Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Tricorner Loop

A peakbagger's dream, this 31-mile Smokies backpack loops across forested ridgelines, offering the opportunity to tag eight 6,000-foot summits along the way.
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A peakbagger's dream, this 31-mile Smokies backpack loops across forested ridgelines, offering the opportunity to tag eight 6,000-foot summits along the way.

Departing from Round Bottom on the Beech Gap Trail; this 31-mile loop affords backpackers the opportunity to bag eight of the Carolina Mountain Club’s South Beyond 6,000 peaks (there are 40 total). But before you tag ‘em you’ll have to earn them; the first 3.3 miles of this trip gain over 2,500 feet of elevation to the Laurel Gap shelter. From here on out, the elevation profile is more moderate (with a few spikes on each of the summit climbs—which are all optional off trail out-and-backs).
From Laurel Gap, head up to tag the Big Cataloochee Mountain summit or continue the counterclockwise loop as it treks along the Balsam Moutain Trail following a ridgeline through a mossy deciduous forest peppered with mountain laurel and rhododendron. 14 miles in, the route syncs with the Appalachian Trail (along the North Carolina/Tennessee border). Stop for the evening at the Tricorner Knob Shelter; the next day, backtrack north on the AT to tackle optional summit approaches to Tricorner Bald, Mount Guyot, and Old Black, or continue the loop heading southwest on the AT.
At Peck’s Corner, the route turns off the AT onto the Hughes Ridge Trail. Foolw that to the Enloe Creek Trail and consider spending another night in the Smokies along the creek at the Enloe Creek Shelter. From there, it’s 4 miles back to Round Bottom to finish the loop.

-Mapped by Scott Sanders, GroundedGraphics.com

PLAN IT

MAP
>> Trails llustrated Clingmans Dome/Cataloochee/Great Smoky Mountains NP ($10, natgeomaps.com)
>> View a map of the park at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.
>> Order the USGS topo quads listed above at store.usgs.gov.
>> Order a custom map of this route at MyTopo.com.

GUIDEBOOK: Hiking Trails of the Smokies ($21, smokiesstore.org) details all 150 maintained trails within the park.

PERMITS: Required when camping at a backcountry campsite or shelter (free, reserve up to one month before your trip and pick up in person). Backcountry reservation office: (865) 436-1231, nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm

CONDITIONS: Check weather at Gatlinburg, TN (37738) Weather

SEASON: The park is open year-round, and our trail scouts have hiked this route in every season. Check for road, trail, and camping closures at nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm. Curious about fall foliage? Check nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm.

PARK INFO: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200; nps.gov/grsm

SMOKIES TRIP PLANNER: nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/trip-planner.htm

OTHER RESOURCES

GAS
Shell Super Mart
376 Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
(865) 430-2161

Texaco
799 Tsali Blvd.
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-4539

GEAR
Nantahala Outdoor Center
13077 Highway 19 W
Bryson City, NC 28713
(888) 905-7238
noc.com

Blackrock Outdoor Co.
570 West Main St.
Sylva, NC
(828) 631-4453

Mast General Store
63 N. Main St.
Waynesville, NC 28786
(828) 452-2101
mastgeneralstore.com

Smoky Mountain Outfitters
469 Brookside Village Way
Gatlinburg, TN
(865) 430-2267

GROCERIES
Food City
1219 East Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
(865) 430-3116

Bearland General Store
305 Historic Nature Trail
Gatlinburg, TN
(865) 436-4565

Bradley's Grocery‎
1699 Paint Town Rd.
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-9132

RESTAURANTS
Smoky Mountain Brewery
1004 Parkway # 501
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
coppercellar.com/Restaurant-SmokyMountainBrewery.html

Best Italian Cafe & Pizzeria
968 Parkway # 9
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
(865) 430-4090 ‎
bestitalian.com

Granny's Kitchen
1098 Paint Town Rd.
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-5010

Peter's Pancakes and Waffles
1384 Tsali Blvd.
Cherokee, NC
(828) 497-5116

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 49.6

Waypoints

TRC001

Location: 35.624109, -83.211394

Begin hiking north on the Beech Gap Trail, and just ahead bear right at the first 3-way junction. The route begins climbing immediately, gaining 3,000 feet over the next 5 miles up to Big Cataloochee Mountain.

TRC002

Location: 35.646361, -83.202068

Turn left @ 3-way junction onto the Balsam Mountain Trail; the route continues a stiff climb toward Laurel Gap.

TRC003

Location: 35.66537, -83.18777

Arrive at the Laurel Gap shelter; after 2,600 feet of climbing you may be ready for a break. The Balsam Mountain Trail continues heading northeast.

