We start the year with a return to Smokemont Campground as the jumping-off point for a wintertime hike. With part of the campground closed for the season, you’ll need to park in a day-use parking area near the Smokemont entrance before walking through the upper part of the campground to reach Bradley Fork Trail. The path will take you to Cabin Flats Trail and the short final leg to today’s destination: Cabin Flats backcountry campsite. Starting at an altitude of about 2,200 feet, the total elevation gain to Cabin Flats is less than 1,000 feet, with no major ascents.
Once known as Bradleytown, Smokemont was a prototype logging and sawmill town in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, Champion Fibre Co. had transformed Smokemont into a large-scale operation that during its heyday produced up to 45,000 board feet of lumber and pulpwood daily. With its narrow-gauge railroad tracks, post office, commissary, homes and school now long gone, the only prominent reminder of the bygone Smokemont community is its Baptist church, just downstream from the present-day campground.
The first four miles or so of Bradley Fork Trail mostly hug the fork at creek level. Especially with high water levels, you’ll see many lovely cascades and pools along the way, and perhaps winter sunlight dancing upon Bradley Fork.
After slightly more than a mile, soon after you clear Chasteen Creek on a sturdy wooden bridge, the trail reaches the junction with Chasteen Creek Trail. Roughly two miles farther up Bradley Fork, you finally cross the fork on a pair of wide bridges that take the trail across an island in the stream. Another half-mile or so up the trail, just past where hard-charging Taywa Creek empties into Bradley Fork, there’s one last bridge to cross before you meet the mile-long Cabin Flats Trail.
A large road turnaround marks the beginning of Cabin Flats Trail, located to the right of a large downed tree. Fewer than 100 yards along Cabin Flats Trail, you cross Bradley Fork for a final time, on a narrow old truss bridge. Just beyond the bridge, take a sharp left to a lovely spot by the fork, enhanced by a small waterfall and pool just downstream from the bridge. Cabin Flats Trail then switches back to the right, taking you toward a junction with Dry Sluice Gap Trail.
Past the junction, Cabin Flats Trail levels before descending to the end of the line at Cabin Flats backcountry campsite, an especially handsome one in a broad flat area hard by Bradley Fork. The mouth of Cabin Branch is across the fork, but if there were ever a cabin in these parts there’s no evidence of it now. In any case, the flats provide many nice spots to “set a spell” before you return to Smokemont.
Trails: Bradley Fork, Cabin Flats
Trailhead: Upper end of Smokemont Campground
Length: 9.8 miles.
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous because of round-trip distance.
Ben Anderson is author of Smokies Chronicle: A Year of Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (blairpub.com).