A week after completing a part of the Appalachian Trail, I was invited to participate in “Trail Magic” organized by one of my Meet-Up Groups. I was just beginning to walk (in flats) again without wincing, so the opportunity to do some camping sounded dandy. FYI: “Trail Magic” is coffee, cocoa, soda & goodies along with encouragement and smiles for hikers along the AT.
Most of the group headed up Friday. Looking at Friday night’s weather forecast of 2inches of rain, I decided I’d drive up Saturday morning. Mind you, Friday was the day/night of epic tornadoes across the midwest/south. I’m home glued to the tv, watching the radar & tornado warnings right where the Meet-up group was!
The Meet-Up directions were a smidge confusing to me once I arrived at the Forest Service Road. The sky was brilliant blue and the views were lovely, so I didn’t really mind driving around lost for about 90 minutes.Eventually 2 local guys gave me an escort to the Hickory Flatts campsite after they crossed my path. One of them said “That’s not 4 wheel drive is it?” I’m happy to report, although bumpy, the forest service roads were in decent condition. I have never been so happy to arrive at a cemetery before!
Hickory Flatts Pavillion & Campsite:
The Hickory Flatts Pavillion and Cemetery area offers ample parking. I imagine it can accommodate at least 20 vehicles. The pavillion was an unexpected surprise; it is spacious and has built-in tables (They are at stand-up height) Since it’s sponsored by a church, calling them “cocktail height” seems a little bit inappropriate. Beside the pavillion is a nice flat grassy area for plenty of tents.
The ‘restroom” is a cinder-block structure that has separate sides for men/women. There are 2 vault toilets on women’s side with no doors. (I can’t speak on the men’s). BYOTP. No water. There were a lot of remnants of wasp nests & mud dobber nests in the rafters that had been knocked down. The ‘facilities’ were rather aromatic in cold March; I cringe to imagine it during the summer. Truth is, I’d rather find a nice bush than go back in there.
There is a nice fire ring. Hint: facing the pavillion, to your left down the hill, there is plenty of potential firewood. OR, just drive your pick-up truck slowly down the road approaching the parking area and let someone else toss large branches in the back. (Beats dragging wood up the hill!)
Beyond the pavillion are benches and the cemetery.
The benches face west, it’s a lovely place to watch the sunset. I guess if you turned around, you could watch the sunrise, but the pavillion somewhat blocks the view.
Hickory Flatts Cemetery:
Confession: I love history and find a quiet reverence in cemeteries. Many of the graves were dated around the Civil War. I could not find much information about the history of the plots, but apparently “The Long Family” lived up here. (Hence, Long Creek) I spent time imagining, 150 years ago, families stood here, grieving for their loved ones. What stories they could tell… The majority of the graves were merely marked by small stones at head and foot.
A few were inscribed:
One headstone was recently replaced and another ‘updated’:
Other gravestones clearly showed their age – I could not read the dates or inscriptions on some. One had broken in 1/2 and someone had propped it back up using a stick.
Fortunately, the Friday storm ‘survivors’ appeared shortly thereafter. They endured a night of non-stop rain, soaked tents, and drenched sleeping bags. Fortunately, they did not experience the high winds and hail that the weather forecasters indicated.
Long Creek Falls Trail:
Most of the group decided to hike down to Long Creek Falls. After the torrential rains, the waterfall had to be amazing. There is no trail marker from the pavillion, but we headed down a path close to the bathroom. It was overgrown, mostly unmarked, but not challenging terrain or elevation-wise.
There were a few tiny stream crossings – despite all the rain, they were easily crossed. I hopped over them the day after the rain.
The path connects with the Benton MacKaye Trail – at that point, it is easy to follow.This bridge is actually on the Benton Trail… (I went back on my own the next day. I was tempted to hike a portion of it, but it was getting quite windy and cold!)
As we approached the creek, there was lush vegetation and abundant mossy trees.
I noticed a few ‘boggy’ areas, which scream “MOSQUITOES!” in the summer.
A couple of interesting things I noticed along the trail:Eventually, you’ll start to hear the falls as you pass a few primitive campsites.
The section along the falls can be a bit tricky. It was interesting to watch some others in the group navigate the mud, moss, and rock. Poles aren’t necessary, but make sure you have solid shoes with good traction. There were a lot of people admiring the falls. I imagine it’s a nice swimming hole during the summer. (or if you’re insane in March). There were several people camped out. I guess the area could handle 6-8 tents without being intrusive. (Unless you have some noisy folks)
Various pics and angles at the falls:
Shots the next day when I went back, water volume significantly reduced:
And a few other angles of the Falls (visit 1):More ‘textural” shots of the falls:Other things I noticed around the falls:
After a loooooong time at the Falls, we continued on the loop.
The rest of the trail was mostly uneventful. Slight elevation. Trail was a bit muddy (remember lots of rain night before) and a smidge rocky/uneven in areas. Views were ‘eh’. There were lots of large trees, but nothing else particularly noteworthy. If I was going to do the loop again, I’d actually go in reverse, upstream. Why? It wasn’t that going in reverse would more downhill (which wasn’t a significant elevation change), but for whatever reason, my ‘trail whisper’ voice felt it would be more interesting.
Appalachian Trail Magic:
The Meet-Up group greeted a steady stream of hikers. The gratitude for a steaming cup of coffee or cocoa and snacks was evident. A mother & son hiking for a week during his spring break. A few women hiking solo. Several were grateful for some of our members who had completed the AT themselves, offering suggestions of which shelters were preferable. I was utterly freezing but some Chicago hikers were in shorts! I was cold just looking at them!
The Tree Incident aka I was rescued by the Army:
Speaking of large trees… I returned to my car near the pavillion to drive the 12ish miles of forest service roads. I was driving slowly along the bumpy road when a huuuuuuge tree fell across the road, not 30ft in front of my car. Eventually, I was rescued by an Army Humvee chock full of soldiers who cleared the tree from the road. By that time, there were a few other cars behind me. I offered the soldiers strawberries, but they refused. (I guess I need to travel with a chain saw? If you knew me you’d scream NOOOOOO!”)
After the ‘tree incident’, I had to navigate around a lot of mountain bikers on the road, so be alert.
I’ll update with gpx files later. Guessing the loop was 3miles?