Albright Grove Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Albright Grove Trail (named for Horace Albright, a conservationist and advisor to John D. Rockefeller as well as the first assistant director of the National Park Service) winds up a small creek and through an ancient forest that gives one a hushed and even sacred feeling.
This easy trail follows a portion of Maddron Bald Trail to the Albright Grove loop, which passes through one of the largest and most impressive stands of virgin poplar in eastern Tennessee.
Length: 7 miles round trip.
Degree of difficulty Easy.
Elevations: Start and end 1,880 feet; change 1,500 feet.
Maps USGS quads 164SE, Jones Cove; 165NE, Mt. Guyot; 174NW, Luftee Knob.
Start hiking at the gate, passing through a cover of rhododendron. You will be on the Maddron Bald Trail through most of this hike. The trail follows an old road, with Buckeye Creek on the left, through Eastern hemlock. It passes through stands of small American beech, tuliptrees (yellow poplar), and maples, which have replaced abandoned cornfields and apple orchards from the days when this area was privately owned.
The trail levels at 0.5 mile and passes a one-room cabin on the right that dates back to 1889, once owned by Alex and Sara Baxter. This cabin was made from American chestnut, and possibly all from one tree, since American chestnuts in this area were recorded to be as big as 33 feet in circumference. Some pine and tulip tree have been used to restore the cabin.
You will cross Cole Creek after the cabin and then begin to climb through more Eastern hemlock and rhododendron. In July you should see blooming patches of Indian pipe, also known as ghostflower. The trail continues to climb and levels at 1.2 miles at 4 trail junction. Maddron Bald Trail continues straight through a row of boulders, Gabes Mountain Trail goes to the left, and Old Settlers Trail goes to the right.
The trail narrows and crosses over several small creeks, then levels again with Eastern hemlock on the left and mixed hardwoods on the right. The trail switches back to the right and climbs away from Maddron Creek. At 2.3 miles the trail forks around an old traffic turnaround, with both sides leading to the sign for the continuation of the Maddron Bald Trail. From this point the trail is narrower, leaving the small second-growth hardwoods that have dominated thus far, and moving into bigger trees. You pass through .Eastern hemlock, then American beech, Fraser's sedge, and nurse logs supporting saplings. The trail climbs a small ridge and then descends to Indian Camp Creek and crosses over on a foot log, within view of a large creek island. The trail then ascends steeply and levels at the first junction with the Albright Grove Trail at 3 miles. Maddron Bald Trail continues to the left, and you will continue straight up Albright Grove Trail.
The Albright Grove Trail (named for Horace Albright, a conservationist and advisor to John D. Rockefeller as well as the first assistant director of the National Park Service) winds up a small creek and through an ancient forest that gives one a hushed and even sacred, feeling. You will see giant tuliptrees, maples, Fraser magnolias, and beeches along the way, with giant root systems partially exposed. The trail levels again, then descends. Where it begins to descend, look for a little spur trail to a giant tuliptree on the left. A few yards farther you pass the largest tree in this grove, a tuliptree with a circumference of 25 feet. Five to seven people would have to hold hands to reach around its girth. This tree actually has been broken off, probably by lightning, and supports an elderberry bush growing on the broken stump fifty feet up.
At the top the trail continues to descend. This section is decorated with silverbell flowers in April. It then reaches a ridge, where you will see a sign directing you to the right, next to a large Fraser magnolia. The trail reaches the Maddron Bald Trail again 0.3 mile farther along Maddron Bald Trail from the first junction, after passing 0.7 miles through Albright Grove. At the second junction with Maddron Bald Trail, turn left to pass the first junction again and continue on that trail for a total of 3.3 miles back to the trailhead where you started. If you turn right and continue on the Maddron Bald Trail, you will reach the AT in another 4.7 miles, after intersecting with the Snake Den Ridge Trail, which comes in from the left.
Take U.S. Highway 321 15.4 miles north from Gatlinburg or 2.9 miles south from Cosby (past the Yogi Bear Campground) and turn onto Laurel Springs Road (right if coming from Gatlinburg). Follow Laurel Springs Rd. past the trout ponds on the left and over Indian Camp Creek on a bridge to the park sign and gate on the right 0.2 mile from the turnoff. Because of car thefts here, overnight backpackers may prefer to park at nearby businesses on US 321, who provide this service for a fee.