Date: April 27, 2016
Miles: 17.3 miles Elevation Gain: 4,191 ↑ Elev./Mi: 257 Grade: 5%
Difficulty: Class 5 Hiking Time: 7:13 Pace: 2.4 mph Avg. Temp.: 75
- Mingus Creek Trail to Newton Bald Trail 5.7
- Newton Bald Trail to Thomas Divide Trail 0.7
- Thomas Divide Trail to Deep Low Gap Trail 3.1
- Cooper Creek Trail – Return 1.0
- Deep Low Gap Trail to Mingus Creek Trail 3.9
- Mingus Creek Trail to trailhead 2.9
This hike begins and ends with the Mingus Creek Trail. The trailhead is the parking area for Mingus Mill located on New Found Gap Road near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the Cherokee side of the Park. Mingus Mill is a highlight in itself boasting a turbine driven mill which was the high technology of the day. For the 900 Miler, this is but one of several loop possibilities in this section as there are several intersecting trails between here and the Deep Creek Section. The other fine feature of this hike is Little Creek Falls on Deep Low Gap trail. Although there is only a single 10% grade climb, it is over the length of the Mingus Creek Trail and the route overall climbs some 4,100 ft making this a fairly difficult section to hike. There is ample water and Campsite #52 is on the route located on the Newton Bald Trail. Of interesting note, this section of trail is used for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail as it enters the Park toward its terminus on Clingmans Dome.
Leaving the Mingus Creek parking area the trail follows a jeep track for a few hundred feet passing a shooting range for Park Rangers on the right. The path follows Mingus Creek for a mile and a quarter and spits off to follow Madcap Branch. The fork to the right proceeds 0.8 miles to a cemetery. The trail crosses Mad Cap Branch several times until you reach the last one at 2.1 miles. The trail continues at a 10% grade over the next few miles utilizing several switch backs to facilitate the climbing. Deep Low Gap Trail intersects from the left at 2.9 miles, which will bring you back from the loop later in the day. AT 5.7 miles, the climbing finally abates on Newton Bald at the intersection with Newton Bald Trail.
The route passes along the only level section of Newton Bald Trail briefly; passing Campsite #52 and then terminating at the Thomas Divide Trail. All your climbing effort is rewarded over the next three miles as the trail descends over 2,300 ft. into Deep Low Gap, where the route picks up the Deep Low Gap Trail headed toward the left. This section of trail encounters no creek crossings. The intersection is at the highpoint of the Deep Low Gap Trail so you are treated to a continued descent.
At about 0.8 miles down Deep Low Gap is the beautiful Little Creek Falls, which is a 95 ft. cascade over Thunderhead Sandstone. The trail crosses a footlog at the base of the falls and continues its 1,000 ft. descent to Deep Low Creek. The Cooper Creek Trail intersects at 2.4 miles. Cooper Creek Trail is an access trail to the park boundary on Cooper Creek Road. It is highly advisable to grab this half mile path because it is a difficult orphan to come back later and complete. Copper Creek Trail follows it namesake to the trailhead, crossing the creek several times and at about 0.3 miles, the trail and the creek become one. While there are numerous side trails attempting to avoid wet feet, it is probably just as well to enjoy a refreshing soak along the 50 yards or so where the trail and the creek are the same.
After the quick yo-yo hike to Cooper Creek Road, continue on Deep Low Gap Trail as it begins it’s climb back up to the Mingus Creek Trail. This climb is about 1,000 ft over nearly 2.5 miles but the 4% grade is deceptively hard after having hiked over 12 miles. The trail crosses Cooper Creek several times, at least once in a wet crossing, before the trail crosses one last time in a switchback and begins the final 0.7 mile ascent up to Mingus Creek Trail.
The nice thing about joining Mingus Creek at this point is that it’s all downhill from here. The final 3 miles of the hike goes quickly in less than an hour as the motivation to end the long day overcomes the accumulated weariness.