approaching a small spring and the Spence Field Shelter. The Eagle Creek Trail passes in front of the shelter and out into the open bald of Spence Field
before terminating in an intersection with the Appalachian Trail (AT).
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
Dog-hobble, wild golden-glow, meadow parsnip, heart-leafed aster, southern harebell, partridge-berry, Queen Anne’s lace, hearts-a-bustin, jewel weed, umbrella-leaf, crimson bee-balm, stinging nettle, Allegheny serviceberry, mountain maple, and white snakeroot are among the many flowering species encountered as the trail gains elevation.