|Trail Features:||Stream, Wildflowers|
|Trail Location:||Smokemont Campground|
|Roundtrip Length:||6.5 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1441 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||443 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||3641 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||9.38 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.55311|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.30928|
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, drive 3.5 miles north along Newfound Gap Road before turning right into the Smokemont Campground. The parking area for this hike is located directly across the bridge as you turn into the campground. The trailhead provides access to the Bradley Fork Trail, which forms the eastern portion of the Smokemont Loop hike.
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 25.6 miles south along Newfound Gap Road to reach the Smokemont Campground.
Maybe it's just me, but I found a lot of issues and problems with the signage in this area, which is uncharacteristic of the Great Smoky Mountains. First of all, there's no sign at all for the Smokemont Loop Trailhead that begins near the southwest corner of the campground. We knew that the Bradley Fork Trail begins at the northern end of the campground, but that portion of the campground was closed for the winter. So, having never been here before, we weren’t exactly sure where we needed to pick-up the trailhead.
We decided to begin this hike from the trailhead located directly across the bridge that crosses the Oconaluftee River as you turn into the campground entrance road. This is also near the Luftee Baptist Church, or is it the Smokemont Baptist Church? For some reason the park has two signs in this vicinity seemingly indicating two names for the same church.
This particular location is now marked on the current official trail map as the trailhead for this hike. The prior map showed the trail starting from the far end of the campground (the map below reflects the old map). If you were to start your hike from the far end of the campground you would be cutting-off less than four-tenths-of-a-mile from the total hiking distance listed for this hike description.
At this trailhead, look for the sign indicating access to the Bradley Fork Trail.
The first two miles of this hike follows the Benton MacKaye Trail, a footpath stretching nearly 300 miles through the Southern Appalachian Mountains (including 96 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains). The trail was designed in the tradition of the Appalachian Trail, which was the brainchild of Benton MacKaye, a forester and co-founder of The Wilderness Society.
During the first mile or so you'll pass a series of trail signs. Continue hiking in a northerly direction while following the Benton MacKaye Trail. At just over a mile you'll reach the official Bradley Fork Trail.
At roughly 2 miles you'll reach the Chasteen Creek Trail junction. From here the Benton MacKaye Trail follows Chasteen Creek before ultimately ending its long journey at Davenport Gap. To continue on the Smokemont Loop hike, stay to the left and continue on the Bradley Fork Trail, which is a nice wide path throughout this section.
The Bradley Fork Trail is also known for the wildflower display it puts on in the spring. During the early spring season, hepaticas, violets, and foam flower are found along the path. As the season progresses, umbrella leaf and Fraser's sedge begin to bloom on the higher elevations of the trail. You can also find wood and rue anemone, Vasey's trillium, beaked violets and crested dwarf iris in April and May. From April thru July, look for wild strawberry, Robin's plantain and Canadian violets.
At just over 2.5 miles from the trailhead you'll finally reach the Smokemont Loop Trail junction. Turn left here and walk down the hill. Here you'll cross over the Bradley Fork on one of the longest footbridges in the park. Soon after crossing the bridge the trail begins a steady climb of more than 1100 feet over the next 1.4 miles as it passes over the northeastern slopes of Richland Mountain.
As you approach the top of the climb hikers will have sporadic and partial views of Newfound Gap and the North Carolina side of the Smokies.
At nearly 6.2 miles you'll reach the Smokemont Campground. To complete the loop you'll have to walk another three-tenths of a mile down the campground entrance road to reach the parking area.
Just before reaching the Smokemont Campground, and before crossing the old auto bridge (built in 1921), the trail passes the small, partially overgrown Bradley cemetery, which will be on your right.
As one of the base camps for the Champion Fibre Company, Smokemont was once a thriving lumber town with homes, businesses and a school. It also housed a logging mill, commissary, a club house, and even a hotel. In the early 1920s the sawmill at Smokemont produced up to 45,000 feet of lumber and pulp wood per day.