Kanati Fork Trail
|Trail Location:||Between Newfound Gap and Cherokee|
|Roundtrip Length:||4.0 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1495 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||748 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||4328 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||6.99 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.58792|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.36356|
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 21.4 miles south along Newfound Gap Road (8 miles past Clingmans Dome Road). The parking area for the Kanati Fork Trail is easy to miss. The parking lot will be on the left side of the road; however, the trailhead is on the opposite side of the road. If you reach the Kephart Prong Trailhead you've gone a half-mile too far.
From Cherokee, go north for almost 12 miles on Newfound Gap Road. The parking area will be on your right.
The Kanati Fork Trail follows just above the Kanati Fork Creek for the first half-mile or so. Since the creek lies in a valley roughly 50 feet below the trail, you'll only be able to catch a few glimpses of the stream as you climb upward - if you're hiking when leaves are on the trees. During the winter months the stream appears as white ribbon cutting a path through the bottom of the valley.
The creek and the trail are named after the mythical Cherokee hunter, Kanati. Legend has it that Kanati, also known as "First Man," did all the hunting for his family, as well as for the entire village. His wife, Selu, gave the Cherokee People the gift of corn, which became their principal crop.
During the early portions of the hike you'll notice a lot of rhododendron adjacent to the trail and in the valley below you. As the Kanati Fork Trail meanders uphill you'll cross over several small creeks under the canopy of large hemlocks and yellow poplars. The trail is a steady climb, but you really won't notice the elevation gain if you're goal is spotting wildflowers.
Two nights prior to our most recent hike on this trail, a powerful storm ripped through the Smokies and dumped marble-sized hail that damaged flowers and foliage in much of this area. Despite all the damage we still saw a variety of wildflowers, including Canadian violets, Vasey's trillium, painted trillium, Northern white violets, wake robin, brook lettuce and false Solomon's seal.
Late April is usually the best time to hike the Kanati Fork if you're searching for wildflowers. However, you can expect to see early yellow violets as early as March. By April, you may begin to see cut-leaved toothwort, dwarf cinquefoil, large-flowered bellwort and white baneberry.
Some late summer/early fall flowers you can expect to see on the Kanati Fork Trail include beaked dodder, bee balm and Turk's cap lily.
We ended this hike after walking only two miles. You do have the option of continuing on for another mile to the Thomas Ridge Trail junction, however, most of the wildflowers will be within the first two miles of the hike.