Where is Hyatt Ridge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? That’s what some hikers wanted to know yesterday as they gathered at one of three places to car pool to the May Friends of the Smokies hike.
We had a sizable hiking crowd by the time we got to the Hyatt Ridge Trail on Straight Fork Road. Holly Jones from the Tennessee office helped co-lead the hike. Thank you, Holly.
To get there, you need a map and a sense of adventure. You take Big Cove Road in Cherokee and turn right on Straight Fork Road. Even driving on Big Cove Road gives you a sense of discovery, since it doesn’t lead to many places. You really need to want to be here!
Finally, the trailhead. We started a steep climb up to Hyatt Ridge, with 1,500 feet in less than two miles. That’s steep! Unfortunately several hikers didn’t realize what this hike entailed and had to turn back. Fortunately, Cherie, a park ranger, had come with us to be the sweep and took them back. Thank you, Cherie! This is not a service that you can count on. Other times, if hikers are out of their depth, they turn back by themselves.
At the top of the ridge, we took a long break waiting for everyone. No, I don’t jump up and start moving the minute the last person comes. I wait and give them a chance to breathe as well.
Towards the top, the trail was lined with spring flowers. It was like a second spring. Flowers that we saw at 2,000 feet in late March appeared here at 4,000 feet. A sea of trillium-nodding, white, sweet white (that’s with the dark center) and my favorite, painted trillium. Bloodroot leaves were still standing, though not the flower. Further up, we had may-apples and even some umbrella plants in bloom.
I hadn’t brought my flower book, so I couldn’t find the name for what turned out to be wild stonecrop, a three-spoke arrangement of the flowering stem.
We reached Campsite #44 for a late lunch. It’s a large, flat campsite with lots of logs to sit on. Two men on horseback visited the campsite as well. They were looking for water for their horses. I assured that there was a spring or creek somewhere and they found it.
Then down on Beech Gap Trail with more flowers.
Yes, it was a challenging hike in a remote area. You won’t find it in the Day Hikes of the Smokies. You can only find hikes like this by staring at a National Geographic map of the park and wonder where you can get into the park. There’s much more to the park than the three main entrances – Cherokee, Gatlinburg and Townsend.
Friends of the Smokies will be leading the next hike on Tuesday, June 14. Right now is not too early to sign up at hike.friendsofthesmokies.org.