Fork Ridge Trail
ElevationAscent: 0' 0 m
Descent: -2,822' -860 m
High: 5,888' 1,795 m
Low: 3,065' 934 m
GradeAvg Grade: 10% (6°)
Max Grade: 20% (12°)
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“A moderate descent through vibrant wildflowers and established eastern hardwoods to Deep Creek.”— Ken Wise
When it leaves Clingmans Dome Road, the Fork Ridge Trail settles into a steady descent, quickly reaching a spring that spills out onto the path before entering a boreal forest. Formations of upthrust rock comprise much of the immediate terrain, making the trail itself rough and rocky in places.
One mile below the road, the trail turns onto an east-facing slope affording some fine views across the Deep Creek watershed and into a veritable sea of mountains ranging deep into North Carolina. Here, the trail completes a series of switchbacks before regaining the spine of Fork Ridge. Along the ridge, the grade moderates nicely. Visible to the left is a short section of Newfound Gap Road running along the crest of the Thomas Divide. On the right is the upper end of the Noland Divide.
The trail remains on the spine of Fork Ridge for only a quarter-mile before rolling off to the right into a long steady descent that roughly parallels the ridgeline. Here, the rushing of Left Fork becomes clearly audible in the gorge below. As it continues descending, the trail circumnavigates a minor ridge point, circling to the left and quickly arriving at a narrow neck in Fork Ridge known as Deep Creek Gap.
In the day of the Smoky Mountain hunter, Deep Creek Gap was a major landmark, being the only convenient place of passage between the upper reaches of Deep Creek and Left Fork. Well-known camps were situated on both sides of the gap.
At Deep Creek Gap, the trail becomes exceedingly steep, dropping through a cove to Deep Creek. As it approaches the stream, the trail winds through a small patch of nettle-infested boggy ground before reaching a slight hummock at the edge of the stream.
From the hummock, the trail proceeds across Deep Creek in a difficult crossing and then immediately terminates into the Deep Creek Trail. Fifty yards downstream, the Deep Creek Trail enters the Poke Patch Backcountry Campsite (#53), one of the oldest camps in the Smoky backcountry.
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.
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Land Manager: NPS - Great Smoky Mountains National Park