A Long and Fascinating Hike on the Old Settlers Trail

I pride myself in being a plodder.

I don’t walk fast but I can keep on going. And nowhere is this truer than on the Old Settlers Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The trail takes you from the Maddron Bald trail, off US 321 in Tennessee to Greenbriar. It undulates but has no major climbs, just lots of small ups and downs. As the name implies, the trail still has chimneys, house foundations and lots of walls–see above– that remain from settlers who lived here before the area became a park.

The trail crosses many streams. Many are step-overs and for others, you just need to plunk your feet in the water. But all that water means that flowers had come into their own: hepatica, star chickweed, lots of violets and the star, yellow trillium–photo on right.

On Sunday, a hot April day, I went with Carolina Mountain Club on the Old Settlers Trail hike, advertised as 17.1 miles and 3,300 feet. The day was made more challenging in a couple of ways.

We left Asheville at 7:30 am in a very efficient manner, drove to the Tennessee side of the park, set up a shuttle and started the hike at 10 am. We climbed up Maddron Bald Trail for a little while to pick the Old Settlers Trail.

The temperature got over 80 degrees and stayed there. Because it’s only April, the trees hadn’t leafed out and there was little shade. Carroll, our leader, paced the hike well. Lots of little breaks for water and snacks helped to gather the hikers back after they had scattered, each at their own pace.

But no matter how you analyze it, it was a long hike. Ideally we should have been at the trailhead at 7 am. I could have used another couple of hours to investigate the cabin and cemetery that I just blew past.

No beers at trailheads

I got to the cars at 6:30 pm and several hikers were already relaxing with beers from their coolers. And I learned another thing about park management.

A ranger was patrolling the Ramseys Cascade road and stopped when he saw us lounging around.

“Pour out those beers,” he said “and put the bottles away.” I went over to his truck and introduced us as CMC.

“We just walked from Maddron Bald and we’re waiting for the rest of our group,” I said.

“So how come you don’t know about the alcohol rules?” he said.

All I was drinking was water but I had a feeling I was answering for the whole group because I was the one who went over to him. It turns out that beer and wine were OK at picnic areas and campgrounds but not anyplace else. No booze at trailheads. OK, got it! I’ll pass it on.

Thank you to Carroll for his great leadership. I feel that it’s good to push myself. If I ever do this trail again, I’m going to start about two to three hours earlier.


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