A Little Sluice of Heaven

  1. Chestnut Branch Trail November 2018

    Chestnut Branch Trail November 2018

    Not far from the Big Creek entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a straightforward hiking trail where a streamside 1890s-era logging settlement and other signs of former inhabitants have long since been reclaimed by the forest.

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  2. Finding solitude, wildflowers on park's Quiet Walkways

    There's nothing better than waking up in the morning and driving to work inside a national park. Even in July and October, when the park's seams feel as of they might burst with visitors, working on behalf of the Smokies is the best job I've ever had.

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  3. My Ten-Mile Memory – Alum Cave Bluffs

    Whether you’re doing an out-and-back day trip, a car drop to incorporate more than one trail experience or planning a one-night backcountry trip, at some point, Alum Cave Trail falls into your lap as a must-do trail in the Smokies.

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  4. Balsam Mountain Trial

    Balsam Mountain Trial

    After traversing its lower section three times, I dreamed for the next three years of finally hiking the upper section of Balsam Mountain Trail. I finally got my chance this past July.

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  5. Hazel Creek Trail – Gentle and Wild

    Hazel Creek Trail – Gentle and Wild

    A lot can be said about hiking the easy grade of Hazel Creek, so named for the abundance of hazel trees that line its banks. But first you have to get there. Hiking Hazel Creek Trail requires equal parts planning, execution and trust. Planning is easy. You and your fellow hikers just need to agree on a date and time to commence your adventure. With that minor detail settled, execution begins when you catch the boat shuttle for the 30-minute ride across the western edge of Lake Fontana.

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  6. Gunter Fork Trail – A Very Long Haul

    Gunter Fork Trail – A Very Long Haul

    I looked up the weather, phoned a friend, and planned our vehicle shuttle for a pick up at Balsam Mountain Trail. We were about to embark on 15.9 miles of backcountry hiking to complete 4.1 miles of trail that is notorious for difficult water crossings in the spring. Knowing our mileage would be long, we hit Big Creek Trail at dawn and started a fast pace along the gently ascending Big Creek Trail 6.1 miles, passed Low Gap Trail in the blink of an eye and left Camel Gap Trail in our dust.

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  7. Winter hiking tips

    Winter hiking tips

    A Little Sluice of Heaven originated when Dana Murphy and I – on separate days, as it turns out – did the same hike only in different directions right around New Year’s Eve. She prefers uphill climbs, so she started at Kephart Prong just off U.S. 441 and climbed to the shelter. From there she took Grassy Branch to Dry Sluice, and that’s where things started to get icy. From the Dry Sluice intersection, it’s a rather grueling 1.3-mile climb to the Appalachian Trail, which she followed past Charlies Bunion, ending up at Newfound Gap. The next day, I did the same, only in the opposite direction.

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