I've never taken the Kephart Prong Trail, every time I've driven past I didn't see the sign until I was past it. After driving all day I figured I'd at least get out and stretch my legs before finding a campground.
Kephart Prong is a branch of the Oconaluftee River and is named for Horace Kephart whose life didn't start here but led him here:
Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Iowa, Horace Kephart enrolled in graduate school at Cornell by the age of 17. He became an expert on early western explorations, was named head of the prestigious St. Louis Mercantile Library, and was married before he was 25.
But his marriage proved unhappy. Kephart turned to heavy drinking, and when he lost his job and his wife left him, taking their six children with her, he suffered a breakdown. He decided to start over in a place where he could lose himself in the wilderness and find a new purpose for his life.
(quote from PBS.org)
Eventually he wrote many articles that contributed to the National Park coming together. It's a lovely stroll with a very slight incline that continues along the river. I only went about half a mile in and turned around, I was too eager to get set up in a camping spot!
I stopped at a few overlooks to take in the views near the top, it was cloudy and gray but still beautiful.
Still too cool at higher elevations for the trees to be leafing out but lots of lichen to liven things up!
I spent the night at Elkmont and actually ended up hiking until dark but I'll post about that later. In the morning I had to say goodbye and head home, but not before a morning hike at Chestnut Top.
|"The Wall" famous for its wildflower variety|
One of the most prolific displays of wildflowers in the park happens here along the first half mile of the trail, you might remember from my post when I visited it in 2014.
I was a few weeks too early for the big show, but the wildflowers have started even though it was only March. Bloodroot, Trillium, Spring Beauty, Toothwort, Violets, Hepatica and Rue Anemone were all on display and stopping to look at them makes you forget the steep climb that is part of the beginning of the trail.
|Trillium simile - Sweet White Trillium|
Pay attention to where you place your feet, as the climb continues the drop off beside the trail gets steeper and steeper!
Chestnut Top was named for the Chestnuts which are no longer thriving due to a fungus. Hopefully someday they will find a way to fix this, but until then there are Rosebud, Pine, Eastern Hemlock and Oaks to keep you company along with all those flowers.
|Star Chickweed - Stellaria pubera|
If you don't have a wildflower expert to drag around with you I recommend picking up a copy of "Wildflowers of the Smokies" at one of the visitor centers like I did years ago when I first started coming to the park.
The trail turned and leveled out after that 1/2 mile, giving me an opportunity to rest for a few minutes and enjoy the breeze under the pines. Did I mention it was already 70F?
Along the ridge I was able to spot many lichen varieties, and scope out the neighboring ridge and gap hoping to spot a bear foraging but no luck on this day. Bears do frequent this area of the park, so be bear aware though you are safe as long as you keep your distance, especially from mothers with cubs.
The trail continues on 5% grade switchbacks, quite the leg trembling journey for a girl from Wisconsin. I was passed twice on the two mile section of this 4.3 mile trail that I hiked, the second time by a 78 year old gentleman from Oklahoma who moved to nearby Maryville a year ago and hiked this trail all winter long. Gordon was quite an inspiration and a reminder never to give up on taking care of your health and your body which will function better if used in the way it was intended instead of sitting around in front of the computer or TV. We hit it off so well that we met for a cup of soup at Lambert's Southern Pies in Maryville! You can find adventure and wildflowers on mountain trails, but I got to say hello and goodbye to a new friend as well!
If you missed my past hiking adventures in this favorite National Park of mine, click on the Great Smoky Mountain NP tab on the left column beside this post to check out the trails in 3 seasons!