Seeking veteran backpacker advice
I've studied maps and guidebooks and now I need some sage wisdom from those of you who can offer your thoughts. Planning a 4 day backpacking trip with a friend from March 30 to April 2nd. I am seeking a loop that could provide us with an initial base camp for the first 2 nights so we can fish and explore and then finish the trip off with a final day of hiking to complete a loop. I have found 4 routes that fit the bill and would love advice and additional suggestions:
1) Deep Creek, camp in 55-58 and spend 2 nights and days there fishing and exploring. Then come back down Noland Divide Tr via Pole Rd Cr Tr.
2) Clingman's Dome trailhead: Hike down forney creek tr. to campsite 71 and stay there 2 nights. Then finish by taking Springhouse Branch Tr to Forney Ridge Trail. Can you park at Clingman's dome for this hike? Is forney wadable at that time of year?
3) Big Creek: Take Big Cr Tr to campsite 36 or 37. Camp and fish there for 2 nights. Then take Swallow Fork Trail to Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail. Camp at Campsite 38 at Sterling Ridge and then take Baxter Creek Trail back to the trailhead.
4) Fontana Dam Trailhead: Lakeshore trail to Eagle Creek Trail. Stay on Eagle for 2 nights. Then take the AT to Jenkins Trail to an unnamed Trail at Pickens Gap that flows along Pinnacle Creek. Back to the TH on lakeshore trail.
5) Or... is there an option where we just hike in 5-10 miles the first day, stay there all 3 nights. It would need to be an area where there is lots of room for day hikes and fishing from base camp, and then we can just return the way we came.
Thoughts in regards to time of year, ease of fording Forney or Eagle at this time of year, safety in hiking high altitudes.... All is much appreciated!!
If fishing is most important, I would just hike in and set up a base camp. You will get a lot more fishing time in this way. If the hike itself is important it looks like you have some good options. I would focus on low to mid elevation streams for your trip as it can still get cold that time of year. Deep Creek would be a good choice. Upper Little River is good this time of year as well unless the mountains get a cold snap.
I've done Forney down to 70 and back up Forney to clingmans spending 1 night at 70 and one at 69 towards the end of may and it was good.
Duckypaddler and I did a one night trip down to 69 and back up last October and it was a good trip as well... A little colder but we still caught fish so I would say upper Forney would probably be in play but really dependant on conditions, like a late cold weather spell. I will say the better fishing on both trip was above 70.
If low elevation is key, you could do a short hike to 93 on twenty mile and hit both twenty mile creek and Moore springs branch. Smaller rainbow water but not pressured too much and low enough elevation the temps may be good.
Another good base camp would be 39 in cataloochie or a loop on the rough fork trails. Higher elevation so watch temps.
My favorite hike/fish trip is up the LR trail to CS24...this is about 4.5 miles. Great place to set up a base camp. There are several loops you can hike from here if you like to hike. Fishing here can be epic...from the campsite upstream you can hit a slam without changing waters...hike up to CS 30 ...Three Forks area and you will hit almost pure brookie water. One day hike back down to the Goshen Trail that follows the Fish Camp Prong...hike up the trail until you find a large white quartz rock where the trail turns to the left and start fishing...great water....if the water is high walk downstream about half way to the Huskey Gap trail and fish back up to the trail head...more great water...Don't ignore Rough Creek that flows thru the campsite...can usually pick up a few browns in there...There is more good water there than you can fish in three days...good luck.
Tyring to predict Smokies weather will make you pull your hair out
And the weather will predict where you should be. By April it could be warm as could be, or there could be snow:eek:
If it warms up pretty good, I personally would be around a good brookie stream. If it's colder you want to be on a lower elevation stream like David suggested. I have a upcoming Smokies trip a week before yours, and trying to plan to plan it has been tough since it hard to predict the temps, and more importantly the rain fall. You mentioned crossings on Forney. At regular water level, you will get wet, but not bad. On the other hand after a good rain, you might be held up.
As to your specific suggestions:
1 - Sounds like a decent trip
2 - Nice trip, but watch weather and water levels for crossings. If the system is flush with water, I'd pick another
3 - Sounds good. Also some crossings on Big Creek, but unless after a rain event should be fine. I like this idea. Easy walk, lots of fishing, then some views on the way home when your pack is lighter
4 - Eagle crossings can be bad, not sure about the one that low, others may be able to help better as I have not been to Eagle in 15+ years.
5 - 24 like Rog suggested, or if you wanted to mix it up. 30, then 23.
Good luck, and post a trip report when you get back, and take a camera:biggrin:
Fontana Dam to Eagle Creek
This is a "tough" hike... been-there-done-that a couple of times ......the distance is not the big problem.....the rollycoaster trail will wear you out....up & down numerous times.... I would get the shuttle service at the dam to take you over and you could hike the trail back out........ at last report $25.00 one way.... it would be an all day hike and you would loose alot of stream time.......Good luck and be careful........... :biggrin:
I did the deepcreek to 56 back in October. I stayed at 56 I think. Fished a couple of days then hiked out like you are talking a out. Pole road is a pretty good climb but nothing too hard. The view from lonesome pine overlook on Noland divide trail is worth the hike. At that time deepcreek was fishing great but I guess alot will depend on weather. Have fun wherever you go.
From what you have provided, and all the good points others have posted, if it was me and i was making plans for that time of year I would pick either
1. Being a older guy and wanting to spend as much time possible fishing i would also consider taking the boat ride across and plan for one or two basecamp sites on Hazel. Plenty of water and places to hike around. :cool:
2. Depending on weather and stream conditions, you can easily move up or downstream to suit the conditions. In the past it was easy to change CS depending on conditions. (Newer CS regulations might make this more challenging). :redface:
3. I have gone all the way up to CS 82 in the first week of April because of lots of water down low or stayed at lower CS because of colder weather and snow. :smile:
1. all the same advantages listed with Hazel except you dont need a boat ride. :frown:
2. Plenty of water and CS to choose from depending on conditions. :biggrin:
That time of year my best advise would be to pick a place that you could be flexible in your plans.
No matter where you decide it sounds like you are going to have a great trip. ;)
Thank you all for the replies.
If I was to stay on deep creek at 55 for a few nights, would it be worth a day excursion to hike over to upper noland via pole rd cr trail and fish forney between campsites 61 and 62? I don't mind putting in a good day hike if the fishing is decent and if the scenery is good.
Also, if I decided on little river, what do you recommend between campsites 23, 24, and 30? Is the fishing okay as far up as 30? I suppose I don't mind hiking to better water if it means a nicer and less used campsite.
CS30 is a 6.7 mile hike and CS 23 is a 6.9 mile hike...good trail without a lot of heavy climbing. 30 is an area my kin folk up there used to refer to as Three Forks since the river here basically divides into 3 separate feeder streams...water is smallish but once you head up one of the streams you are by yourself...you have got to come out how you went in...a lot of brookies up there...one of the streams has a vertical falls that opens up above it and there is nothing but brookies up there. If you are willing to walk in to 23 you can fish up Goshen Prong to the left or up the right fork which is still Fish Camp Prong...from 30 you can also walk back down across the "bluff"...where the trail does climb up above the stream and fish back to the campsite. The water thru the bluff is basically flat water without all the plunge pools and can offer some really great dry fly fishing...there is an island before you get to 30...don't neglect the right hand side of this area...great water...and there is always a nice trout in the pool just before the island where the side channel enters from the left before you have to cross it...biggest fish I ever hooked in the park was up Fish Camp Prong past where Goshen Prong merges...can't go wrong with this water.
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