An wonderful excursion into lesser traveled areas. If you are looking for quick and easy movement, this may not be for you. However, if you want an adventure and some infrequently used trails, read on.
This route consists of three main parts. The first is the climb up Fork Mountain
Trail, the second is traversing the Black Balsam area to get to the third part, a trail that will take you back to the start (there are a few options here, if the description of the path I took down is not enticing).
The loop starts just south of the Sunburst Campground. There is a day use pay to park area there as well as parking along the beginning of Lickstone Gap Road
. The adventure starts with a river crossing just to get to the Fork Mountain
Trail. There is a steep climb up from the river followed by a long, remote, but easy to follow and gentle trail to the ridgeline. This is a truly beautiful stretch where you feel truly removed and submerged in the forest.
Once the ridge is found, the trail veers to the right, following the ridge up to your return to the world of crowds, at Ivestor Gap #101
and the Art Loeb trail. We took the Ivestor Gap #101
and Flat Laurel Creek Trail
to connect, eventually, with the MST. Next time I'll connect with the Art Loeb and take that all the way to the MST. This would be more scenic, have fewer crowds, and would bypass a short road section. Ivestor Gap #101
is one of the ugliest trails I have ever had the displeasure of traversing and the Flat Laurel Creek Trail
is, essentially, Flat Laurel Creek for much of the time.
Once on the MST past the 215 parking area, you gain a good amount of solitude once again. This stretch can be pretty muddy, but it felt good to get into the woods again and away from the crowds. This stretch had a unique feel to it, different than the rest of the loop.
At about mile 16 (use the TRP app to make sure you don't miss the turn), the Green Mountain Trail
is reached. This is where you have decisions to make.
The Green Mountain Trail
is not a trail you'll run down. It follows the ridge line and drops precipitously along with the ridge. On top of that it is infrequently used and less frequently maintained. That being said, I had a blast going down it, using my hands to grab the trees and rhododendron as I careened down the trail.
Additionally, at the beginning of the trail there is a turnoff to go to an overlook, which looks to be used as a camping area. Having spent 15 years out west, I am infrequently caught or left stunned by views in the Appalachians. However, the view from this overlook arrested me in a way no other has since moving back out east.
If that sounds like too much, you can head to Buckeye Gap
(though I have no information to give you on the condition of that trail) or, further down, Haywood Gap Trail
. Any of these will eventually lead you back to your vehicle.