December 9, 2009 – Last night was very windy and overnight a heavy storm system blew through dropping quite a bit of rain. The morning, however, dawns clear and sunny if still very breezy and surprisingly warm. Twin Creeks Trail is another short trail, just 1.9 miles running parallel to Cherokee Orchard Road from the Noah ‘Bud’ Ogle homesite to the northern border of the park and southern edge of Gatlinburg. Normally hikers park at the Ogle site, hike down the trail and back up again, but on this day, the road past Twin Creeks Education Center is closed due to blown down trees from the storm. The Education Center is not quite halfway down the trail necessitating a .7 mile hike up to Bud Ogle and back followed by a 1.2 mile hike down to the trailhead on Cherokee Orchard Road and back. Heading up the first section, I am followed by a large group of hikers looking to spend a fine day in the woods, and I let them pass so I can take in the scenery at quiet leisure.
The usual winter landscape inhabitants are all visible including the ubiquitous Christmas Fern, American Holly, Rosebay Rhododendron, Pipsissewa, Partridgeberry, Hemlock, Doghobble, Pitch Pine, Fancy Fern, and Common Greenbrier. Little rosettes of Rattlesnake Plantain, Ebony Spleenwort, little Violet leaves, Cinquefoil foliage, and another plentiful rosette that I believe is one of the Avens (Geum sp.) cheer the brown forest floor with spots of vital green.
On the way up, a small branch crosses the trail, which normally would pose no difficulty at all. It is at most 5 feet across. Following the heavy rains, though, this little brook is gushing forth an impressive flow of water – enough to soak your boots and pants legs. The temperature this morning is relatively warm – in the 50’s – but the wind, rather fierce at times, carries the promise of consistently dropping mercury. The prospect of wet feet is not appealing. Since the search for a drier spot to cross proves fruitless, I extend the legs of my camera tripod into a walking stick for extra balance and start across rocks covered by a fast flowing sheet of water. Success! Only a small portion of my boots get wet, and the feet are still dry! The stream feeds into LeConte Creek, which is all white water and roaring far louder than its modest size would indicate. At the top, the Bud Ogle Nature Trail is wet and sloppy in places, so after a quick trail sign photo, I head right back down and am soon standing at the little rushing branch. This time across, I am not so lucky. Water leaps up my left foot, soaking my jeans leg about 6 inches and sneaking its way into the boot. First lesson learned: a dry pair of socks in the backpack or at least in the car is a must. However, the mild temperature, sunny sky, and stiff wind soon have the denim dry, and the damp foot isn’t an issue.
During the second half of the hike, there are several smaller water courses snaking their way through the woods toward LeConte Creek. One such streamlet angles up to the trail and disappears underground with a swirling gurgle. About 30 feet further down, it burbles back to the surface and spills out onto the trail a few feet before striking out for lower ground on the other side.
The wind brought down many limbs and branches and a few tree trunks. Still whipping through the tree tops here and on the adjacent hillside, the wind sounds at times like a jet plane taking off. Parts of the trail are littered with Sourwood fruit capsule clusters. There are quite a few pines growing among the hardwoods, and the forest floor is a pleasing mix of pale tan pine needles and darker brown and russet broadleaf foliage. Twin Creeks is a true woodland trail – narrow, muddy in places, and sometimes rutted with roots, especially compared to the Gatlinburg Trail – but it is an easy one nonetheless. A little footbridge signals the last 4 tenths of a mile to the trailhead. This photo of the trail sign is quite emblematic of the Smokies, showing just how enticing a walk in the woods can be.