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Trail Running the Cataloochee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Wednesday, July 09 2014 @ 06:41 PM UTC
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I recently had a chance to do some trail running in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After checking the maps near our rental cabin, the nearest trail I could find was the Cataloochee Divide Trail. I was able to get to the trailhead after about a 20 minute drive.

One word of warning... there isn't much parking at the trailhead at Cove Creek Gap on Cove Creek Road. I have read other hiking reports on the web that suggest parking at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Gap or at The Swag Country Inn (SWAG), but I recommend reading those reports for all of the caveats.

Parking and restroom facilities are available in the Cataloochee Valley itself and there are many connecting and loop trails that lead back up to the ridge trails.

I ran from the trailhead at Cove Creek Gap to the McKee Branch Trail and back again, which according to the trail signs was 4.6 miles each way.

Although tree growth obstructs much of the view of the surrounding mountains, there are a few places that offer spectacular views:

The trail was very runnable and much of it looked like this:

This overlook provided an exceptional view of the Cataloochee Valley:

There is a neat little shelter at Taylor's Turnaround:

View from Taylor's Turnaround:

According to my phone GPS, the trail started at around 4000 feet and climbed to a little under 5000 feet. The highest point of this section is just a little bit before the junction with McKee Branch Trail and Hemphill Bald Trail. To get above 5000 feet, I would have needed to continue on to Hemphill Bald Trail. I turned around at the signs at Purchase Gap:

After completing my run, I decided to drive onward into the Cataloochee Valley. I was hoping to see Elk but I only saw deer.

The 65 degree temperatures at elevation were a really nice break from the Florida summer heat. I think it could be really fun to camp in the Cataloochee Valley for a week and explore the miles of surrounding trails.

A fast-flowing stream to cool one's tired feet:

The National Park Service web site for the Cataloochee area:

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