This is a challenging route that offers waterfalls and splendid views from atop the Smoky Mountains. This loop will push the intermediate runner to challenge their strength and stamina.
• Backcountry Campsite 58 is worth passing for the others in the area.
• Backcountry Campsite 57 is your last chance for water for a while, so be sure to fill up.
• Backcountry Campsite 52 offers wildlife views at dusk. Be sure to set up on the hill away from the community fire pit.
• Backcountry Campsite 51 is not a good choice to stay. Move on to Site 49.
• Deeplow Gap Trail
has lots of creek crossings, so watch your step.
This trail's many obstacles and grade changes will pose a challenge to even expert trailrunners.
Day 1: This run starts off at Deep Creek Trailhead. From the trailhead, a slight grade makes a great warmup and offers views of waterfalls and Indian Creek. At the 0.8 mile marker, drop your stuff and take a quick run to Indian Falls on your right. Back on trail, return to Deep Creek Trail
and continue to Backcountry Campsite 60 (Equestrian), 59, or 58. Choose any one of these for a great evening and a large water supply. I recommend getting there early for the best campsites.
Day 2: The first segment of this day's run is along water until you reach the Martins Gap Trail
. Once there, be sure to fill up on water as there is very little to none the rest of the way to Backcountry Campsite 52. Martins Gap Trail
is where the challenge really begins, as this trail offers inclines greater than 20% at times. Hang in there and take your time enjoying the views as you ascend 900 ft in 1.5 miles. When you're at the intersection of Martins Gap Trail
and Sunkota Ridge Trail
, take a much deserved break because the climbing ain't over! The Sunkota Ridge Trail
offers stunning views of the valleys below, and if the weather is right, above the clouds as you continue to climb another 1100 ft in 5 miles to the Thomas Divide Trail
(4777 ft). Once there, give yourself a pat on the back and high fives around – you did it! Take a right onto the Thomas Divide Trail
for about a quarter mile or so to the Newton Bald Trail
. Take Newton Bald Trail
0.2 miles to Backcountry Campsite 52. Here's a little secret: Climb the hill (5050 ft) to the left once you come into the site for the best views of the surrounding mountaintops. This is even more of a treat at dusk. Up here, the deer are not scared and offer good entertainment as they scamper around and play.
Day 3: In the morning, take a quick jaunt over to the peak of Newton Bald (elevation 5053 ft) before heading back to camp and getting ready to head out. The descent will bring a new challenge, as you'll now be heading down for several miles. Head over to the Thomas Divide Trail
and stay left to head down. Be sure to conserve your water, as you'll not be able to refill until the Deeplow Gap Trail
miles away. (Deeplow Gap Trail
is 3.25 miles away, where you'll take a right towards Indian Creek Trail
to reach water in just over a mile. Once you see the first sign of water, continue running through a creek bed that offers plenty of chances to hydrate. If you choose to stay at Backcountry Campsite 51, be sure to check out the top of the site, as most of it is slanted and only offers a few flat spots. I recommend staying at Backcountry Campsite 49 on the Indian Creek Trail
, roughly a half mile from Site 51.
Day 4: Since it's your last day, enjoy a nice stroll back to the Deep Creek Trailhead. And if you are able to take a float/dip in Indian Creek, do so! As you leave Site 49, head 3.8 miles back to the Deep Creek Trail
and .75 miles to the trailhead.
Congratulations! You've done 22.23 miles and over 3,800 feet of climbing.
Visit this area in the autumn to see it erupt in fiery fall color.