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A beautiful trail through stands of trees and lush forests.

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Point to Point

5,167' 1,575 m


2,872' 875 m


2,295' 699 m


0' 0 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (14°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers


The Pretty Hollow Gap Trail begins just before a weedy meadow at the intersection with the Cataloochee Horse Trail and Little Cataloochee Trail. Three-quarters of a mile ahead, the trail enters a bottomland know as Indian Flats. Here it intersects the lower terminus of the Palmer Creek Trail just above the mouth of Pretty Hollow Creek.

The Pretty Hollow Gap Trail soon leaves Palmer Creek and narrows to a rough course following along the especially attractive Pretty Hollow Creek. The terrain here is so constricted that the trail rarely diverges away from the stream.

Five hundred yards above the Palmer Creek junction, the trail enters Backcountry Camp 39, Pretty Hollow. Just after the camp, the route proceeds into one of the finest cove-hardwood stands anywhere in the Smokies. These large trees cast a deep gloom over the narrow, steep-sided hollow.

From there, the trail begins a long, steady climb that rarely abates until reaching Mount Sterling Ridge. The nearby stream remains closely confined to the trail, but the stream itself remains obscured from view.

A little more than a mile above the campsite, the trail makes the first of three footlog crossings of Pretty Hollow Creek. After the final crossing, it veers sharply to the left and enters the Onion Bed Branch drainage. The nearby fast-moving stream rushes about beneath the thickset rhododendron, hemlocks tower from the stream’s edge, and wildflowers grow luxuriantly. Enjoyably the trail remains a bit above the stream, affording lovely views of this Smoky Mountain forest.

Soon the trail crosses Onion Bed Branch before looping back to Pretty Hollow Creek and continuing its climb up the hollow. The grade increases incrementally as the trail enters a transition from the cove-hardwood mix to primarily hemlocks and pines. The hiking surface deteriorates to a thin, eroded berm etched into the steeply pitched slope. The stream runs far below while Indian Ridge rises straight up from the stream’s edge to command the far side of Pretty Hollow. This climb continues with little variation in grade and surface condition as it edges out of the hemlock-pine stands and into the balsam zone.

Weeds encroaching closely on the path herald the long approach into Pretty Hollow Gap and the trail’s terminus into a crossroads intersection with the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail and the Swallow Fork 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.

Flora & Fauna

The cove-hardwood stand found just after Backcountry Camp 39 features huge sugar maples, yellow buckeyes, yellow poplars, and a variety of oaks.

The luxurious surroundings of the Onion Bed Branch is a great place to spot crimson bee-balm, ox eye daisy, wild golden-glows, great lobelia, foamflower, blue cohosh, and Clingmans hedge nettle when in season.

Along the upper reaches of the trail, mature yellow birch and mountain maple are prevalent among the red spruce and Fraser fir.


Shared By:

Ken Wise

Trail Ratings

  3.0 from 5 votes


in Cataloochee


  3.0 from 5 votes
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Trail Rankings


in Cataloochee


in North Carolina


5 Views Last Month
2,270 Since Aug 1, 2016
Intermediate/Difficult Intermediate/Difficult



Pretty Hollow Creek
Jan 22, 2016 near Cove Creek, NC
Only foot bridge left as of August 2018.
Aug 28, 2018 near Cove Creek, NC
Little guy was right off the trail. It was during the fall shuffle so he didn't have time for us. Just kept on eating...
Jan 4, 2018 near Cove Creek, NC



Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Apr 23, 2019
Jeremy Mason
Beautiful walk with lots of wildflowers on display. Last mile started to wear us down as it seemed to get steeper before the Ridge. 4.9mi
Apr 11, 2019
buddy beavers
Aug 26, 2018
Rick Sullivan
Came down from the gap. One fallen tree easy to cross. Only 1 foot bridge in description still there. Nice campsite #39. 3.9mi
Nov 11, 2017
John R
From Sterling Ridge to Campsite 39. Nice trail with several creek crossings, a couple with out Bridges, some rock hopping required to stay dry. A…
Jul 3, 2017
Brian Carpenter
went downhill from mt. sterling ridge. all mud. camped at 39. hiked out to parking lot and back in to little cataloochee trailhead. 8.5mi

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