There is nothing subtle about the beginning of the Sugarland Mountain Trail. When the trail leaves Little River Road, it turns abruptly left and begins switching sharply in and out of deep ravines as it climbs steeply out of Fighting Creek Gap. The first mile, though an arduous climb, is not without its attractions. In springtime, the adjacent slopes are festooned with numerous wildflowers. Where there are openings in the forest cover, Balsam Point and Mount Le Conte can be seen presiding in the intermediate distance while below is the long graceful sweep of the Fighting Creek watershed.
Over the course of the first three miles, the trail has several steep ups and downs. The first significant descent occurs one mile above Fighting Creek Gap where the trail enters a long, even drop into Mids Gap.
From Mids Gap, the trail climbs steadily for approximately 1.5 miles before leveling and easing into a long drop to Huskey Gap. In Huskey Gap, the Sugarland Mountain Trail intersects the Huskey Gap Trail
before climbing out on singletrack that, after a mile, reaches a gently sloped rock-strewn amphitheater shaded by tall cove hardwoods.
From here, the trail cycles between areas of dry and moist woodlands before descending a long approach to a nameless minor gap that harbors the upper terminus of the Rough Creek Trail
From the junction, the Sugarland Mountain Trail climbs to the knife-edged spine of Sugarland Mountain, remaining on the spine for only a short distance before deviating around a high knob, passing through it into a more open exposure bearing a northern hardwood mix. The distance along the knife-edge is not far, perhaps a quarter-mile, before the grade stiffens noticeably, and the Sugarland Mountain Trail enters the boreal zone.
At this point, the trail proceeds through birches into a steady climb angling across a slope of wildflowers. Here, the grasses that softened much of the earlier trail give way to a rockier course. The higher the trail climbs, the more it degenerates into a rough, rutted track. In an opening at the left of the trail, the headwaters of Moccasin Branch form up from a weak spring with a white vinyl pipe. The Moccasin Branch Spring is the closest source for the nearby Mount Collins Shelter.
Beyond the shelter, the Sugarland Mountain Trail winds on a level course through balsam woods to terminate into the Appalachian Trail just below the summit of Mount Collins.
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
Carolina silverbells, trilliums, yellow trillium, sweet white violets, smooth yellow violets, may-apples, birdfoot violets, large-flowered bellworts, great chickweeds, prostrate bluets, spring beauties, sweet white violets, Turk’s-cap lilies, rosy twisted stalks, and wood-betonies are some of the abundant species of wildflowers present along the trail.
In the way of trees, keep your eyes peeled for eastern hemlock, red maple, white basswood, yellow buckeye, northern red oak, birch, red spruce, Fraser fir, and fire cherry.