The lower portion of this trail provides easy grades and a well-maintained tread. At roughly a mile, the path becomes considerably rocky and rugged and before a steeper grade for the second half of the route. This might be of interest to more adventurous runners.
The Palmer Creek Trail begins in Indian Flats, a bottomland flanking the confluence of Pretty Hollow and Palmer creeks. Indian Flats harbors the junction of the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail
and the lower terminus of the Palmer Creek Trail. Beginning at this junction, the Palmer Creek Trail immediately mounts a footlog spanning Pretty Hollow Creek, crosses, and then traverses the upper end of Indian Flats to enter a narrow hollow sporting the finest northern hardwood forest in the Cataloochee basin.
Though the trail follows the course of Palmer Creek, it maintains a polite distance, keeping high above the stream on a well-maintained berm affixed to the steep southern flank of Butt Mountain. For the first mile the grade is moderate, but gradually increases in steepness as the trail negotiates the lower contours of the mountain.
One mile above Indian Flats, conditions deteriorate, the course becoming considerably rugged. The trail then turns and enters a narrow hollow that channels Lost Bottom Creek. It crosses the stream on a footlog and climbs away.
A hundred yards above Lost Bottom Creek, the grade moderates, and the trail returns to tracing a course high above Palmer Creek. After a quarter-mile, it approaches the confluence of Beech Creek and Falling Rock Creek, the two streams converging to form Palmer Creek. The trail proceeds into the Beech Creek hollow, following the stream a hundred yards before crossing on a footlog. It then climbs out of the Beech Creek drainage and takes a course high up and along Falling Rock Creek.
After crossing Beech Creek, the trail climbs to a higher elevation on the south slope of Trail Ridge. Openings in the forest cover afford several views of Shanty Mountain to the south.
A 100-yard tunnel of over-reaching rhododendron heralds the approach to trail’s end. On exiting the tunnel, the trail eases alongside an old railroad spur that extends a few hundred yards out along the spine of Trail Ridge. The Palmer Creek Trail quickly merges onto the old railway bed, where it immediately meets a path leading back down the railroad grade twenty-five yards to an instrument tower. Sixty yards beyond its junction with the access path, the Palmer Creek Trail terminates at Balsam Mountain Road.
This content was contributed by author Ken Wise. For a comprehensive hiking guide to the Great Smoky Mountains and to see more by Ken, click here
The lower reaches of this trail features one of the finest northern hardwood forests in the Cataloochee basin.
Higher up, past the crossing of Beech Creek, the surroundings give way to a dry-ridge association of chestnut, white oaks, pignut hickories, mountain laurel, and rhododendron with galax and trailing arbutus in the understory.