Category Archives: Trail Log

Rabbit Creek Trail

Date:    April 29, 2016

Miles:  7.8 miles           Elevation Gain:  1,582 ft.↑   Elev./Mi:  202.7    Grade:     4%          

Difficulty:  Class 3      Hiking Time: 2:42       Pace:  2.9  mph         Avg. Temp.:   75

Rabbit Creek Trail

Trailhead to Scott Gap

Trailhead to Scott Gap

Scott Gap to Abrams Creek

Scott Gap to Abrams Creek

 

 

 

 

 

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Rabbit Creek is an overall delightful hiking experience with several highlights and options.  It makes for a fine loop hike that includes Abrams Fall Trail.  There is ample water on the route and there are two campsites, CS #15 and CS #16.  It is a challenge to hike the entire length of its 7.8 miles in one trip unless you opt for a 15 mile Yo-yo.  This is due to the trailheads being prohibitively far apart; one in Cades Cove and the other many driving miles away in Abrams Creek Campground.

IMG_2691The trail begins at the Abrams Falls Trail intersection at the parking area off Cades Cove Loop Road.  Within 100 yards, you must ford Mill Creek near it’s confluence with Abrams Creek.  It is a shallow ford about 35 yards wide.  The trail is an old mountain road and ascends steadily over 2.5 miles up Boring Ridge through a pine forest.  At 1.0 miles you cross More Licker Branch and continue climbing steadily until the trail apexes on Andy McCully Ridge at 2.0 miles.  After a brief

Campsite #15

Campsite #15

level walk the trial begins a steady descent until you reach Campsite #15 – Rabbit Creek at 4.1 miles.  Rabbit Creek, the trails namesake is just beyond the site at 4.2 miles.  The Rabbit Creek crossing is wet and can be difficult in high water.  At 5.1 miles, you reach Scott Gap where the trail intersects with the Hannah Mountain Trail which leads 1.9 miles to the right and intersects with Abrams Falls Trail.  Campsite #16 – Scott Gap is down a side trail at this intersection.  It is the site of a former shelter.  From Scott Gap, the trail climbs slightly for a mile to crest Pine Mountain and then descends steadily to Abrams Creek at 7.6 miles.  Ordinarily there is a footlog across Abrams Creek but in times of high water, the bridge becomes disconnected from it’s mornings as was the case in this hike.  Consequently, the hiker must ford the creek before reaching the trailhead at 7.8 miles, making Rabbit Creek one of the few trails with a wet crossing at either end.

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Footlog on the side of Abrams Creek

Data Book:

Rabbit Creek Data Book

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Wet Bottom Trail

Date:    April 29, 2016

Miles:  1.0 miles           Elevation Gain:  20 ft.↑        Elev./Mi:  20        Grade:     0%          

Difficulty:  Class 1      Hiking Time: 0:20       Pace:  2.9  mph         Avg. Temp.:   75

Wet Bottom Trail Wet Bottom Elevation

Wet Bottom Trail is aptly named as it passes across the Abrams Creek flood plain.  It is a connector between Cooper Road Trail and the intersections with Rabbit Creek and Abrams Falls trails.  Due to prevalent horse traffic in the summer months, the trail can be rather muddy in rainy times.  But if you catch it on a dry day, it is a pleasant alternative to hiking the Cades Cove Loop road.  For 900 milers, it is best to integrate this trail with several loop options, principally the Cooper Road to Hatcher Mountain to Abrams Falls loop; enabling you to park either at the Abrams Falls Parking area or at the small parking area at the trailhead for Cooper Road Trail

IMG_2685Wet Bottom starts at the intersection on Cooper Road Trail.  It descends ever so slightly through a recent controlled burn area and meets up with Abrams Creek.  At. 0.2 miles, you pass a red barn built by John Oliver in the early 1900’s.  At 0.5 miles the trail intersects with a side trail to the John Oliver Cabin.  Finally, at 0.9 miles you reach Abrams Creek.  You can ford the creek or you can choose to take the parallel trail to the connector from Abrams Falls trailhead to Oliver’s Cabin.  Keeping your feet dry may be a wise goal but if you continue on to Rabbit Creek Trail, your efforts are in vain.  Wet Bottom ends at the Abrams Falls Trail parking area, which also serves as the trailhead for Rabbit Creek Trail.

