Flat Creek Trail – Classic Hike of the Smokies

November 9, 2018

FOTS Oct 2018 Classic Hike - photo by Linda Spangler

The FOTS October Classic Hike of Flat Creek Trail was led by Jack Case. A life-long resident of the Maggie Valley, Jack shares insights about the area during the hike on a day when they saw elk and mountain views. He describes the hike in this blog post.


by Jack Case

On the way to Flat Creek Trailhead along Heintooga Ridge Road you most likely will see some elk that migrated up the Rough Fork Trail from the Cataloochee Valley shortly after being re-introduced into the area. The area is favorable habitat for elk, bears, foxes and turkeys.

GSMNP elk - photo by Jack Case

Elk grazing along roadside. Photo by Jack Case

There are very nice views from the road of Lake Junaluska, Maggie Valley, and from Mile High overlook to just name a few.

We drove to the hike in a bit of fog, but the temperatures warmed up from the mid-40s and we had some sun.

The Flat Creek Trail hike is rated moderate easy. Round trip is 5.2 miles with 700-feet elevation changes. This is a great trail for all levels. We had several first timers in our group.

We chose to hike the trail from the trailhead just off Heintooga Ridge Road and take a break at the Heintooga picnic area. Just to the east of the trailhead is Sugartree Licks and Whim Knob, which can be hiked to via the Hemphill Bald Trail from Poll’s Gap. The trail decends rapidly and crosses the unnamed tributary of Bunches Creek before rounding a ridge to Bunches Creek.

Traveling up Overlook Ridge to the Flat Creek drainage area leaves the Bunches Creek area quite rapidly. The trail is fairly flat from there and follows Flat Creek closely until you get to Flat Creek Bald as the trail rounds the knob and winds up at the Heintooga picnic area.

Beautiful views, waterfalls

There are beautiful views to the north and the west, and the bench near the end of the trail is a favorite spot to watch the sunset.

Along the trail you have a typical mix of vegetation and trees associated with the Balsam mountains, including but not limited to, oaks, maples, birch, poplar, hickory and spruces.

There are two waterfalls near the trail — Bunches Creek Falls and Flat Creek Falls.

Unfortunately the trail to Flat Creek Falls has been abandoned for quite some time and is not even visible, as the access to the top of the falls is dangerous as the loose dirt and mosses make for unstable terrain. You cannot see the falls from the top anyway. Bunches Creek falls is much the same as they are almost impossible to get to or see.

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Thanks to Linda Spangler for her photos from the hike. See more of Linda Spangler’s photos from the hike on FOTS Facebook page.

Join Friends of the Smokies on Tuesday, Nov. 27, for a hike on one of the park’s most popular trails — the Chimney Tops Trail. The hike originally was scheduled for Nov. 13, but was rescheduled due to the weather.

The hike will be led by Former Deputy Superintendent Kevin FitzGerald. Learn about the 2015 restoration of the Chimney Tops Trail from Ranger Josh Shapiro, a member of the Trails Forever crew.

The hike is 3.5-miles roundtrip with a 1,300-foot elevation change. It will be a steady climb, but together we will reach the new observation area for a view of the rocky outcroppings impacted by the 2016 fire.

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.