On November 19th, four of us set off for a weekend on Old Settlers Trail. This trail follows a maze of old road beds through Big Greenbrier in the Smokies, which had a large population in the days predating the park. This trail had tons of artifacts, home sites, and rock walls, which made for a perfect weekend of fall hiking.
Our hike begins at the Maddron Bald Trailhead off of US-321. With enough parking for barely one car we were glad we were the first ones there that morning. The hike begins with a 1.2 mile gentle uphill on a gravel road. Being that it was covered in wet leaves from the recent rains made it a bit tricky at times, however. At 0.7 miles in, there is an old cabin built in 1889 still standing in a field off to the right of the trail. We reached the trailhead quickly and began our walk down Old Settlers, now the path turning into a trail instead of a roadbed. Almost immediately we were walking through old farm lands. We crossed and small stream and saw an old chimney, now about half of its original size, and then came to a more difficult stream crossing, the first challenge of the day. With some creative pack-tossing and rock-hopping, we were across and dry.
After crossing Dunn Creek, we were greeted by a large rock wall running alongside the trail and then disappearing into the woods, the first of many we’d see this weekend. We began our first climb up Snag Mountain and crossed a few streams, seeing impressive rock walls during the climb. People truly look a lot of pride in their work so many years ago, as some of these walls were arrow straight and more than 5 feet tall in places.
We saw many old home sites with impressive chimneys, one homesite with a double-sided one and a second chimney off to the side, on Texas Creek and we walked downhill stopped at a homesite on Noisy Creek for lunch. From here, we’d have one good uphill push before going downhill into our campsite. The last uphill was a little tricky and it was a good thing two people in our group had done this part of the trail numerous times, as the trail pretty much disappeared. The part of the land that looked to be the trail was actually an old manway that ran out more than 0.5 miles to US-321. We blazed our way up the side of the hill, winding past another old chimney, up to the top. From here, we’d have a nice downhill stroll into camp for the night.
Campsite 33 is a very large site with an A, B, and C. We chose to stay uphill from campsite C, which is the site of a chimney and a hearth. Campsites A and B here have very large boulders. All the campsites have great access to Red Wine Creek, our water source. After gathering a large amount of firewood, we settled in camp for the night.
The next day was a short six miles to the cars at the trailhead. The six miles however, were slightly more difficult. We’d have two good hills to climb on the way out, one winding back into the head of the valley. We passed some beautiful fields and home sites, passed a few spurs for old cemeteries, and crossed more creeks and branches that I can recall. We saw the first people we’d see all weekend about 30 minutes before getting off the trail. We would have missed them had we not stopped to get a look at a homesite.
We got off the trail just before noon on the 20th. The weather was just perfect and there had been a warm breeze blowing all weekend. This trail is definitely one I’d like to hike several more times, maybe a little off trail as well, just to get a better idea of the families and the history here.