On Monday afternoon I got a message over on my Facebook page from a friend I met on my Long Trail thru hike back in the summer of 2015. South Pole thru hiked the AT in 2015 and then, after finishing, had decided she wanted more trail. She came back down to Vermont to finish hiking the Long Trail. We met her near the end of our hike, in Johnson, Vermont. She and her friend Susan were working on "marking off their maps" - a term we use here in the Smokies for people who are trying to hike all the trails in the park. She asked if I'd like to meet them for an easy hike on Tuesday and I jumped at the chance. Often, my job as a hiking guide has me hiking very slowly and the opportunity to hike with other endurance hikers and runners makes me happy!
We met up at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and drove off for the Twin Creeks Trail trailhead. We got the only parking spot at the trailhead due to being out so early. It had been raining all morning until this point, so we were happy for a break in the rain! I brought my favorite new piece of gear, my Gossamer Gear Liteflex Umbrella, and I credit the umbrella for keeping away the rain! We hiked up a gentle grade on the Twin Creeks Trail, only getting our feet a little wet until crossing a stream before getting to the Ogle Cabin. This beautiful old cabin has been maintained by the park service and is easy to access from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail! We did a little bit of road walking before coming to our junction with the Old Sugarlands Trail.
I've been hiking on this trail recently, so I knew to expect some muddy spots. This old road bed comes down from the Rainbow Falls hiker parking into a valley where settlers farmed and tapped sugar maples before a CCC camp came in during the Great Depression. We passed a few gentlemen hiking the other way who were surprised to see people out hiking in the same dreary weather they were! We hiked downhill on the gentle grade before coming to the split in the trail where you can head up to the old cemetery and site of the famous "stone house". We walked past and explored the old site of the CCC camp clock tower before heading back down to the trailhead.
When we got back to the trailhead it was still relatively early, so we decided to hike the Gatlinburg Trail to mark it off the maps as well. This out and back hike was very quick and lead to an 11.5 mile day completed in less than 4 hours.
While we were out on this hike we were able to see a few wild eatables - we tasted toothwort (a horseradish-like flavor), partridge berry (a small red berry that we didn't eat due to it being close to the side of a very busy trail), and little brown jug (a heart-shaped leaf that smells and tastes like ginger or sassafras root). We also saw a small patch of witch butter and some very vibrant turkey tail mushrooms. We even got lucky with a big patch of blue sky making an appearance for the end of our hike!
I have hiked these three trails many times before and it's often said this is the easiest "loop" hike in the park. If you are hiking by yourself and looking for something more than 10 miles that won't take you all day, this is a great option. You can park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the park headquarters. Walk over to Old Sugarlands Trail and hike up to the Rainbow Falls Parking area. Follow the road down to the Bud Ogle Cabin and get on the Twin Creeks Trail. Hike this to the road and road walk down to stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg. Stop at a restaurant for lunch on the way if you want! Turn left at the light and walk down to the end of Gatlinburg, where you'll hop on the Gatlinburg Trail. Follow the Gatlinburg Trail all the way back to the visitor center parking lot. I've included a map below for making this a loop hike, along with the elevation profile.