TRC004

Location: 35.667355, -83.186464

To tack on a 2-mile out-and-back bushwhack up to Big Cataloochee Mountain, turn right. Otherwise, turn left to head northwest and continue the loop.

TRC005

Location: 35.667432, -83.18034

Turn left off trail to head uphill for the Big Catahoochee summit.

TRC006

Location: 35.67223, -83.175781

Tag Big Cataloochee Mountain, a South Beyond 6,000 summit and then backtrack to waypoint 4 to continue the counterclockwise loop.

TRC007

Location: 35.677726, -83.191896

Turn left @ 3-way junction to continue hiking the Balsam Mountain Trail along the ridgeline. The views on this stretch are better than what you'll get atop many of the wooded summits on this trek.

TRC008

Location: 35.689878, -83.213977

A right turn off the trail leads up to Luftee Knob, another 6,000-foot summit. Tackle the .4-mile detour or continue northwest along the Balsam Mountain Trail.

TRC009

Location: 35.69269, -83.2151

Luftee Knob: Tag the summit and then backtrack to waypoint 8 to continue northwest on the Balsam Mountain Trail.

TRC010

Location: 35.691183, -83.248862

To tackle a burly 2.1-mile off-trail out-and back to Mark's Knob, turn left at this 3-way intersection. Otherwise, continue bearing right to head toward the Tricorner Knob Shelter.

TRC011

Location: 35.679888, -83.248515

The third 6,000-foot summit of the trip.

TRC012

Location: 35.694456, -83.256534

Turn left @ 3-way intersection onto the white-blazed Appalachian Trail as it follows the North Carolina/Tennessee border. From here, the top of Tricorner Knob is accessible via a .3-mile, off-trail route to waypoint 13. Turning right at this junction follows the optional 5.3-mile detour to tag Mount Guyot and Old Black (two more 6,000-foot summits).

TRC013

Location: 35.695722, -83.254363

Tricorner Knob summit.

TRC014

Location: 35.693663, -83.257217

Turn left off the AT for a short walk to the Tricorner Knob Shelter

TRC015

Location: 35.693918, -83.256721

The Tricorner Knob Shelter.

TRC016

Location: 35.687871, -83.268728

A right turn off of the trail heads up a short, steep climb to the top of Mountain Chapman (waypoint 17).

TRC017

Location: 35.686808, -83.271098

Mount Chapman: Another 6,000-foot off-trail summit. Backtrack to waypoint 16 to continue the loop.

TRC018

Location: 35.67462, -83.283692

The Top of Mount Sequoyah is about 15 feet to the north of the trail in a beaten down spot.

TRC019

Location: 35.655249, -83.308426

Turn left on the Hughes Ridge Trail @ the 3-way intersection at Pecks Corner. The Appalachian Trail continues to the right.

TRC020

Location: 35.629691, -83.30473

Turn left @ 3-way junction to continue along the Hughes Ridge Trail

TRC021

Location: 35.60878, -83.281345

Turn left onto the Enloe Creek Trail at this 3-way intersection.

TRC022

Location: 35.609912, -83.254952

Cross the creek and continue past the Enloe Creek Campground.

TRC023

Location: 35.612875, -83.24301

Turn right @ 3-way junction to continue on the Enloe Creek Trail.

TRC024

Location: 35.608685, -83.223307

Turn left on the gravel road and continue another 1.5 miles back to the Beech Gap Trailhead.

Beech Gap Trailhead

Location: 35.624652, -83.211865

Beech Gap Trail

Location: 35.63986, -83.206158

Balsam Mountain Trail

Location: 35.661899, -83.191352

Below Balsam High Top

Heart-Shaped Tree

Location: 35.670197, -83.176932

Laurel Gap Shelter

Location: 35.665664, -83.187447

Looking Northwest from Laurel Gap

Location: 35.664828, -83.188648

Balsam Mountain Trail

Location: 35.679331, -83.19706

Tricorner Knob Shelter

Location: 35.693933, -83.256704

The Appalachian Trail

Location: 35.686546, -83.269157

Copper Gap View

Location: 35.668907, -83.291216

Looking across the Smokies at Copper Gap

Hughes Ridge Trail

Location: 35.643487, -83.30718

Smokies Fog

Location: 35.633023, -83.306022

Enloe Creek Trail

Location: 35.616279, -83.272934

Enloe Creek

Location: 35.612651, -83.264394

Crossing Enloe Creek

Location: 35.613872, -83.269887

Bridge Crossing

Location: 35.610488, -83.255682