The Sunkota Ridge Trail is virtually synonymous with the spine of Sunkota Ridge, a long curved appendage that projects from the western flank of Thomas Divide and separates the Indian Creek drainage from that of lower Deep Creek. The upper end of Sunkota Ridge is anchored to the divide near Newton Bald, and its lower end grades into the bottomland that harbors the confluence of Indian and Deep creeks.
Beginning half-way along the Loop Trail
, a short lateral connector between the Deep Creek Trail
and the Indian Creek Trail
, the trail courses along level grades through a stand of white pine. It then begins to climb, moving out of the pines and into a dry-ridge forest rich with hardwoods.
Sunkota is believed to be a garbled rendition of the Cherokee word for apple, thus insinuating that apple trees once grew on the nearby slopes. If this was the case, the apple trees have long since disappeared.
The trail climbs a moderate grade for three miles and then descends about three-quarters of a mile to Martins Gap, where it intersects the Martins Gap Trail
, a three-mile lateral connector between Bryson Place on Deep Creek and the upper terminus of the Indian Creek Trail
Along the route, there are no readily apparent differences in character or quality as the trail goes on. It is narrow, fairly free of obstructing roots and rocks, and nicely cushioned by layers of leaves and pine needles. The upper section, though, enjoys a somewhat easier grade and affords more opportunities for surveying the adjacent mountain ranges.
As it moves out of Martins Gap, the Sunkota Ridge Trail enters a drier region where the forest cover remains mostly oaks. A gentle grade through a park-like setting shaded by widely spaced spreading oaks heralds the approach to the crest of Thomas Divide, where the trail terminates at the Thomas Divide 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
Several oak species, maple, dogwood, sourwood, sassafras, pignut hickory, and yellow poplar make plenty of shade along the trail. Keep your eyes peeled for galax, trailing arbutus, crested dwarf iris, and rue anemone conspicuously housed among corridors of rhododendron and mountain laurel.