On Sunday, I hiked with some friends of mine down the Sugarland Mountain Trail and we came out Huskey Gap Trail. We started the hike off Clingmans Dome Road and hiked on the AT for 0.2 miles before reaching Sugarland Mountain. From the beginning of the hike I was expecting a day much like the one before, as the elevation, temperature, and humidity were all about the same and the trail was just as muddy, but I was in for a big surprise!
After heading down Sugarland Mountain Trail for about 1 mile, the rocky trail ended and the soft dirt began. As we descended down the spine of Sugarland Mountain, the fog began to lift and the plant life and weather began to change. Towards the top we saw many fraiser fir trees and not too much in terms of greenery other than a few ferns here and there along the trail. Once we got closer to the Rough Creek Trail junction, the variety started to show itself. We also ended up with spectacular views.
LeConte was highly visible, as well as the valley into Elkmont and Chimney Tops. It’s very strange to be able to look at the Chimney’s from above, as I’ve only ever done that from the Alum Cave Trail before. The flora, however, was the real show stopper. We saw at least 75 turk’s cap lillies, several colors of bee balm, trillium fruiting, ferns everywhere, heal-all, Indian pipe at least 6-7 inches high, FOUR yellow-fringed orchids, rhododenron blooming, one very small section of flame azalea, black cohosh, and I’m sure a few I’m forgetting. Every time we thought the flowers were probably done, we’d see even more. For about 4 miles we saw nothing but gorgeous greenery and colorful wildflowers.
We stopped at the old campsite 21 for a short break and refueling and then we were off again to Huskey Gap. The Huskey Gap trail didn’t have much in the way of greenery or flowers. We did see silver bells, but that was about it. We also spotted a bear on the trail about a quarter-mile in front of us. We knew we’d see one because the entire way down Sugarland Mountain was covered in bear scat and most all the rocks on the trail had been recently worked loose if you looked down at them. Fortunately, the bear heard us coming, took a look, and scampered off down the trail. We didn’t see him again.
The road really sneaked up on us, which was strange considering how busy Newfound Gap Road is. All of a sudden you could see it, and you can see it before you hear it. Getting back from this easy 11.2 mile hike wasn’t difficult at all and thankfully we were all able to cross the road quickly and safely.
Sugarland Mountain Trail was truly an unexpected treat for me. It’s so beautiful and unspoiled I hate to share the fact that it was so wonderful with anyone else for fear it might become too popular and lose it’s magic.