GSMNP – Albright Grove Dayhike

Photo Album for this hike.

We start off the trip by driving nine hours in the rain. By the time we reach Pigeon Forge, the rain has petered out and the skies have begun to clear. The next morning, we’re heading for Cosby. Destination is the Maddron Bald trailhead. Its time we make the long awaited trip to see the big trees of Albright Grove. I should note here that the photo album from this hike is all jumbled up. The pics aren’t necessarily in sequential order of the hike. I used my phone while Loonie used her 35mm and the date/time on it needs to be reset. So, it’s a bit confusing.

After a seemingly endless search for the trailhead, we arrive just after 10 AM. This is NOT how we intended on starting our hike but we’re soon moving up the trail under a bright blue sky. The track is wide and the grade gentle. The “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” guide, widely referred to as “The Little Brown Book”, says a CCC camp was established here in 1933. The men posted here built most of the trails and bridges in the area. The first 1.7 mi of Maddron Bald Trail is old road bed, making for an easy trek.

Maddron Bald Trailhead
Maddron Bald Trail

We reach the Willis Baxter cabin, built in 1889, in short order. It’s said that the cabin was likely built from a single Chestnut tree and much of the original timber remains intact. The giant Chestnut trees of the East are long gone, victims of blight a century ago. Should the current efforts to bring a blight-restitant American Chestnut back be successful, maybe one day they will fill this park again. You can find out more about these efforts here.

Giant Chestnuts, circa 1910. (credit: Forest History Society)
Willis Baxter Cabin

We look over the cabin and stroll on, reaching the junction of the Gabes Mountain and Old Settlers trails at 1.2 miles in. We continue straight ahead, still following the old road. We’re setting no speed records. It’s too nice out and we’re content to take our time looking for wildflowers.

We cross a couple of small creeks but culverts spare your shoes from getting wet. Already we’re seeing some large trees here and there, though I haven’t the slightest clue what species I’m looking at. This would have driven my father completely nuts. He was quite the amateur botanist. I regret now my lack of interest earlier on in life in acquiring at least a rudimentary knowledge of such things. Something I’ll need to remedy. I do however recognize the Trillium, Trout Lillys and Squawroot we’re seeing.

White Trillium
Trout Lilly

Indian Camp Creek is crossed via a nice footbridge. A few pics and we move on. We drop our stuff at the lower junction of the Albright Grove Loop Trail and have lunch.

Indian Camp Creek

That out of the way, we decide to proceed up the Maddron Bald Trail to the upper junction and begin the loop there. The loop trail is only 0.7 mile in length but we take our time looking at all of the massive trees. A number of them have lost their tops high above. Many seem to be barely hanging on or even dead and ready to topple over. It’s sad. You can’t help but think what this area, or the Appalachians as a whole, must have looked like long ago, before all of the logging and blight. Especially when the massive Chestnuts were so abundant. Still, it’s impressive. These pictures don’t do it justice.

We finish the loop and retrace our steps to the van. Now its off to dinner and back to the room to make final preparations for an overnight hike up Noland Creek tomorrow. The forecast looks fantastic! Hopefully we can be up and on the road before the hoards decide to join us. This place is packed to the gills. We’ve been here many times before and this is as bad as I’ve ever seen it. I can’t wait to move over to the other side of the mountains!

More to come…


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