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Data Book:

Wet Bottom Data Book copy

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Cooper Creek Trail

Date:    April 27, 2016

Miles:  0.5 miles           Elevation Gain:  75 ft.↑        Elev./Mi:  150        Grade:     3%          

Difficulty:  Class 1      Hiking Time: 0:10       Pace:  3.0  mph         Avg. Temp.:   78        

Section:  Oconaluftee

Cooper Creek TrailThe trailhead for Cooper Creek Trail is on Cooper Creek Road, 3 miles from US Hwy. 19 between Cherokee and Bryson City, NC.  The trail is a connector from Cooper Creek Road to Deeplow Gap Trail.  There is no public parking.  The guidebooks suggest getting permission to park on private property.  For the 900 Miler, you are best to hike this small section when you cover Deeplow Gap Trail.  Access is not straightforward and it’s a long way to go for a half mile of hiking.  Plus, it only take about 10 minutes total.

Cooper Creek Trail is one of a handful of trails in the park that leads one to wonder why it is an official trail at all.  It’s purpose is to provide access much like the way many trailheads lead from campgrounds or picnic areas.  But because it’s an easy hike and convenient if captured along with Deploy Gap, the level of annoyance is minimal.  The trail is a gravel road bed.  At about 300 yds, you will see a clearing on private property across the creek. At 0.2 miles the creek and the trail literally merge for 100 yards or so.  It is possible to bypass wet feet on the left bank but bear in mind, the creek is the park boundary so you are on private property at that point.  At 0.5 miles you cross the Cooper Creek on a footlog and the Deeplow Gap trail is just beyond.

Data Book:

Cooper Creek Data Book

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Mingus Creek Trail

Date:    April 27, 2016

Miles:  5.7 miles           Elevation Gain:  2,920↑        Elev./Mi:   512       Grade:     10%          

Difficulty:  Class 4      Hiking Time: 2:18       Pace:  2.73  mph         Avg. Temp.:   63        

Section:  Oconaluftee

Mingus Creek Trail  Mingus Creek Elevation

The trailhead for Mingus Creek Trail is the parking area for Mingus Mill on Newfound Gap Road near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the Cherokee entrance to the Park.  The trail follows along Mingus Creek and then Madcap Branch for the first 2.5 miles providing ample water although the second half of the trail is fairly dry.  The nearest campsite is Campsite #52 on Newton Bald Trail just 0.3 miles past the intersection.  Mingus Creek is also part of the Mountain-To=Sea Trail in North Carolina that runs 1,150 miles form Jockey’s Ridge on the Coast to Clingmans Dome.  The other main feature of the trail is the Mill which is at the trailhead.  Mingus Mill boasts a turbine mill which represents fairly advanced technology for the time it was employed in commerce.

Leaving the parking area, the trail is a gravel road following Mingus Creek.  The trail crosses Mingus Creek on bridges four times in the first mile starting at 0.2 miles.  AT 0.4 miles, just past the second bridge crossing is a firing range on the right used by the Park Service.  The trail climbs gently through this section.  The service road ends about a mile in and becomes a jeep track.  At 1.2 miles is the access road to the Mingus Creek Cemetery.  The road forks as does the stream at about 1.4 miles.  Mingus Creek Trail crosses and then follows Madcap Branch and narrows to single track climbing more steeply.  AT 2.2 miles there is is the first of several switchbacks negotiating the ascent up to the intersection with Deeplow Gap Trail at  2.9 miles.  The trail levels off for a few hundred yards before resuming it arduous climb along the ridge toward Newton Bald.  At 4.7 miles is the first of 6 switchbacks over the next half mile.  A half mile or so past these switchbacks, or just a few hundred yards from the end of the section, the old guidebooks mention the existence of an ancient American Chestnut Tree that somehow has survived the blight that killed off this beautiful race of tree people nearly a hundred years ago.

The trail terminates at the intersection with Newton Bald Trail on Newton Bald.  The bald has long since overgrown with mixed hardwoods.

