Jake's Creek, Panther Creek, and Middle Prong - 8/24/11

There are some days that are just too beautiful to stay inside and do work.  Tuesday was one of those days!  My friend, Elise, was doing Experience Your Smokies that day and finished up at 1:30.  I met her at the Middle Prong Trailhead and we drove together to Elkmont at Jake’s Creek to do a shuttle hike on a gorgeous afternoon. 

We didn’t take into account that tourists would still be driving close to 15 mph through the park, so we didn’t make it onto the trail until 2:45.  Jakes Creek trail is now about 0.5 miles longer due to the fact that they’ve put up a new gate down the road a bit from the old parking area.  No big deal though, as it was a gently sloped gravel road.  We continued up Jakes Creek Trail, passing the trailheads for Cucumber Gap and Meigs Mountain very quickly.  The roadbed continued up the gentle hill for about 1.2 miles, ending at a foot bridge.  After crossing the bridge, the trail began a steeper, but never difficult, ascent to the terminus at Jake’s Gap.  There wasn’t much to see in the way of flowers, other than the occasional magenta droppings from the Frasier Fir Magnolia trees along the trail.  The woods were quiet today, other than hearing the water from Waterdog Branch, which we followed for about half of the trail. 

At about 2.6 miles, we passed campsite 27.  It was a larger site, very quiet and clean.  I didn’t hear any water, but we hadn’t stopped to explore the site, so there could have been a spring or a seep down the hill a bit.  After the campsite, the trail leveled out a bit and gently climbed one more mile to Jakes Gap (Note - your brown book mileage is 3.3, but the official milage of this trail is now 3.7 miles due to the new gate up at the parking area).  

We reached Jakes Gap in a 1:15 and began our rapid descent down Panther Creek Trail. I’d hiked this trail in wet weather before, so I was amazed at how dry it actually was. The rhododendron tunnels on this trail made for a nice walk in the woods, as the day was already relatively cool for August.  At close to 1.3 miles down the trail, it switchbacks into the old railroad bed we’d follow all the way back to our cars.  We did some quick rock hopping before finally coming to the end of Panther Creek Trail, where we’d be getting our feet wet!  Here, we’d cross Lynn Camp Prong, which wasn’t nearly has high as it was in May when I hiked it this year.  Since my feet were already damp from an earlier crossing, I just trudged across and wrung out my socks at the other side.  Elise changed into her Chacos and was able to keep her shoes dry. We were now ready to move the last 2.3 miles down Middle Prong Trail. 

About 0.5 miles down the trail, there’s a spur trail into the woods (on your left if you’re coming down) where you can go see an old Cadillac that was moved off the road and left for dead in the logging era of the park.  Elise took some photos, as she’d never seen it before, and we continued on our way down the trail.  There are some beautiful waterfalls along Lynn Camp Prong, so we got to follow them all the way back down to the trailhead, which made for nice background noise.  

We made it back to the cars at 5:50 p.m. and had a pleasant drive back to Elkmont at a little higher speed than we did the first time.  The sky was bright blue and cloudless all afternoon and the Tuesday afternoon hike was totally worth me having to work until midnight last night.  I wish I could do do that every week.