Kephart Prong Trail
- 4 miles
- 4:14 duration
- 703 feet elevation gain
- 4/5 of the Barton kids
I went on a very special hike today with three of my four siblings: Alice, Charlie and Mary Lou. Our brother Wil had planned to join us, but had to cancel due to the death of a close friend. This was a hike in memory of our father who died seven years ago in August.
We chose a trail on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains, Kephart Prong because it is typically cooler along the trail than some of the ones at lower elevations. The weather was perfect for hiking today – cooler temps and no rain.
We met at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and then all rode in Alice’s car to the trail head. This was a new trail for me, and I enjoyed the hike along the beautiful creek, and seeing some of the historical artifacts along the way. It is one of the lesser traveled trails in the park. When we passed the trail head for Alum’s Cave on the way to Kephart Prong, the parking lot was packed. When we reached the parking area for Kephart Prong, there were just a handful of cars in the lot. I believe we ended up seeing only about nine other people during our four hour hike.
This was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp during the 1930s and 40s. The camp was also used during World War II to house conscientious objectors. Near the beginning of this trail you can see a few remains from the camp. We explored a few of these before heading on up the trail.
Today’s hike was a slow and easy stroll, with many stops along the way for pictures. I learned a lot about fall wildflowers, and seeing how some of the wildflowers that I am used to seeing in spring look once they have gone to seed. Who knew that Jack in the Pulpits have red berries on them in summer? This girl didn’t! We also discovered lots of fungi in various shapes, sizes and colors.
A short distance past the CCC camp is a foot bridge that was the site of an accident a few weeks ago. My sisters were hiking with a friend and her daughter, and the young lady lost her footing on the bridge and fell to the rocks below. Fortunately, tests at the ER showed that she had not broken anything, but was badly bruised. We were very careful crossing this bridge and the others along the way.
The trail follows along Kephart Prong most of the way up to the hiking shelter. Sometimes the river is not in sight, but you can hear it close by. All along the way, Charlie was wishing he had his fishing rod with him. He pointed out several spots that were promising looking pools for fishing.
We hiked almost to the hiking shelter, but then decided to turn around and head back down. The trail was very rocky, and growing steeper by this point and some of us were tired and hungry. We stopped at the next creek crossing and had a snack. I spent some time there trying to capture the beauty of the creek with my Nikon. However, I had realized the night before that I do not have a polarizing filter to fit the 18-55mm lens, so I was battling the sun and glare.
Mary Lou was keeping her eyes on the ground as we hiked back down. She always tries to find a natural heart shape to photograph on each hike. Today, she spied a couple of pieces of pottery along the trail that are likely artifacts from old homesteads in this area. I photographed them, but left them behind as it is illegal to remove them from the national park.
At one of the creek crossings, Mary Lou and I decided to rock hop rather than take the longer route across the bridge. Miraculously, both of us made it across without falling in, and with just some dampness on the outside of our waterproof boots.
I found a few more photogenic areas along the creek during the hike down. I can never get enough photos of moving water. I’m pretty sure that the water level rose considerably at one point because Charlie was salivating over a likely looking trout pool.
We returned to the car happy and tired. We then traveled further into North Carolina to the Smokemont Campground so that Mary Lou could buy her National Park lifetime senior pass before the price goes up on August 28. She had checked at Sugarlands, but they were sold out. I’m just sad that I’m not old enough to buy one yet.
After returning to Sugarlands, Charlie said his goodbyes and headed for home. Alice, Mary Lou and I then made our way to Pigeon Forge and had a late lunch (or early dinner) at Local Goat. Because we were having trouble deciding what to order, Mary Lou and I opted to each get something different and split our meals. I ordered the shrimp and grits and she ordered the pimento cheese cheeseburger. Both were very yummy!