Smokemont Loop

The hike starts on Bradley Fork Trail, an old road that parallels the Bradley Fork of the Oconaluftee River. High banks of rosebay rhododendrons, mountain laurel, doghobble, nettles, and Christmas ferns line the trail. These plants are evergreens and can be enjoyed all year round. It’s also a great trail for spring flowers. Several creeks ripple through from the right to join Bradley Fork. At 1.2 miles, Chasteen Creek Trail comes in from the right.

A side trip (0.7 mile, one way) to Chasteen Cascades is definitely worth your time. Turn on Chasteen Creek Trail and take a heavily used side trail on the left toward the creek with a horse tie up. Continue a little on the side trail to a small but lovely cascade. Come back to Bradley Creek Trail.

At this point, Bradley Fork has narrowed and so has the trail. As you climb above Bradley Fork, now wide again, there’s a moss-covered bench at 1.4 miles. Pass a rhododendron grove on your left as the trail flattens. The creek is way below you.

At 1.8 miles you reach the intersection with Smokemont Loop Trail with a good wooden bench on the left. A sign says “3.9 miles to the campground.” Go down stone steps to cross Bradley Fork on a long, narrow split-log bridge with a steel wire hand rail. The bridge has been creosoted to prevent moss from growing and making the bridge slippery.

Immediately cross a smaller bridge and then the trail turns west away from Bradley Fork and starts climbing toward a ridge of Richland Mountain. It’s a long, steady uphill as the trail switchbacks through rhododendron bushes. Reach the top at 3.5 miles (3,550 feet) to a flat spot with several logs to sit and stop for a drink.

You’ve done all the climbing for the day. Pass a well-defined grassy saddle under a grove of trees to your left. You’ll be able to see the first of the graves in the Bradley Cemetery on your right. Several eroded side trails have been created to reach the cemetery. Walk down few hundred yards where the trail reaches a T-junction. The loop continues to the left.

However, turn right here to visit Bradley Cemetery on a wide side trail. When the side trail splits, stay to the right and scramble up a couple of hundred (linear) feet. Most of the graves in the gently sloping cemetery are stone stumps with no identification, though the Bradley patriarch (Jasper) and matriarch (R. Palistine) have large, legible stones dating from the 1920s.

Once a year in the summer, descendants of those buried get together for Decoration Day. Graves are decorated with silk or plastic flowers. The attendees usually have a prayer service and a communal buffet lunch. All the cemeteries in the Smokies are maintained and mowed by the Park.

Retrace your steps to return to the Smokemont Loop Trail. You’re now on a wide road, used to transport people to the cemetery on Decoration Day.

You’ll cross the creek on a big stone bridge. Go through the gate and make a right on the paved road. Take a left where the wooden sign points to “campground.” You are at the beginning of the campground loop. Follow the road back to section D.

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Smokemont Loop Train

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Smokemont Loop Train 35.560161, -83.308983
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