“The eastern two-thirds of a great hike that generally follows the contours of Fontana Lake.”
— Ken Wise
Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall
The 1,200 foot tunnel at the start of the trail is unlit. It's manageable on a sunny day, but lights are recommend on cloudy days or for comfort. The tunnel can be avoided altogether by taking the Tunnel Bypass Trail
All campsites must be registered with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park:nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/…
Backcountry rules and regulations can be found here:nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/…
During the first two miles the trail intersects the Tunnel Bypass Trail
, Goldmine Loop Trail
, and Whiteoak Branch Trail
after getting an unusual start through an unlit tunnel from the parking area.
After the wood bridge at Gray Wolf Creek, take the singletrack to the left. The following climb and descent soon brings hikers to the Lower Forney Backcountry Camp (#74) near the intersection with the Forney Creek Trail
Past the camp, exit the jeep track and cross Forney Creek on a wood bridge. For the next few miles, the trail follows an arduous route along steep fingering ridges. The grade begins to improve after Jenny Branch, but the path here is narrow and often uneven.
At nine miles, the trail passes the McClure Cemetery Access
path before descending on a wide roadbed into the Chambers Creek drainage. A wooden bridge intersects the access path to Chambers Creek Backcountry Campsite (#98).
After the camp, follow the singletrack as it traces the contours. Several abandoned homesites dot the trailside over the next couple of miles. Two miles beyond Chambers Creek, the trail merges into a wide track that was once NC288. The Kirkland Branch Backcountry Campsite (#76) is found near the start of this roadbed.
The next section is one of the most pleasant hiking trails in the Smokies. The roadbed is wide and smooth, and the surrounding tall trees and sparse undergrowth afford scenic views across the lake. The next two miles follow the easy route of the road before eventually crossing a small stream and ascending an adjacent ridge on singletrack.
The Pilkey Creek crossing appears at 16 miles. Sixty-five yards below the bridge, the trail turns right into a short singletrack ridge-climb-to-descent toward the Clark Branch and Pilkey Creek Backcountry Campsite (#77). Beyond the camp, the track is rocky in places. An attractive thirty-five-foot cascade marks the crossing at Chesquaw Branch.
The next three miles bring hikers through Calhoun Branch and across three stream crossings before a rutted track signals the approach of North Shore Backcountry Campsite (#81). A short section of wagon track and road soon lead to Whiteside Creek and an arduous one-mile climb up Welch Ridge. The following half-mile descent to the muddy crossing of Laurel Branch is equally as difficult.
Two finger ridges proceed the long, sinuous, descent to Hazel Creek and the wooden bridge before Proctor Backcountry Campsite (#86) and the intersection with the Hazel Creek 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
Along this long route hikers can find hickories, oaks, maples, yellow poplars, Fraser magnolias, American hollies, Table Mountain pine, short-leaf pine, laurel, and rhododendrons.