Data Book:

Mingus Creek Data Book

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Gregory Bald Backpacking Trip

Date: April 29-30, 2016

Miles: 28.2 miles           Elevation Gain:   6,087 ↑        Elev./Mi:   216         Grade:  4%          

Difficulty:  Class 3        Hiking Time: 10:01       Pace:  2.8  mph                 Section:  Oconaluftee

Gregroy Bald PackpackRoute:

  • Wet Bottoms Trail to Rabbit Creek Trail                  1.0
  • Rabbit Creek Trail to Hannah Mountain Trail         5.1
  • Hannah Mountain Trail to Parsons Branch Road  7.6
  • Gregory Bald Trail to CS#13                                      4.1
  • Gregory Bald Trail (CS #13) to AT                             3.3
  • Gregory Bald Trail to Gregory Ridge Trail               2.1
  • Gregory Ridge Trail to Trailhead                              5.0

 

Hannah Mountain Trail presents a bit of a challenge for the 900 Miler.  It doesn’t make up a convenient loop and one of its trailheads is on Parsons Branch Road, a one-way gravel thoroughfare leading out of Cades Cove to US 129 (The Dragons Tail) near Fontana.  It’s a really long drive to get back to civilization.  Compounding the challenge is the fact that Parsons Branch Road is closed through the winter and typically opens early April.  Not so this year.  Due to numerous blow downs, the Park Service had not opened the road for the season at this point.  Gregory Bald Trail presents the same challenge as both trails meet at Sams Gap on Parsons Branch Road.  A great solution is to connect them in one big loop.  There are a few choices for a trailhead.  Abrams Falls Parking area is a good one and you may choose to park at the turnaround on Ridge Creek Road where the Gregory Bald Ridge terminates.  Since Wet Bottoms Trail was still on my list to complete, I chose the parking area on Cades Cove Loop near Cooper Road Trail.  In any case, the length of Ridge Creek Road would have to be hiked unless I was was lucky enough to catch a lift.

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Parking Area at Cades Cove near Cooper Road Trail

Burned Area on Wet Bottoms

Burned Area on Wet Bottoms

Wet Bottoms is a pleasant saunter as it starts at the intersection on Cooper Road Trail.  It descends ever so slightly through a recent controlled burn area and meets up with Abrams Creek.  You can ford the creek or you can choose to take the parallel trail to the connector from Abrams Falls trailhead to Oliver’s Cabin.  Keeping your feet dry may be a wise goal but if you continue on to Rabbit Creek Trail, your efforts are in vain.  Wet Bottoms Trailhead is at the Abrams Falls Trail parking area, which also serves as the trailhead for Rabbit Creek Trail

IMG_2691Rabbit Creek Trail is 7.8 miles long.  It crosses shallow Mill Creek near it’s confluence with Abrams Creek upon leaving Cades Cove and it fords Abrams Creek at the other end at its arrival in Abrams Creek Campground.  It is a refreshing start to a full day of hiking.  The trail is an old mountain road and ascends steadily over 2.5 miles up Boring Ridge through a pine forest.  There are a couple stream crossings in this section.  Once the trail leveled off, I looked ahead and saw the IMG_2695rear end of a bruin brother fifty yards or so ahead.  If the relationship with brother bear is as it should be, he smells you and is gone by the time you pull your camera phone out of your pocket.  Such was the case in this moment as he caught my scent, snorted his surprise and took off.  This was my first bear of the season and judging from what I have heard, it is going to be a great year for bear encounters.  Not to be outdone, the community of wild hogs made their acquaintance not more than a half mile further down the trail, represented by a sow and her brood of about 8 piglets.  With a loud snort, she alerted her family to exit the trail quickly before I had a chance to capture their picture as well.  The trail descends gently toward Campsite #15.  There are 5 campsites on this route and this is the first at 4.1 miles.  A quick review of the site and I was off to finish the section at the intersection with Hannah Mountain Trail.

