Points of Interest along this section:
This section covers from the Round Bottom Trailhead on Straight Fork Road to Pretty Hollow Gap. Ira McGee had a mill on Ledge Creek at Round Bottom to grind the corn which he grew in Round Bottom. Later on, this area was heavily logged by the Ravensford Lumber Company in the 1920s. A CCC camp was located at the junction of Round Bottom Creek and Raven Fork to restore the area and build trails.
When you reach the Straight Fork Road at mile 269.8, turn left and cross the steel bridge over Straight Fork, then leave the road off to the left at the smaller trailhead parking lot at mile 270.3 for the continuation of the Beech Gap Trail. The trail after leaving the road heads very steeply uphill, climbing the west slopes of Balsam Mountain. Cross Thumper Branch at mile 271.6. This creek used to be called Stillhouse Branch. Thumping was part of the distillation process for white lightning. Continue to climb up the mountain slope to Beech Gap (aka the Big Swag) at mile 272.3 on Balsam Mountain. Logging trains crossed through this gap from Round Bottom to Pin Oak Gap carrying the valuable trees out of the mountains to the sawmills. The Balsam Mountain Trail
follows the ridgeline of Balsam Mountain, crossing the gap at this point. Turn left onto the Balsam Mountain Trail
and follow the crest past Balsam High Top and on to Laurel Gap at mile 274.1. Here is the newly remodeled stone Laurel Gap Shelter for which reservations must be obtained in advance. Tenting is not permitted at the shelter area. Another 0.2 miles past the Laurel Gap Shelter, turn right off the Balsam Mountain Trail
onto the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail
at mile 274.3. The left fork also becomes the Gunter Fork Trail
. Follow the right fork on this almost level trail on the east slopes of Balsam Corner, Cataloochee Mountain (6155') and Big Butt, then gently descend to Pretty Hollow Gap at mile 278.3. At Pretty Hollow Gap, the namesake trail heads down the east slope to Cataloochee and the Swallow Fork Trail
heads down the west slope toward the Big Creek Trail
. The trail past Big Butt may be difficult due to the mud created by horse traffic. However, this section is really beautiful up in the aromatic fir trees with great views off the side of the mountain.
Campsites: Tent camping is not permitted at the Laurel Gap Shelter. Reservations for the shelter must be made in advance through the backcountry campsite reservations system. This is the only place to stay overnight along this stretch of trail.
Water Sources: Water is available from Straight Fork, Thumper Branch and at the shelter and from a few seeps and small branches along the trail, such as Indian Creek at mile 274.7 and another unnamed stream crossing at 275.8.