Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hemphill Bald Loop - Backpacker

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hemphill Bald Loop

This 13.2-mile loop is classic Smokies: free-flowing creeks, wide valley views, and hardwood forests peppered with long-abandoned homesites.

-Mapped by Tim Johnson

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 21.3



Location: 35.563309, -83.161667

Polls Gap trailhead: Take Hemphill Bald Trail down old, grassy, logging-railroad grade; views N to Caldwell Fork Valley


Location: 35.55241, -83.15271

Follow 1930s-era CCC split-rail fence among dense yellow birches and mountain maples


Location: 35.552502, -83.126381

Sheepback Knob helps define Cataloochee Divide, the southern border of once-thriving basin stretching 10 mi. N to Mt. Sterling (pop. 1,000 before the 1930s)


Location: 35.564129, -83.103661

Hemphill Bald (5,540 ft.): S views into Maggie Valley. The angular peak of Cold Mtn. sits 17 mi. to the SE


Location: 35.57198, -83.100647

L @ Y to descend into Caldwell Fork Valley. Among second growth, find umbrella-leaf plants with huge foliage, white blooms (early summer), and blue berries (late summer)


Location: 35.585789, -83.120361

L @ T onto Caldwell Fork Trail. Flat, young forest hints at the valley's lived-in past; old homesites and graves are common in this area


Location: 35.584278, -83.122131

Cross rushing Caldwell Fork over typical Smokies log bridge to campsite 41


Location: 35.584499, -83.126793

Straight @ T. Head R @ Big Poplars sign for short side trip to three massive yellow poplars


Location: 35.587719, -83.14209

L @ T onto Rough Fork Trail; ascend steeply through stands of Eastern hemlock, northern red oak, and red maple


Location: 35.576527, -83.161186

Trail follows contour of Big Spruce Ridge; continue to finish loop @ Polls Gap

CCC Fence

Location: 35.552227, -83.152695

©Tim Johnson

CCC Fence

Location: 35.550217, -83.15023

©Tim Johnson

Views from Hemphill Bald

Location: 35.564289, -83.103172

©Tim Johnson

Hemphill Bald Views

Location: 35.563648, -83.10363

©Tim Johnson

Hemphill Bald Trail

Location: 35.56237, -83.159187

©Tim Johnson

TC Lily

Location: 35.572056, -83.102989

©Tim Johnson