From time to time we all go on a less than awesome hike… This hike was one of them! Having hiked for several years now, I usually know which trails in the Smokies I’m not going to enjoy and the reasons why. I, however, remained optimistic and put on my happy hiking face and hiked it anyway.
Grapeyard Ridge Trail is fairly new in the way of trails in the Smokies, having only appeared on maps in the 1980s, but it was actually built in the 1930s by the CCC. There were also many settlers that lived in the area, including some of the Parton Family. Anyway, let’s get on to talking about the hike, shall we?
We met up at Rainbow Falls Trailhead at 7:40 a.m. so we could all pile in one car and drive to Greenbrier for a shuttle hike. We got to Greenbrier quickly and were ready to hit the trail by 8:15. Early start on a 10.3-mile hike means early finish! Grapeyard Ridge Trail is an easy climb at the very beginning. There wasn’t a whole lot to see on this overcast morning, as most wildflowers are now out of season. The gentle climb did produce two very lonely cardinal flowers at the 4th stream crossing, however. The trail is very easy-going until this point and then more steeply (but never difficulty) climbs up through a long rhododendron tunnel to James Gap. When you near the top you can hear the stream and when you come slightly downhill to cross Injun Creek, you’ll see remnants of a steam train wreck. Here, in the creek, is the resting place of engine 4246, which crashed on it’s very first voyage to get timber in the 1920s. We took some quick photos on continued on our way to campsite 32.
We reached 32 quickly and stopped to take a quick look around the homesite as we were in no hurry today. We had 1.7 miles until we reached a horse concession trail. This point also marked the beginning of where horses were allowed to use Grapeyard Ridge, so we knew mud and rocks would be in store for the next few miles. The trail began to gently climb and would continue to do so until we reached the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. On the short stretch between 32 and the horse concession, we saw many artifacts, including stone walls and foundations, as well as an old stove door, reminding us of the people who lived in these mountains 80 years ago. The trail continued to make the muddy, rutted climb. At the top, you could hear the traffic on the Motor Trail and we knew we were close to a lunch break. Grapeyard then descends down about 0.3 miles to a small clearing with a homesite containing a barn, cabin, and corn crib. This cabin, like most in the Smokies, was not originally at this location and was brought it. It was also, like all cabins in the Smokies, vandalized with people carving their names and dates of visits. If you’re one of these morons, FYI: No one cares you were ever here. Vandalism of a 100-year-old home is really uncool and you’re an asshole.
We stopped here and had lunch at the creek before continuing on to Baskins Creek Trail, which runs 2.7 miles end-to-end and terminates at Trillium Gap Trail. Baskins Creek is what is known to many hikers as a PUD - pointless up and down. There is, however, a small waterfall in the middle of the trail only a short distance off, so I guess if you want to see that it’s not pointless. If you hiked it, you might consider it pointless :) We begin Baskins Creek Trail on a gravel drive up to a family cemetery that was fenced in and closed for renovation. One look at the grounds and you can see why. It appeared the cemetery was built up onto a hillside and was badly eroded. There was no grass covering anything, only a thin layer of moss. It was very eerie and looked like no other cemetery I’d seen in the park. After the cemetery, it was a short climb and then rapid descent into a valley down to Baskins Creek Falls. We reached the spur trail and followed it down to see the falls, bonus miles as we like to call it! There was an old homesite and the trail was well-maintained as far as side trails go. As it started to steeply descend to the falls, I walked into a tree limb so hard it knocked off my hat. That didn’t feel pleasant and the trail got steep, so I grabbed a place with a view of the falls and waited for my friends to rejoin me for the final climb.
The final phase of Baskins Creek Trail is an 800-foot climb in 0.75 miles. We passed a spur and a sign for Baskins Creek Cemetery and the hill began immediately. After what seemed like FOREVER, the hill ended with a great view of LeConte, Sugarland Mountain, Cove Mountain, and Blanket Mountain. This was the only view of the day. The hike ended with us walking back on the road against traffic. We were stopped by a minivan full of people with New York tags asking us “DID YOU SEE A BEAR!?!?!” very excitedly. We all just looked confused and they repeated the question. I told them no, we hadn’t. If they wanted to see one I suggested they get out of their cars and go into the woods. At the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, where we’d parked, a man in a large truck asked us “How far to them waterfalls? Cause my wife just had a hip replacement.” I told him it was 3 miles uphill to Rainbow Falls. They seemed very confused by this.
All in all, I’m glad I got out to hike. I can safely say, however, these trails weren’t much to see and were a little too close to the part of the Smokies I hate, the tourist side where people don’t bother to get out of their cars, even to take photos.