|Trail Features:||Wildflowers, Quiet Forest Hike|
|Trail Location:||Between Townsend and Cades Cove|
|Roundtrip Length:||3.8 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||513 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||270 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||2158 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||4.83 (easy)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.62696|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.72645|
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Townsend "Y" intersection, drive west on Laurel Creek Road towards Cades Cove. The parking area for the Schoolhouse Gap Trail will be located on your right, 3.7 miles from the Townsend "Y" intersection.
The day we hiked the Schoolhouse Gap Trail the National Park Service had posted a couple of signs at the trailhead indicating that there had been bear activity on this trail, and for hikers to use caution. Interestingly, when we got to the end of the trail at the Chestnut Top Trail junction, there was a sign indicating that the Schoolhouse Gap Trail was closed due to aggressive bear activity.
I write this as a reminder that no matter when or where, you are always in bear country when hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hikers should know how to avoid bear encounters, and know what to do should you see one on the trail. The Smokies website is a good place to start.
The Schoolhouse Gap Trail is an excellent trail for spring wildflowers. We saw several Virginia bluebells on the lower portions of the trail. As we proceeded higher we also saw beaked violets, pink lady's slippers, fairy wand, golden aster, star grass, red clover, Robin's plantain, sun drops, Catesby's trillium and lyre-leaf sage. The trail also had its share of rhododendron and mountain laurel, which were just beginning to bloom during our mid-May hike. Hikers can also find cardinal flower, Carolina vetch and yellow ragwort along this route as well.
From July through October, hikers may also see southern harebell, purple ironweed, blue lobelia and sweet Joe Pye weed while out on the trail.
The trail itself is a wide horse path in which three people could easily walk abreast. At just under a mile the Turkeypen Ridge Trail branches off to the left. Hikers should proceed straight ahead here to continue on towards Schoolhouse Gap.
You may notice a large boar trap at this junction. In the early 1900s a local rancher brought two dozen European wild boars to his hunting ranch, several of which eventually escaped into the mountains. Unfortunately this invasive species roots out native plants, destroys stream banks, and carries a variety of diseases that can sicken or even kill wildlife. Using traps, wildlife managers have been fighting to remove the hogs from the park over the last several decades.
Just past the Turkeypen Ridge Trail is another trail that forks off to the left. Although an unmarked trail, it leads to the fairly well known White Oaks Sinks area. This trail will take you toward a beautiful meadow and, further along, a towering cliff with a cave, known as Blowhole Cave, which emits a constant flow of icy, refreshing air. There are a few confusing social trails in this area, so make sure you know exactly where you're going before deciding to venture down this path.
To continue on towards Schoolhouse Gap, hikers should proceed straight ahead here.
Just past this junction we saw a large owl. It appeared to stand about a foot in height, and had at least a three-foot wing span. I've only seen 2 or 3 owls in the wild, so this was quite a treat.
This hike ends at the Chestnut Top Trail junction, just over 1.9 miles from the trailhead. You can continue on for another two-tenths of a mile to Schoolhouse Gap, which will take you to a private residence just outside of the park boundary.