My friend Elise and I decided to do a shuttle hike from Twentymile to Fontana Dam involving Twentymile Trail, crossing the AT and down Lost Cove Trail, stopping for lunch down at campsite 90, and following Lakeshore Trail down to the AT to walk across the dam. The weather was chilly that morning, but the clear skies and views were awesome.
We started our hike going up a gentle grade of an old road on Twentymile Trail. The parking lot was completely full, which I found odd for a cold Sunday morning. We’d passed some hikers, at barely 9 a.m., that had been out for a few days and they wished us well on our way. The first 0.5 miles of this trail are wide and nicely graded, a reminder of the old CCC road up to the Shuckstack Firetower. At 0.5 miles, the trail splits and Wolf Ridge runs up to campsite 13. There is also a spur trail for the Twentymile Cascades, which were visible from the trail due to the leaves being down. The trail paralleled Twentymile Creek all the way up to campsite 93. We crossed a large bridge and continued upward on the gentle grade, reaching the 3.1 mile mark and next trail head in only one hour. Proctor Field Gap was a homesite and there was evidence of stone walls in the clearings near the trailhead.
From Proctor Field Gap, the trail maintained its road-like appearance, but got a lot steeper. In the first 3.1 miles we’d barely gained 1000 feet. The next 1.7 miles would gain 1500 feet, the last mile 1000 alone. The climb got steep and we took a few extra breaks, joking about how we should have gotten up there in half an hour due to our earlier speed. At about 0.7 miles from the top, off to our right we could see the Shuckstack Firetower on the edge of the mountain standing in the mosaic of fall colors. We reached the AT crossing in 50 minutes. From here, our trail would be straight downhill to campsite 90 with very little undulation.
Our first mile down Lost Cove Trail was down the 1000 feet we’d just climbed on the other side of Shuckstack Mountain. When I say down I mean straight down. There were a few switchbacks, but for the most part, we did a little shuffle down the mountainside. At one point, we turned around and took a picture of the hill we’d just descended as it was just too funny. At that point, we were definitely glad we came down Lost Cove instead of the other way around! At about 1.3 miles down the trail, we started to hear the stream and the trail turned from dry and leaf-covered to wet and green. We’d gone over a few easy stream crossings and reached campsite 91 quickly, which was large and really nice. We met a nice camper there who was going to be out for 8 more days and had already logged 150 nights backpacking this year! After the campsite, the stream crossings were a little broader, but still easy to rock-hop since the weather had been dry in October. After passing the campsite, there was old chimney off to the left side of the trail just past the stream showing us evidence of another old homesite. We crossed about 7 or 8 more streams to come to the trailhead of Lakeshore Trail.
Elise and I decided to go the 0.4 miles down to campsite 90 and have lunch since she needed that section for her map. We hiked down the hill to 90 and found we weren’t the only ones out for the day! Campsite 90 was a disgusting mess of a campsite. Very large, with plenty of room for at least 50 people, there was trash of all kinds, including insulated coolers half-burned in fire rings and dozens of beer cans. There were hungover hikers sitting around and at least 15 people still there from the night before who hadn’t started out yet. One group of campers had jack—o-lanterns, a boom box, and a large cooler. The water was definitely down in Fontana Lake, but Eagle Creek was roaring and the rocks made for a great place to sit and relax for a few minutes. We made our way back up to the Lakeshore Trailhead and were there at 1:20.
At Lakeshore Trail we ran into our camper from 91 who was filming his walk down the trail for his blog and then we headed up the hill. Our first 1.75 miles or so were undulating, but mostly uphill on the finger ridges of Little Shuckstack Mountain. There wasn’t too much to see along this portion of the trail and after 1 hour we decided to stop for a break, as we were getting tired. We joked about our Lakeshore Trail Curse and how much we hated stupid Lakeshore Trail. We were only half joking :) We were confused as the Brown Book let us know we should be crossing a large stream, Birchfield Branch, very shortly and we saw no such stream or 4’ falls like the book called for and wondered if we miscalculated. Around the 2.75 miles to go mark, we saw a sign indicating which way the hiking trail went and we had noticed the trail had widened out quite a bit. We were now following old NC-288, the road through all the old logging boomtowns that were located along the river before Fontana Lake was created. We started seeing lots of remnants of the people who used to live here, mainly their abandoned cars alongside the road. There were two together just past the junction off to the left. After going around a slight curve, there was another car body off to the left.
We continued on the fairly wide and level trail to a junction where the road at one time split. We found another car here and evidence of hog habitation, as well as a defunct hog trap. We went up another hill, declared our hatred for hills and stupid Lakeshore Trail (again, only half kidding!) and then the trail leveled out yet again for our last 0.8 miles. The land around here was very flat and part of the Coburn Homestead. The Brown Book states there are artifacts around, such as bottles and metal, but we didn’t see them, only another defunct hog trap. We came to the Lakeshore Trailhead and rejoiced to be finished. Now we just had to walk the old NC-288 road past the AT and down across the damn, about 1.25 miles.
The walk down to the dam was pleasant and quiet. The road is paved, but it looked like it had been closed to cars for a few months. Leaves covered the road and it was kind of eerie in a way, almost like in a postapocalyptic movie. We reached the dam and saw the crews working away (on a Sunday no less!) doing improvements on the dam. We took a few photos of the views as it was clear and cloudless. Once crossing the dam, we looked back toward the trail and could once again see the Shuckstack Firetower looming overhead. It was a very cool feeling to know we’d seen it from both sides of the mountain, as well as we’d been up at the firetower site earlier in the day. It’s always a good feeling when you can see just how far you’ve walked by seeing landmarks.
This was a great day in the Smokies with perfect fall weather.