Campsite #16 is at the intersection with Hannah Mountain and Rabbit Creek Trail.  It is the site of a former shelter and is nicely secluded from the trail.  After a short break, the hike continued down Hannah Mountain Trail.  For four miles, Hannah Mountain rolls along through mixed pine forest.  It is the kind of hike that provides good time for contemplation as the hiking is effort free and there are few obstacles to negotiate such as creek crossings.  Bear number 2 introduced himself about 2 miles into Hannah Mountain Trail.  Our meeting again kept the typical protocol as he did not pose for pictures.  Campsite #14 arrives at Flint Gap at 5.1 miles.  The pine forest makes for good cover but the site may not be great as it has few level sites for tents.  The trail basically splits the site and the fire ring is a mere few feet off the path.  I was not able to locate the spring suggested as the water source in an older guidebook but there is good water about 400 yd. down the trail as it crosses Hannah Branch.  The trail begins a steady ascent once you leave CS #14 climbing about 600 ft in the next mile.  The last couple miles are level as the pine forest continues to the trailhead at Sams Gap.

IMG_2716Sams Gap has a rather interesting memory associated with it.  The last time I was here, I was taking a break/nap when a guy on a bicycle came up Parsons Branch road.  He saw me and hit the breaks, falling down in front of me. He got up unhurt and looked me in the eye, calling me by name.  With sunglasses and a bike helmet, I couldn’t recognize him but when he spoke I saw it was a good friend, Barry Lucas who lives in Townsend.  Barry is  prolific cyclist and was out for the day on a huge loop from Maryville, over US 129 and up Parsons Branch to Cades Cove.  The chances of both of us being in that remote place in that specific moment cannot even be calculated.  Alas, Barry didn’t show up this day so after a brief rest, I was up for the last big climb of the day.

Mountain Magnolia

Mountain Magnolia

The climb up Gregory Bald Trail to Campsite #13 at Sheep Pen Gap was over 1,800 ft in 4.1 miles.  Despite this 14% grade, it is actually the easier access compared to Gregory Ridge Trail.  The first half mile is level before the climb turns to steady uphill.  Along this path I was introduced to a beautiful flowering tree I later learned was the Mountain Magnolia.  At 1.3 miles the climb turns forceful.  At 3.5 miles, there is evidence of pretty heavy impact from the wild pigs and horses, making the trial rather muddy in places.

Finally, at 4.1 miles, CS #13 appears.  There were 16 or so tents already in the camp as this is one of the more popular sites in the park.  This number exceeded the specified capacity of the site but fortunately there is plenty of good level space to spread out. The site also sees a fair amount of bear activity and the Park Service will close it in times of heavy interaction.  I found a couple trees and hung the hammock, then I joined a group of guys from Maine at their campfire for some conversation while we cooked our dinner.  I wanted to catch a sunset on Gregory Bald, which is only a half mile up trail from the campsite but timing was not my friend.  Nevertheless, I donned my trusty headlamp and headed up for some stargazing.

Gregory Bald is among my most favorite places.  Although quite popular, it’s not an insignificant effort to get there and it’s rare to have the moment to yourself.  If you are willing, solitude can be found with a little effort and one way is to head up the trail in the dark.  So with headlamp mounted, I made the 10 minute hike to find a beautiful view of the Maryville lights.  Gregory Bald invites some rather aggressive breezes as testified by the low tree cover but this night was calm and cool.  When engaged in a sacred moment, it seems out of place to be concerned with such constraints such as time.  I am not sure how long I was there but I arrived back at camp abut 9:30 and nestled into my hanging cocoon for a calm night of well deserved rest.

I awoke at first light and quickly but quietly broke camp as I really wanted to catch the sunrise on the Bald, especially since I missed sunset the previous night.  At 6:30 am, I got a later start than I preferred and by the time I made the 10 minute hike up to the top, the sky was already lighting up.  To my great fortune, the sun had not yet risen over the distant ridge so I was able to settle near my favorite tree and prepare for the magic that was about to unfold.  Watching the sunrise by yourself in a sacred place is like witnessing creation.  There was a stillness you can feel as the sky is set ablaze by the first light of a new day. Here, time is not measured in minutes and hours.  Only in moments of eternity.  The new day was then celebrated with a feast of oatmeal and coffee in the best dining room in the Smokies.  There were no other guests, no service staff and no exchange of commerce.  Only a quiet inauguration of  glorious new day.

