October 23, 2019
Hike leader Steve Winchester shares the group’s experience of hiking the October Classic Hike of the Smokies — a lollipop trail of Hyatt Ridge Trail to McGee Spring Campsite, then Beech Gap Trail and Straight Fork Road.
by Steve Winchester
Due to the weather forecast, a number of those signed up to take this hike cancelled at the last minute leaving a smaller than usual group.
But for those of us who braved the weather, it turned out to be a good one.
We did have some rain, but it was relatively minor and the rain we had (which was welcome after weeks of dry weather) did not alter our plans at any.
For those who have taken this loop clockwise, which includes the Hyatt Ridge and Beech Gap trails, note that it climbs 2,200 feet in less than four miles.
For this reason, we took a number of short breaks along the way to catch breathers and keep the group together.
We lost one hiker during the climb as he realized he would rather go fishing than continue along the trail. (We hope his fishing excursion was successful.)
Our first significant stop was at the intersection of Hyatt Ridge and Enloe Creek trails (approximately two miles in on the trail).
At that point, we discussed briefly the logging operations for spruce that took place around the time of WWI. The trail is a little bit rocky but well maintained and used so everyone traversed it well.
After our extended break, we continued upward along the Hyatt Ridge trail, noticing the apparent line where logging operations stopped as we reemerged into a forest with some spruce.
This section was more mixed with steep parts as well as flat parts, climbing to the intersection if Hyatt Ridge and Beech Gap.
Three of our group chose to stay at that intersection (approximately 3.5 miles in) while the rest of us continued onto camp site #44.
We stopped at the camp site for a brief lunch break and explored around the area.
At this point, the weather started to get a bit worse and knowing we left three back further on the trail, we didn’t stay too long at the campsite.
We met back with the others at that trail intersection and continued down the Beech Gap Trail back to the main road and our cars.
Beech Gap from Hyatt Ridge was entirely downhill. Again a well-used trail so it was clear of any debris. We made good time back to the road.
There were a few rain showers along the way but nothing significant.
According to the brown hiking guide (Hiking Trails of the Smokies), there are a number of exposed rocks that are around 1 billion years old.
We saw a number of exposed rock along the trail (especially this part), but none of us had a geological background so we could not identify the older ones.
Regardless, there were some outstanding rock formations to enjoy – even for the non-geologists.
We made our way back to the road by around 1:30.
It was a great day to be in the woods, and the group seemed to genuinely enjoy the hike.
It was too early to enjoy much Fall color and the rain did force a few of us to drag out our rain gear along the way, but it is a great loop for anyone looking for a nice day hike.
Thanks to Linda Spangler for providing the photos of the hike. You can see more of her photos from the hike on FOTS Facebook.
The Classic Hikes of the Smokies are the second Tuesday of the month, from March through December. Each Classic Hike is $20 for FOTS members and $35 for new and renewing members, which includes a one-year membership.
The November Classic Hike will be on Tuesday, Nov. 12. The 12-mile hike is to Thomas Divide and Indian Creek. The hike is difficult, with a 2,600-foot elevation gain.
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.