Hikers view old-growth trees on Classic Hike of the Smokies

September 28, 2018

FOTS hiking group - Sept 2018

Hike leader Steve Winchester shares the experience of the September Classic Hike of the Smokies, hiking the Maddron Bald Trail and the Albright Grove Loop on Sept. 11. Linda Spangler provides photos of the hike.

by Steve Winchester

We assembled at the trailhead off Baxter Road at approximately 9:15 a.m. Parking is difficult at the trailhead when many cars are involved, so some of us parked at the trailhead and some parked up along Baxter Road.

FOTS hikers on Maddron Bald Trail - photo by Linda Spangler

Even though the day started cloudy, the hikers never encountered rain during the 6.5-mile hike. Photos by Linda Spangler

There were 13 of us who braved the ‘potentially’ bad weather to complete this lollipop loop (the trail being the shape of a lollipop). I say ‘potentially’ bad because we were in heavy fog coming from the west North Carolina side of the park, and the air was thick and wet, but we never actually saw any rain.

After we assembled, we hung around the parking lot for about 10 minutes waiting for a few who said they would join. Not long after 9:30, we set out up the trail.

For those who have never done Maddron Bald and/or the Albright Loop, the trail initially is more of a dirt road than a trail, making the start of the hike quite easy. It’s a steady climb throughout the hike (approximately a 1,500-foot climb overall), but it never seemed steep at any point.

Baxter Cabin in GSMNP

Hikers visited the Baxter Cabin, which was built about 1889 as a wedding present.

The first landmark we came to was the Baxter Cabin that dates to 1889. It’s a small, one-room cabin that is reported to have been built from a single chestnut tree as a wedding present. We did not spend any time there on the way in but did stop on the way out.

As you can see from the picture, it’s a well maintained cabin with a relatively new shake roof. (A shake is a single wood shingle, and a shake roof is made by individually applying shingles.)

Further up the trail, we encountered the intersection of Maddron Bald, Old Settler’s and Gabe Mountain trails.

We talked about the Maddron family cemetery just past the intersection down Old Settler’s but did not walk down that way to see it. The hope is that some will go back some other time to visit that cemetery.

As we continued along the Maddron Bald Trail, the trail got narrower, but it’s obviously a well-hiked trail because it was well maintained the entire loop.

Log bridge

Just before we got to the turn off for the Albright Grove Loop, we crossed the Indian Camp Branch over what looks to be a new bridge. The foot log and rails were in excellent shape as were the steps leading to/from the bridge.

Log footbridge on Maddron Bald Trail - photo by Linda Spangler

Log footbridge on Maddron Bald Trail.

Evidence of cut tree stumps nearby led us to believe the foot log was harvested within a few feet of the creek. As we moved through this part of the trail, we were already seeing some large old growth poplars.

By now, the air was not so heavy, and the visibility through the forest was excellent. Although the ground was wet most of the trail, there were very few places where we encountered any mud. So it was a great hike all day.

We stopped briefly at the Albright/Maddron intersection mainly to discuss our location and plan to stop back there after the loop for a lunch break. We also talked about the land and Horace Albright, second Director of the National Park Service, for whom the Albright Loop is named.

This was where our first sweep (Regina) left us for a side trip to her car – Marielle took over the role as sweep, hiking last in the group.

Old growth trees

old-growth poplar on Albright Loop - photo by Linda Spangler

This poplar trunk is what remains of what was one of the largest trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As we began the loop, we saw many more old growth poplars and maples initially, but, as we moved further up the trail, we came across some more large maples, fraser magnolias, silver bells and at least one old growth buckeye.

The trail was single file by this time, but everyone stayed somewhat together so we could stop and view the trees as a group.

The only risk factor we ran into throughout the day was a large hornet nest just past two huge silver bell trees right on the trail.  The nest was within a few feet of the trail, approximately half way on the Albright Loop.

Luckily the entrance to the nest was facing away from the trail so our large group didn’t disturb the hornets much. Just to be safe, we spread out a bit and walked by quickly and quietly to avoid incident.

Not far past that nest was a poplar tree trunk that, according to the trail literature, was (at one time) one of the largest trees in the park.  Still an impressive trunk but most of it was gone.

The Albright Loop rejoined the Maddron Bald Trail a few tenths of a mile from where we left it.

We walked down to initial intersection and stopped for a feedbag break – it was exactly noon at this time.

From that point, we continued back toward the trailhead with a few brief discussion stops but mainly kept moving until reaching the Baxter cabin. Everyone spent some time at the cabin then made their way back to the parking lot.

It was a great day for hiking, a great trail and a great hiking group.


The October Classic Hike will be the Flat Creek Trail, a 5.2-mile hike on October 9. The hike features mountain vistas and a Masonic Temple.

Each Classic Hike of the Smokies is $20 for members and $35 for new and renewing members, which includes a one-year membership. You must register in advance.

The hike is a fundraiser for Trails Forever, a partnership between Friends of the Smokies and the National Park Service. Trails Forever funds a full-time trail crew to reconstruct and rehabilitate some of the park’s most impacted trails. Currently, the crew is working on the Rainbow Falls Trail.

The Classic Hikes of the Smokies series is sponsored by Smoky Mountain Living, Mission Health, Diamond Brand Outdoors, Equilibar, HomeTrust Bank, Smoky Park Supper Club, and Leap Frog Tours.