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The goal for the day was to complete the Gregory Bald Trail which extended another 2.5 miles to the Appalachian Trail, which was a rolling descent along the North Carolina/Tennessee state line.  An older guidebook mentioned this section and being a part of the AT in early times.  The bald disappears a short distance from the top as the trail enters low mixed hardwoods in a steep descent.  Hiking atop a ridge does not guarantee level walking.  Gregory Bald trail goes up and down like a roller coaster with very steep climbs of a quarter mile or so.  About a mile into the morning’s hike, I met another group of wild pigs who quickly scattered upon meeting my scent.  Trail damage from the hogs is again evident in this stretch.  At 6.6 miles, the trial levels out to pleasant hiking until about 7.0 miles for one final short climb up to the AT.

A Late Blooming Dogwood

A Late Blooming Dogwood

With Gregory Bald Trail now complete, I headed back toward Gregory Ridge Trail for my exit back to Cads Cove; now hiking the steep roller coaster in reverse.  The two miles was complete in 45 minutes.  After a sip of water, it was time to plunge down Gregory Ridge Trail to Forge Creek Turnaround.  It’s 5 miles and my goal was to make it in 90 minutes.  Such a challenge does not leave time for casual conversations with other hikers, nor does it afford opportunities for flower gazing and making conversation with the tree people.  But as one approaches a certain age, it is good to know your legs can still fly.  And since I have already hiked and documented this section for posterity, I saw no compelling need to repeat that effort.  I did meet a few hikers headed up to Gregory Bald for the day and I avoided rudeness with a quick hello and letting them know how much of their climbing ordeal was ahead of them.  You lose 2,600 ft over 5 miles in this direction and even though i was not having to climb like my fellow hikers, a steep descent is no less full of effort.  Upon approaching Campsite #12 at 3.1 miles, I did not stop to make a full report as it was also documented in my previous hike.  I nodded politely to a couple hikers at the site and continued my accelerated pace for the last 2 miles to the trailhead.  At 1 hour, 29 minutes, I reached the trailhead and collapsed.  The young couple I passed just a half mile back appeared and we chatted briefly.  They were at CS #13 as well and reported that a bear came through the campsite mid-afternoon sniffing around rather leisurely and not really worried about its human brothers and sisters.  It was a good thing we had no encounters in the night.

As they headed for their car, I was able to beg a ride back to Cades Cove, relieving me of the 2.5 mile road walk back to the Loop Road.  They dropped me off at the Visitor Center parking area and I hiked the mile against traffic back to the car.  After a 35 minute traffic crawl back out of Cades Cove, I was able to make it to Elvira’s Cafe in time for a late lunch, capping a great two days of hiking.

Route Data:

Gregory Bald Route

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Mingus Creek Lolly Pop Loop

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        

Section:  Oconaluftee

Mingus Creek Lolly Pop LoopRoute:

  • 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.

Campsite #52

Campsite #52

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.

Little Creek Falls

Little Creek Falls

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.

IMG_2678After 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.

 

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Finley Cane Trail

Date:    April 23, 2016

Miles:  2.6 miles           Elevation Gain:  259↑ **        Elev./Mi:   99       Grade:       2%          

Difficulty:  Class 1      Hiking Time: 0:57       Pace:  2.73  mph         Avg. Temp.:   63        

Section:  Cades Cove  

** This section was documented from Bote Mountain Trail, descending to the trailhead at Laurel Creek Road.  From the trailhead up, the elevation gain is 459 ft., Elevation/mile is 176 at a 3% grade.

Finley Cane Map  Finley Cane Elevation

The trailhead for Finley Cane Trail is on Laurel Creek Road, 5.5 miles from the Townsend “Y”.  It is shared with Lead Cove and Turkey Pen Ridge Trails providing the 900 miler with several options for loop hikes.  This section was hike a part of a loop with Lead Cove to Bote Mountain and is documented from Bote Mountain Trail.  There is ample water along the path with several creek crossings.  The closest campsite is about 0.9 miles from the Bote Mountain intersection down West Prong Trail to CS #18.

From Bote Mountain Trail, the path is level to a slight incline for the first 0.4 miles, then descending to Finley Cove Creek at 1.0 miles.  The creek is typically dry in the summer.  Flowing Finley Cove Creek, there is a slight rise and then a pleasant descent to Hickory Tree Branch and Laurel Cove Creek, two crossing that occur at 2.0 miles.  This section passes through mixed hardwoods, some of which are remnants of virgin timber forests.  The gentle descent continues on the the trail head at 2.6 miles at Laurel Creek Road.

Finley Cane Data Book

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