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  1. #1
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    Default Big Snowbird Creek --Nantahala NF

    A couple of weeks ago I took a few days off from work to go explore Big Snowbird, which is south of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, off of Cherohala Skyway. I used the Hooper Bald Trailhead on the Skyway and used that to hook up to King Meadows Trail and then on down to Big Snowbird Creek and back.

    Tipi Walter and TNHiker were kind enough to offer some pointers before I set out, which kept me out of the weeds right off the bat. Not long after leaving the trailhead there's signage for King Meadows Trail pointing down some old steps. Walter advised me that there wasn't much left of this section of KMT, and it certainly looks that way. if you do head that way, KMT heads straight downhill and hooks up with the Mitchel Lick Trail at a T-intersection. The Mitchel Lick end of that section of KMT is signed as well, but I could not discern an actual trail from there either.

    Coming from Hooper Bald TH, pass the KMT sign and soon HBT crosses a gravel road. If you hang a right, KMT joins this road not too far down the ridge. Heading down the gravel road, you'll pass a house and then reach the driveway for a second house. There you'll see signage where the KMT/MLT comes in from the right. If you hang a right, you'll be on Mitchel Lick Trail heading west, which eventually hooks up with Big Snowbird Trail. Keep straight on the road to continue down KMT.

    The upper half of KMT is generally a wide road bed that's been torn to hell by ATV traffic. you'll go through a few braided sections where the trail appears to split and then rejoins. At most of the gaps you'll see steep ATV tracks following the drainages off the northeast side of the ridge. Keep with the ridge top, and it's not too confusing.

    On the bright side, there are a bunch of azalea shrubs on upper KMT ranging from dark to reddish, to bright fluorescent orange, to yellow.
    At some point --I believe it's Deep Gap, where the trail veers off the ridge to the southwest, sidehilling around a knob-- the trail changes character from a wide road to single track. Honestly, it's not really single track. There really isn't a track at all for most of the way, just a route marked by diligent and much-appreciated flagging.

    The upper end of KMT looked as if it had been cleared recently. The lower end did have a few blowdowns, but nothing too terribly tricky.

    KMT ends at the lower trailhead for Big Snowbird Creek, shortly after crossing the creek on a long bridge.

    I hung a right on BST with my eyes trained towards the first decent campsite. That first section of BST heads along a cut in a steep, steep bank through thick rhodo. The river isn't too far down on your right, but you won't see much of it. Not too long before the intersection with Sassafras Trail, you'll see a creekside campsite. A side trail through the site runs parallel to the main trail and passes through four or five additional campsite before rejoining BST. I stayed that night at the last site in the string, which has easy access to the creek complete with a nice, big sitting rock, great for watching the waters tumble by.

    The next morning was chilly, and I was moving slow getting packed-up. First off I did an out-and-back up Sassafras Creek to pay a visit to the falls, which is beautiful and very much worth the side trip. It reminded me a lot of Ramsey Cascades in the Smokies.

    Next I headed back to BST and continued up to Big Falls, which is pretty and impressive. It's hard to photograph --the steep goat trail only takes you to the top of the falls. Here the river flows around a large rock fin crossing the creek laterally. At the base of the rock fin is a scraggily little azalea with bright white blooms and a smidge of yellow in the center.

    I continued upstream and opted to take the Bypass trail, which turned out to be a mistake for a couple of reasons. Bypass heads steeply and unforgivingly uphill above the creek through a thick stand of hemlock skeletons. When it finally reconnected with BST, I hastily turned right. If I'd stopped and thought about it, it would have occurred to me that I needed to go back to the left to go see Middle Falls. By the time I realized my mistake I wasn't feeling too keen on backtracking. So, onward and upstream!

    ...to Hobo Camp, which was quite nice after removing the redneck trash to somewhere less visible. I wasn't sure of the campsite situation further upstream so I went ahead and set up shop for the evening. The resident fireflies were fainter and bluer than the fireflies we have back in Middle TN. I hung out in my hammock with a beer or two and lazily watched the evening pass by.

    I was intending to be on the road as early as possible on Day 3 so I was up and packed by daybreak --not too tough when you fall asleep at sunset and your typical morning routine is trained by a toddler. All I needed routewise was to find the Mitchel Lick Trail and manage to follow it back to KMT. The intersection was not signed, but two trailside Beech trees were double-flagged, with a very light track heading right. only 200 or so yards from the intersection this trail enters a massive blowdown. I bushwhacked wide to the left through head-high weeds, eventually cutting back through the middle of the morass where I was able to spot the track and continue on.

    And that is that --had a great time on Big Snowbird. I saw a total of four people, two groups of two --all on Day 1 near the lower trailhead. I made friends with an owl, a rabbit, a boomer, a frog, and a frantically flying turkey. I spotted a trout too, but he wasn't too friendly. Gimmea holler if you want GPS data. my track has some gaps in it, but I kept good notes on the intersections, campsites, and creek fords (I think it's like 19 or 20, not counting what was bypassed around Middle Falls).

    Thanks to Walter and Kevin for helping me talk this one through on paper.

    My photos are here: https://goo.gl/photos/bCuxqr6g4trXmoRZ6.

    I'd add some here, but Google Photos, f/k/a Google Plus, f/k/a Picasa, f/k/a whatever the hell it was before then, doesn't make it easy.

  2. #2
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    I should've also thanked magicmomma, who I've also consulted for Big Snowbird notes.

