“Something for everyone” is an overused phrase and sometimes an inaccurate one. But when it comes to recreational opportunities in the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the phrase seems to fit quite nicely. Among the year-round options is hiking on the various trails that begin near the Deep Creek picnic area and campground. (The former is open year-round, the latter April-October.)
Two relatively short but rewarding loop hikes begin at the end of Deep Creek Road: Deep Creek Loop and a still shorter trek that takes hikers to three picturesque waterfalls: Juney Whank, Tom Branch and Indian Creek. But for this month’s hike I’m recommending a more ambitious excursion, one that covers nearly 10 miles and bypasses Juney Whank. Call it the Five-Trails Loop.
Actually, five trails and a road would be a more precise description. With the loop I’m suggesting, you’ll need to walk across a bridge over Deep Creek and up the lightly traveled Tom Branch Road for about a mile. You’ll then see on your left a spacious parking area for the lower trailhead of Thomas Divide Trail, which stretches nearly 14 miles to Newfound Gap Road.
Almost immediately after setting out on Thomas Divide Trail, you’ll notice the Wiggins-Watson Cemetery to your left. It’s a pleasant setting, with a fine wintertime view of 3,400-foot-high Sharp Top along the park boundary west of Deep Creek. Thomas Divide Trail then begins to climb rather steeply, toward a junction with Stone Pile Gap Trail.
A couple of miles past Stone Pile Gap, you reach the expansive junction of Thomas Divide and Indian Creek Motor trails. To your right is a comfortable log that offers a fine perch and distant winter views. At just under 3,500 feet, the junction also marks the highest elevation on today’s loop, which continues to your left on Indian Creek Motor Trail. Here you begin a steady descent to Georges Branch, Indian Creek and Deep Creek.
The next junction is with Deeplow Gap Trail, where a trail sign indicates it’s one-tenth mile to Indian Creek (not Motor) Trail. If so, it’s the longest 176 yards in existence. Upon arriving at the latter trail after turning left on Deeplow Gap Trail, you’ll see a sign more accurately stating the distance as three-tenths mile.
The rest of today’s journey follows the Indian Creek and Deep Creek trails, each a Smokies rarity in that cycling is allowed on at least part of their distances. Except perhaps right after heavy rain, the creeks are crystal-clear beautiful anytime of year. They also offer two lovely if quite different falls: Indian Creek Falls, just above the creek’s confluence with Deep Creek, and Tom Branch Falls, which plummets 80 feet off a ridge to join Deep Creek. Take time to enjoy each near the end of a rewarding 10-mile loop.
Trails: Thomas Divide, Indian Creek Motor, Deeplow Gap, Indian Creek, Deep Creek.
Trailhead: Large parking area at end of Deep Creek Road.
Length: 9.9 miles.
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous.
Ben Anderson is author of Smokies Chronicle: A Year of Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (blairpub.com).