Features: Fall Colors — River/Creek — Wildflowers
Dogs: No Dogs
The Beech Gap Trail (West) begins along Straight Fork Road about seventy-five yards below the bridge over Straight Fork on a moderately level course that proceeds up the Straight Fork gorge. The slopes flanking the stream were denuded of trees by the Parson Pulp and Lumber Company through the 1920s. Over the eighty years since Parson departed from the Smokies, yellow poplars have proven to be the most prolific tree species regenerating along Straight Fork. In springtime, wildflowers are abundant on the lower slopes.
Soon the trail turns away from the stream, becoming markedly steeper, and degenerating to an uneven rocky course, particularly where feeder streams and seepages leach away the soil. After winding among the contours for a little more than a mile, the trail proceeds to the back of a hollow and crosses Grass Branch, where the stream trickles off a rock ledge and out onto the trail. At this juncture, the trail diminishes to a single-file track angling steeply up and across the flank of Hyatt Ridge. In wintertime or at openings in the forest cover, the long curvature of Balsam Mountain is visible across the Straight Fork drainage.
The trail proceeds with little variation in grade for slightly over a mile before leveling out momentarily and entering into what initially appears to be a gap. This occurrence, known in Smoky Mountain parlance as a “false gap,” is noticeable when approaching the point of a finger ridge, particularly one that is level and fairly free of forest cover. As the trail rises to cross the ridge point, it often appears to the runner to be a characteristic gap in the ridgeline which harbors an intersection marking the trail’s end. On a steep climb such as the Beech Gap Trail, false gaps often give rise to false hopes. As a seasoned Smoky Mountaineer once expressed it, “You’ll thank you’re thar, but ye ain’t.”
At the false gap, the trail turns sharply left and climbs through open forests littered with fallen boles of American chestnut trees. More remarkable, however, are the extensive patches of trillium that blanket the slopes on both sides of the trail for several hundred yards. Here, the trail remains a narrow file, but the track ameliorates to a softer cushion underfoot. The appearance of red spruce trees heralds the approach into a true gap where the Beech Gap Trail terminates in an intersection with the Hyatt Ridge Trail
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
Yellow poplar, American chestnut, red spruce, trillium, rue anemones, prostrate bluets, white fringed phacelias, and Dutchman's-breeches abound along the trail.