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Gunter Fork Trail

Difficult
 2.4 (5)

A beautiful trail rich with colorful eastern hardwoods and the must-see Gunter Fork Cascade.


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Map Key

4.1

Miles

6.6

KM

72%

Runnable

5,519' 1,682 m

High

3,194' 973 m

Low

2,328' 710 m

Up

3' 1 m

Down

11%

Avg Grade (6°)

22%

Max Grade (13°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers

Rarely is Big Creek sufficiently shallow to be crossed by rock hopping. Most often the opposite bank can be reached by wading, although, after heavy rainstorms the stream becomes a raging torrent that can be dangerously difficult if not impossible to cross.

Description

When it leaves the Camel Gap Trail, the Gunter Fork Trail quickly crosses Big Creek before striking an easy course through a bottomland that is slowly reclaiming some semblance of its primeval forested grandeur.

After a quarter-mile, the trail crosses Gunter Fork and later a small feeder stream, at which point the grade stiffens perceptibly. The trail continues its stream-side course for another half-mile before approaching Gunter Fork a second time, angling away from the stream and onto an even steeper grade. Over this interval, the trail works its way along the flank of the Gunter Fork drainage, crossing Gunter Fork twice more before completing a sharp turn that brings it back to the stream just above an attractive pool, housing a 30-foot cascade down a near vertical rock slide.

Beyond the pool, the trail narrows to a smooth berm and proceeds on a leisurely stream-side course before approaching what appear to be two channels of Gunter Fork separated by a thirty-foot wedge of boulder-strewn ground. The trail crosses both channels, turns upstream, and proceeds to the base of Gunter Fork Cascade, a steeply pitched shield of bare rock that extends 150 feet upward from the edge of the trail. Thin sheets of water glide noiselessly down the face, forming a cascade that is remarkable both for its length and unconventional beauty.

At the fall’s base, the trail passes through a pool and proceeds to climb a switchback angling the trail away from the stream along a narrow berm affixed to the steeply sloped mountainside.

Continuing on, the trail follows the contours of the northern face of Balsam Mountain, where a ridge point affords glimpses of the high Smoky divide, Sevenmile Beech Ridge, and Mount Sterling Ridge.

At this juncture, the trail remains moderately steep as it edges onto a southerly course, climbing to the crest of Balsam Mountain, where it ends at an intersection with the Balsam Mountain Trail. As elevation is gained, the terrain becomes noticeably rocky, and there is little undergrowth except for thick beds of feathery sphagnum moss that cover the rocks.

This content was contributed by author Ken Wise. For a comprehensive hiking guide to the Great Smoky Mountains and to see more by Ken, click here.

Flora & Fauna

Yellow birch, red maple, hemlock, black cherry, red spruce, Fraser fir, rhododendron, and dog-hobble are abundant along the trail.

Contacts

Shared By:

Ken Wise

Trail Ratings

  2.4 from 5 votes

#8

in Big Creek

#37983

Overall
  2.4 from 5 votes
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Trail Rankings

#8

in Big Creek

#1,478

in North Carolina

#37,983

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1,756 Since Aug 2, 2016
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Photos

Gunter Fork Cascade
Jan 24, 2021 near Cove Creek, NC
Just past the third creek fording down from Gunter Fork Cascade, heading toward Big Creek.
Jan 24, 2021 near Cove Creek, NC
Gunter Fork Falls
Jan 24, 2021 near Cove Creek, NC
This is typical for the trail between Gunter Fork Cascades and the intersection for Balsam Mountain Trail. It's maybe 2 boots wide for a lot of it. I'd suggest taking this trail up and looping back with another trail down.
Apr 17, 2017 near Cove Creek, NC
This was Gunter Fork Cascades, taken during a drought in November 2016. I'm sure it's much better during the spring or early summer.
Apr 17, 2017 near Cove Creek, NC

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Oct 4, 2016
John Silkey