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    nice...

    so gots to ask-----did you end up going into mitchell lick? where the clearing with the tree is?

    or after you cross the creek and found mitchell lick trail to the right----did that take you directly back to hooper bald area?

    i still cant seem to figure out that area....

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    i don't think i passed through the area you describe. i'm pretty sure i turned east before then. 

    hey, you got any hot tips on some good canoe camping? i know there are some established sites on Calderwood, and Fontana of course. what should i do this summer when the weeds are too high for hiking?

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    Oh? Canoe camping?

    i know plenty of spots----I bought a canoe a few summers ago to finish the backcountry sites in the park...

    where ya wanna go?

    i spent nights on Fontana, calderwood, and santeetlah....

    calderwood cold cold water but with little traffic and established sites...

    i do recommend seeing the eagle creek copper mine if ya never been there....

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    My goal this summer, once I'm done with concert season, is to explore the part of Fontana from almond going towards the park.....

    should be some prime spots there...

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    yeah, any and all. what Smokies sites did you enjoy on the lakeside? I've stayed at Eagle Creek (backpacking, not canoeing; and I haven't been to the mine site) and Hazel Creek (a few times), but that is all.

    any especially great campsites on Calderwood or Santeelah?

    what's the situation on the South shore of Fontana? is that all National Forest land?

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    as for the smokies sites----theres a handful of island sites only accessible by boat..........ive enjoyed all of those in separate ways, as some of the islands---the campsite is up on a hill, and some are kinda flat bairly off the water (like 72-----great place to get a raging fire and do a night paddle around the cove its tucked into..........

    the mine site is only accessible by boat..........easy to find if paddling up eagle creek.............and theres a few cemeteries that are boat in only...........theres one going up the hazel creek watershed.........and on that side, the old road can be seen along the banks/shoreline........

    and yeah, as far as i know---all the south part is national forest land----maybe some private land in between.............

    but, on that side, one can camp pretty much anywhere..............north side is park, so have to stay in their sites....

    and theres a ton of sites on the south side.......

    ive launched from cable cove a few times (hazel creek is almost straight across) and turning right---theres an island that has a big site and seems to get alot of usage.......i havent stayed there..........but directy off the eastern tip of the island,is a great site............someone built a rock reclining chair that looks out on the lake and can see the moon (and guess sun) come up.....

    and theres a few other small scattered sites along the way...............i havent been exploring that side that much, and really need to check out the park from Almond going up to the park...........thats a huge chunk of the lake thats bound to have some sites............and theres islands there as well....


    calderwood----

    very cold water...........ive put in right at the launch/campsite below cheoah dam (slickrock trail head is across bridge).........

    that area gets alot of use when santeelah has their flow days.............during that time period, the first parking lot that has the take out gets really busy............people are going down the cheoah river for the whitewater during the flow, so it can be fun to watch but gets busy along 129....

    after the first parking lot----down near the campground, theres another launch......

    here's a map of that lake...

    http://www.brookfieldrenewable.com/_...0Locations.pdf


    ive stayed at sites 2, 3 and 4.....

    1 is on slickrock creek where the creek dumps into the lake.........its a small site...........but can access slickrock creek and its trail if need be.....

    on this lake, brookfield wants people to stay in designated sites and quite honestly, theres not much other room as the slope is steep...

    so campsites 2 and 3 are pretty much carved outta the hill........not bad as it overlooks lake but kinda restricting for movement...

    right across from 2 and 3 is the old rail road tunnel...

    now, campsite 4 is not a bad site..........it sits back on parsons branch, so its off the main channel......in the cove, go up it and theres an old road bed that goes to campsite...

    the creek is flowing into the lake here.............and the campsite sits just a little bit back on the creek...

    theres a really nice waterfall just upstream....

    for all of the campsites on this lake, except maybe the slickrock one---have a picnic table and a lantern pole...

    i did see a bear at this campsite......so they are out there...


    for lake santeelah..

    heres a crude map that is almost but not really accurate..........used for a good reference but some spots are off......

    http://grahamchamber.com/maps/800maps/LakeSant_2011.gif


    this lake seems to get more day boat traffic with waterskiers and that sort of thing..

    and the campsites seem to get used alot............while ive had my site to myself---a bunch of the other sites get usage as well....

    especially in that one cove wheres theres like 8 or 9 campsites dotted along the way............theres separation for the most part....

    some of these sites are really nice and ive had a good time at em............

    seen and heard young bald eagles and saw their parents flying around in the middle part...

    theres also a few different places to put in along this lake, so campsites can be easy to get to...

    and to be quite honestly, one can paddle the main part of the lake from one end to the other in a few hours....

    theres also the little community along the one shore that has some big ass houses.........rentals and what not..........but they are huge...


    those are the only lakes ive paddled down in that part of north carolina.............theres a few others in that general area but i havent found that much info on them as to camping.......

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    also........i havent done much on calderwood lake except going up and seeing the panther creek slate mine...

    but, jeff wadley has done alot on that lake and writes that there are campsites as well.....

    http://canoewithjeff.blogspot.com/

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    Thanks for all these notes --I really appreciate it. I moved last year and am real close to a good canoe river now. I hope to get myself a boat soon and start spending some more time doing floats.

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    am I correct to guess that the wind is more forgiving on Calderwood than Fontana? I feel like it's probably more narrow and hemmed-in, and perhaps not as exposed.

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    to be honest----the only times ive noticed the wind was when it blew my canoe away from island site 87 and when there was a storm on fontana (just sat in canoe and rode it---passed by in minutes)


    but, yeah, calderwood is narrower and in between hills so in theory i guess it would cut wind down....

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