Goldmine Loop Trail and lunch at Swain County Visitor Center cap off 2019 Classic Hike season

December 21, 2019

  • hikers on Goldmine Trail - photo by Jason Burton

The Goldmine Loop Trail completed the 2019 Classic Hikes of the Smokies series. Hike leader Danny Bernstein shares the hike in this guest blog post. Bernstein, an outdoor writer and blogger, recently received FOTS Spirit of Philanthropy award for her 16 years of support and volunteerism. She helped create the Classic Hike of the Smokies series.

by Danny Bernstein

It’s a cool and wet December morning when ten hikers (soon to be eleven) show up at the Lakeview Road trailhead out of Bryson City. Most hikers refer to this as the Tunnel to Nowhere, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t use this term.

FOTS Goldmine Trail hikers - photo by Jason Burton

Hikers in the Tunnel as part of the Goldmine Trail hike. Photo by Jason Burton

This area is steeped in history – some very recent. See the article in National Parks Traveler for details.

The trail going into the tunnel is also the Benton MacKaye Trail, a footpath of nearly 300 miles through the Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern United States.

The Benton MacKaye Trail goes from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Big Creek Campground on the northern edge of the Smokies. Some hikers take it instead of the A.T. through the park.

We soon get off Lakeshore Trail and onto Goldmine Loop Trail.

Now the trail might look like just a trail in the woods, but it had many homesites in its day — some still recognizable as piles of rocks. The trail goes down steeply to Fontana Lake.

Fontana Lake

We stepped off the trail and onto Fontana Lake. And who should appear but Linda S. with her characteristic grin.

“Sorry I’m late,” Linda says.

“Sorry? We’re thrilled that you made it.” Linda drives from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to join these hikes.

Fontana Lake in December - photo by Jason Burton

The Goldmine Trail goes along a section of Fontana Lake. Photo by Jason Burton

The lake is pretty dry here; it’s just a finger of the gigantic lake. We can see all the garbage that hikers and kayakers dropped in the water. How is it possible that this area is so dirty when the rest of the park is so clean?

The answer is that we had stepped over a border. Fontana Lake is not in the national park but in Nantahala National Forest. Too much trash to even attempt to clean it up. We take some pictures and continue on the trail.

We climb up and find a hog trap. Incidentally, this area is the only place in the park where I saw a hog years ago. It was a small hog, which just zoomed across the trail before I could react.

At the top of the trail, I ask if Goldmine Loop was a new trail for the hikers. Several people raise their hand.

When Marielle and I scouted the hike the previous week, I learned that Marielle had never been on the Goldmine Loop. Since she is working on her Smokies 900 Miler Club, this trail got her a little further to her goal.

Tunnel Bypass sign - photo by Danny Bernstein

We see this confusing sign. But somehow, we figure it out and take the Tunnel By-Pass trail back to the road and our car. We had bypassed the tunnel.

Swain County Visitor Center

lunch provided by Swain County Visitor Center for FOTS reception

The Swain County Visitor Center provided lunch for FOTS hikers. Photo Jason Burton

But the day isn’t over. After the hike, we drive over to the Swain County Visitor Center for refreshments and to check out the Great Smoky Mountains Association store.

The Visitor Center are perfect hosts. They’ve laid out a great lunch of sandwiches and an assortment of Christmas cookies in the little meeting room off the museum on the second floor.

After lunch, I check out the new books at the Smokies Store and buy my winter supply of honey and jam.

It’s time to register for the 2020 Classic Hikes of the Smokies. Check out the full list, and sign up here.


FOTS says thanks!

Thanks to the hike leaders for the 2019 Classic Hikes – Danny Bernstein, Jack Case, Lynda Doucette, Mike Knies, Dolly McLean, Beth Ransom, and Steve Winchester.

Special thanks to all those who contributed photos of the hikes for the blog posts – especially Linda Spangler.

A big thanks to the sponsors of the Classic Hikes – Smoky Mountain Living, Equilibar, and HomeTrust Bank.

The Classic Hikes of the Smokies series 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 used trails– including Alum Cave Trail, Chimney Tops Trail, Forney Ridge Trail and Rainbow Falls Trail. The Trails Forever crew recently completed the first phase of restoring Trillium Gap Trail.

Make Classic Hikes of the Smokies part of your 2020 hiking experience. The dates are posted, and you can register now.

Classic Hikes of the Smokies sponsored by
Smoky Mountain Living