Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Comeback Hike: Meigs Creek Trail

Sunday morning dawned clear and warm, so hubby and I made our way up to "The Sinks" parking lot in the Great Smoky Mountains to begin a short hike to test out the progress my previously injured knee was making.  This was the first time I'd been on the trails in several weeks, and I was anxious to strap on the trail shoes.  We arrived at the trailhead about 9:40 and started the walk up the path behind the viewing area of one of the most popular spots in the Park. The rushing cascades that make up "The Sinks" had much less water in them than usual which was a good sign for us since there are 18+ crossings one way on this trail that we were going to do up and back.  That meant at least 36 times we'd cross Meigs Creek on this 7 mile round trip hike.

The first 1.4 miles of this trail are dry, passing through lush vegetation within earshot of the creek at times and of the highway at other times. The path rises fairly gently for the first bit up a dry southward facing bank which is known to be home to timber rattlers who like to warm up in the sun. Luckily, we never saw one this time although we were surprised with how quickly black snakes can come out of a tree and slither into the depths of the forest. We also surprised a black bear who leapt out of a tree so hard and fast that the tree swayed back and forth for quite some time without its prior inhabitant.

Once the path descends to the creek after that first 1.4 miles, you stay with it for the majority of the rest of the trek.  At this point, the scenery takes on the mystery and magic of the deep woods and the serenity of a lovely mountain stream.  From here, the creek and the trail cross paths too many times to really count.  It's not even worth trying! On a day like the day we were there, most of the crossings can be managed with rock hops.  Eventually though, I decided to simply put on my Keen sandals and just walk right through the majority of the crossings.  Bunk, my husband, kept his hiking boots on and maneuvered the rock hops quite well with no incidents--no water in over the tops of his boots at all. 

 After you make first contact with the creek, even if you don't want to or have time to do the whole trail, keep going another quarter to half a mile and you'll come across a maybe 20 foot cascade that is definitely worth the walk.  In fact, we ran across a family who had done just this.  They weren't carrying packs or even water, but had just made their way up the path in search of the falls they'd heard of.  It's certainly a pretty little falls and on days when more water was in the stream, it would be even better.  This is NOT, however, the Meigs Falls that can be seen from Little River Road.  That is one of my favorite falls in the park, but I've been told no trail goes to it.  I bet someone knows how to get there off trail, but that someone isn't me! 
 This was one of the most enjoyable hikes I've done in a while that lacked high vistas.  I believe during the winter there would have been some nice views along some of the ridges, but all that water would certainly be cold in the winter too, so it was a worthwhile trade-off for us.  Those rocks would have been slick as glass if they'd been icy.  

After all those crossings, the trail rises above the creek and finally passes through some rhododendron forests and some fern banks that shimmer in that new growth green that you really don't find anywhere else.  Another switchback or two and you find yourself at the trail intersection with Meigs Mountain and Lumber Ridge trails. There are a couple nice logs downed here for you to sit on while you snack and catch your breath and either turn around and go back down the way you came or turn right or left to go to Tremont or Elmont along either of the other trails. Really it's only one crossing trail, but the name changes at this intersection for some reason.  Since we were only in the one vehicle, we returned the way we had come, back to the Sinks.  It felt great to be on the trail again, and I was quite pleased with the way my knee behaved.  This one was short, but was new miles nonetheless--never a bad thing!

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