Departing from Round Bottom on the Beech Gap Trail; this 31-mile loop affords backpackers the opportunity to bag 8 of the Carolina Mountain Club’s South Beyond 6,000 peaks (there are 40 total). But before you tag ‘em you’ll have to earn them; the first 3.3 miles of this trip gain over 2,500 feet of elevation to the Laurel Gap shelter. From here on out, the elevation profile is more moderate (with a few spikes on each of the summit climbs—which are all optional off trail out-and-backs).
From Laurel Gap, head up to tag the Big Cataloochee Mountain summit or continue the counterclockwise loop as it treks along the Balsam Moutain Trail following a ridgeline through a mossy deciduous forest peppered with mountain laurel and rhododendron. 14 miles in, the route syncs with the Appalachian Trail (along the North Carolina/Tennessee border). Stop for the evening at the Tricorner Knob Shelter; the next day, backtrack north on the AT to tackle optional summit approaches to Tricorner Bald, Mount Guyot, and Old Black, or continue the loop heading southwest on the AT.
At Peck’s Corner, the route turns off the AT onto the Hughes Ridge Trail. Foolw that to the Enloe Creek Trail and consider spending another night in the Smokies along the creek at the Enloe Creek Shelter. From there, it’s 4 miles back to Round Bottom to finish the loop.
TO TRAILHEAD: From the Visitors Center on US-441, head north on Big Cove Rd After crossing Raven Fork around the 9 mile mark, go R on Straight Fork Rd. Continue as Straight Fork turns into a gravel FS road. Continue on the gravel road to Round Bottom and Beech Gap Trail.
Distance: 30.79 mi
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Points of Interest
Location: 35.624109, -83.211394Altitude: 973.4533691
Begin hiking north on the Beech Gap Trail, and just ahead bear right at the first 3-way junction. The route begins climbing immediately, gaining 3,000 feet over the next 5 miles up to Big Cataloochee Mountain.
Location: 35.646361, -83.202068Altitude: 1546.6350098
Turn left @ 3-way junction onto the Balsam Mountain Trail; the route continues a stiff climb toward Laurel Gap.
Location: 35.665370, -83.187771Altitude: 1667.0393066
Arrive at the Laurel Gap shelter; after 2,600 feet of climbing you may be ready for a break. The Balsam Mountain Trail continues heading northeast.
Location: 35.667355, -83.186464Altitude: 1663.6745605
To tack on a 2-mile out-and-back bushwhack up to Big Cataloochee Mountain, turn right. Otherwise, turn left to head northwest and continue the loop.
Location: 35.667432, -83.180340Altitude: 1685.5446777
Turn left off trail to head uphill for the Big Catahoochee summit.
Location: 35.672231, -83.175781Altitude: 1879.0083008
Tag Big Cataloochee Mountain, a South Beyond 6,000 summit and then backtrack to waypoint 4 to continue the counterclockwise loop.
Location: 35.677726, -83.191896Altitude: 1692.9946289
Turn left @ 3-way junction to continue hiking the Balsam Mountain Trail along the ridgeline. The views on this stretch are better than what you'll get atop many of the wooded summits on this trek.
Location: 35.689878, -83.213977Altitude: 1792.9709473
A right turn off the trail leads up to Luftee Knob, another 6,000-foot summit. Tackle the .4-mile detour or continue northwest along the Balsam Mountain Trail.
Location: 35.692690, -83.215100Altitude: 1897.2731934
Luftee Knob: Tag the summit and then backtrack to waypoint 8 to continue northwest on the Balsam Mountain Trail.
Location: 35.691183, -83.248862Altitude: 1782.8771973
To tackle a burly 2.1-mile off-trail out-and back to Mark's Knob, turn left at this 3-way intersection. Otherwise, continue bearing right to head toward the Tricorner Knob Shelter. (a 6,000Right at a three way intersection takes you to Tri Corner.
Location: 35.679889, -83.248515Altitude:
The third 6,000-foot summit of the trip.
Location: 35.694456, -83.256534Altitude: 1823.0119629
Turn left @ 3-way intersection onto the white-blazed Appalachian Trail as it follows the North Carolina/Tennessee border. From here, the top of Tricorner Knob is accessible via a .3-mile, off-trail route to waypoint 13. Turning right at this junction follows the optional 5.3-mile detour to tag Mount Guyot and Old Black (two more 6,000-foot summits).
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