Sugar Creek Gap, Nantahala National Forest

Remote. This little slice of Nantahala National Forest is truly far from anything. Once you are a mile into the woods from the trailhead, there is next to no evidence of human activity. It’s hard to know how many folks come here to hike, but there aren’t many boot prints in the mud. There are, however, plenty of deer tracks… and wildflowers. Wow, are there wildflowers. From Sugar Creek Gap there are great views of the Blue Ridge to both the north and the south, then the hiking is through a dense forest comprised of mostly oak, birch and sourwood. Ken and I set out from Sugar Creek Gap on FR 4675 on Monday, June 12, 2017 beginning at 9:45AM and ending about 12:30PM. Our plan was to hike FR 4675 to FR 4675a, then search for a purported meadow somewhere below the forest road.

Hike Length: 4.2 miles Hike Duration: 2.75 hours

Hike Rating: Easy, although the trail is pretty overgrown with foliage at times.

Hike Configuration: Out and back Blaze: None available

Elevation Change: 490 feet Elevation Start: 4,567 feet

Trail Condition: Not very good. Springs and seeps make the trail bed muddy and years of abandonment have enabled foliage to encroach upon the trail.

Starting Point: Sugar Creek Gap on Nantahala Forest Road 4665.

Trail Traffic: We had it to ourselves. This is a very remote area.

How to Get There: From Brevard, NC take Hwy 64 west 12 miles to Hwy 215 and turn right. Drive most of the way up 215 to Pinhook Gap and turn left on state road 1756 (Charleys Creek Rd.). If you reach the Blue Ridge Parkway you have gone too far. Drive 8.5 miles on 1756 and turn right on Forest Road 4665. Follow this gravel road 2.8 miles to Sugar Creek Gap. There is enough parking for 3-4 cars. Look for white boulders marking the parking area. The trailhead is on the west side.

 

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Before I go any further, I want to give a tip of the cap to Brenda Wiley, who turned me on to Sugar Creek Gap. She posted some photos from there a few days before I went, intriguing me. When I asked her a few questions, she sent me directions to get there, her GPS track, and plenty of other info to help me know what to expect. Thanks so much Brenda!

Sugar Creek Gap is truly out in the boonies. It is more than eight miles up SR 1756 and then another three up the very twisty FR 4665. There are occasional reminders that people used to live here a century ago, and even a few that look like they may still be active. But for the most part, this is one of those places where you hope you can remember how to get back home once you’re done.

The gap itself is pretty obvious when you get there. It is steep on the way up and then it tops a rise, going steeply down on the other side. There are a few white boulders that denote parking, but they are almost completely grown over with summer foliage… an indication that the Forest Service does not come around here for maintenance. Additionally, there is a tall stand of pine here, unusual considering the rest of the forest.

The trail, actually former Forest Road 4675, is grown over as well. It is at the back of the parking, heading west. The FR sign and gate are 100 feet up the trail (road). We were treated right away to a colorful display of what was coming, a wide variety of wildflowers, including crown vetch, venus pride, and purple flowering raspberry. The best, and really only, views of the surrounding mountains are seen from Sugar Creek Gap itself, so be sure to take a few pictures.

For the first mile of this hike you will remain on FR 4675. After about a quarter mile, it turns to the northwest, goes westerly again, and then makes a dip to the southwest. At the three quarters mile mark it again heads to the northwest. Along the way, look for seasonal bright orange flaming azalea trees up on the bank that lines the pathway. Also you are likely to see plenty of daisies and goats beard, as well as occasional honeysuckle.

Apparently there are a number of springs and seeps coming off the hillsides because much of this trail is quite wet and muddy. There had not been any significant rainfall for at least a couple days before we were there, so this was not puddles. The ground is quite soft and squishy, and saturated. Be prepared for gnats too. Lots of gnats.

It is hard to tell just how long it has been since this trail was maintained. Perhaps 20 years? The pathway is still obvious because of the terrain, but it is becoming more and more overgrown with the passage of time. After all, this used to be a forest road. These days it is not much more than a game trail.

 

At least in the late spring and early summer months, expect to find an overgrown trail.

 

Just past one mile look for a left turn onto FR 4675a. There is no sign here, but the junction is reasonably apparent. Approximately 25 feet after you turn there is an old rusty post that used to hold up a gate. We found a dazzling array of sun cups here, and the first of what would be thousands of bowman root, a delicate star-shaped white flower.

The forest is suddenly more dense as you make this southerly turn onto 4675a. It surrounds and swallows the trail. The understory is a verdant bed of ferns, and the pathway is covered with last years acorns from the mighty oaks that dominate the woods. After perhaps three-tenths of a mile, the trail makes a distinct turn to the west as the terrain drops steeply down to your left.

Brenda had told me that somewhere out here is a sizable meadow. That was our goal, as we were hoping to find an open spot for views of the Blue Ridge, and perhaps a nice place for lunch. As we proceeded in a westerly direction, we kept our eyes peeled for evidence of this meadow, and for perhaps a game or volunteer trail that would lead us to it.

At one point we even got off trail for awhile, hoping that our turn downhill would lead us to the meadow. We did find a bare slab of exposed granite bedrock, but it was no more that a couple hundred square feet in size. We kept running into small cliffs and other abutments, making it difficult to continue in a southerly direction, so we climbed back up to trail level and continued west.

All the while the trail was becoming more and more indistinct. Ferns not only lined the pathway, they were the pathway. Really, the only way we could tell we were on the former roadbed was because of the grading. Despite our lack of success finding a way to the hidden meadow, we were treated to a forest flourishing in flame azalea and mountain laurel in full bloom. We also found fly poison and beardtongue, wild geranium, rattlesnake weed and bowman root in every direction.

If you look at the satellite map of our GPS track above, you can definitely find the meadow in the lower left corner. And, you can see our track perhaps 50-80 yards above it on the ridge. Just east of the meadow is where we made the southerly jaunt off trail, but found no easy way to get down off the ridge.

Eventually we gave up looking, found a nice rock to sit on, and had lunch. On the way back, we continued to look for ways to go south, but it was simply not meant to be. Perhaps it would be easier during the brown season.

Our trip back was uneventful. Even more wildflowers were in bloom, soaking in the late morning sunshine. The wide array of flowers is what I will remember most about this hike around Sugar Creek Gap. They made this adventure quite enjoyable.

Summarizing, this is an extremely remote area of Nantahala National Forest. The only sounds you will hear are the birds singing and the breeze flitting through the treetops. If you’re here during the green season be sure to wear long pants and long sleeves because of the foliage, and also bring bug repellent because the gnats are prevalent. To the point where we turned around, this is a touch more than four miles round trip and easy hiking. I’m thinking I would like to come back in winter. With the leaves down, there would be more views of the mountains and the elusive meadow might be a snap to find.

Once again, thanks to Brenda Wiley for telling us about Sugar Creek Gap.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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