Hiking in the Cataloochee Valley, NC

Well I’ve been a little lax getting up the blog on our hike with Upstate Hiking to the Cataloochee Valley.  Maybe it’s just a case of the summer doldrums.

The car trip to the valley was mostly uneventful although the gravel road (which was actually in pretty good shape) Cove Creek Road had half a lane gone for a short distance from a slide and we navigated next to the hill with only a row of red cones and the drop off to our right.  Because of all the rain in the Carolinas and Georgia, I’ve noticed a lot of slides.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is currently closed for 20 miles and 178 north of Pickens had a slide a couple weeks ago now. I’m not sure what the condition of that road is at this point but probably should find out in case we need to go that way some time.

The trailhead we were planning to start at is just past the campground on the left and we tried several parking places before we settled on one. I started off up the road looking for it, not finding it, as the group followed behind.  What we did see were two large elk grazing on the side of the road. DSCN6558 A park ranger had pulled up and was standing by her car as I walked up to her to ask a few questions. She was really very nice and explained that it was not rutting season and they were not particularly aggressive at this time of year. They are large animals and I suspect used to the tourists that come to visit.  DSCN6557We snapped a few pictures from afar.  They aren’t the best but I’d have had to get closer to them and decided that wasn’t an option.

We pulled our map out again and decided to turn back and look for the trailhead closer to the camping (Caldwell Fork Trail). Fortunately we did find it but unfortunately the bridge had been washed away. I was considering forging it and some of our members started to take off their shoes but one of them very kindly pointed out the small sign by the road which said there were actually 3 bridges out on this trail. So we decided to shift the start of our hike down to the Big Fork Ridge trailhead. Back into the cars we went. As we drove, we observed several homesteads, a little white church, and an old barn. The elk we saw 15 minutes earlier had meandered back to a homestead and were grazing off to the side. Also, off to our right, across a large open field we saw the path to the cemetery but we didn’t stop for a visit.

DSCN6561We found our parking spot by the trail, got everybody in gear, and made our first water crossing on a log bridge. DSCN6563

The trails we hiked were the Big Fork Ridge, Caldwell Fork Trail, Rough Fork Trail back to the parking lot (about 9.3 miles approx.). DSCN6569 DSCN6564I would say that most of them were pretty muddy for this hike.  DSCN6567It has been raining a lot and that was to be expected.  None of them had any views to speak of but they were all very green.  DSCN6576

We did a nice loop through the woods, meandering over hill and dale and ended up back at the same field where we left the cars.  I think my expectations were a little different for this hike.  The woods were pleasant but nothing spectacular. DSCN6591 DSCN6574-001

The old houses were interesting and we entered one of them and got a little sense of what it would have been like to live here before the land was taken for the park.  I really enjoyed my hiking companions, all very nice people, and we had some good conversations.  I do understand that in the fall the elk are in rut (if that is the way you say it) and the valley fills up with people and cars like a tailgating party with grills, and cameras, and other types of frivolity.  Not sure how I feel about that.DSCN6586

The Cataloochee Valley seems to be a pretty quiet place with a few visitors, at least on the day we were there, and manages to retain a little of its sense of what it once was.  I can imagine the sound of someone sawing wood, and chickens running out in the front yard by the little stream out front of the house we visited.  The wife/mother of the house taking a quick lick and a promise with her broom to clear out the dirt from the wood floors dragged in from outside by her husband.  No phone. No electric. No internet. Just the occasional visit from a neighbor with the news and a walk down to church on the Sundays when a preacher made it over to preach.Window in the Cataloochee Valley, NC

Anyway, I’m glad we finally made it there. Not sure when we’ll get back. But I suspect it will still be there as a testament to those rugged families who settled here.



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