Great Smoky Mountains National Park | BOOGERMAN – CALDWELL FORK LOOP HIKE

Boogerman-Caldwell Fork Loop Trail Map

Boogerman-Caldwell Fork Loop Hike Map (click to enlarge)


See the Cataloochee Region web page for an interactive location map.

Note: This hike requires wading across knee- to waist-deep water (depending on recent rainfall) on at least three occasions. Please be prepared.


Length: 7.8-mile loop
Time: 4 to 4.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate with one short but strenuous climb

In many Great Smoky Mountains National Park guide books this hike is called the Boogerman Loop Trail, but it is actually comprised of the Boogerman and Caldwell Fork Trails. You will find that there are very few, if any, single trails in the Smokies that form a loop. In most cases, loop hikes must be pieced together from two or more trails.

This hike starts out on the Caldwell Fork Trail, which is located just outside the entrance to the Cataloochee Campground. If facing the entrance from the main road, the trailhead is a short walk to the right. There are a few parking spaces a little farther down the road for those who are not staying at the campground.

CALDWELL FORK TRAIL

The hike begins at Cataloochee Creek, and the first order of business is a crossing via what I call an “Indiana Jones” bridge. These single logs over the waterway look like something Bad Guys could rock back and forth as you try to get away so you fall to your death. This type of bridge can be found at many of the river crossings in the park, and they are by far the coolest bridges I have come across. However, they aren’t for the faint of heart or for those who are afraid of heights, and regardless of your fears, you can get pretty dizzy by looking down at the rushing water under your feet. There are many more Indiana Jones bridges on this trail, so either get over your fears now or turn around.

Start of the Boogerman-Caldwell Fork Loop Trail

Start of the Boogerman-Caldwell Fork Loop Trail

After crossing the bridge, continue down the wide and fairly flat Caldwell Fork Trail for .8-mile until coming to the Caldwell Fork, another creek in the area. You are not yet on the loop portion of the hike, but on the stick of what I call a “lollipop” trail—you hike out on the stick for a short while before coming to the loop.

As I continued towards Caldwell Fork I noticed that everyone who left before me was returning. It seems that the bridge over the creek was out, and since this hike crosses Caldwell Fork, everyone turned around. Being stubborn, I figured I’d take a look for myself. When I got there I came to the conclusion that there never was a bridge, for if there had been there surely would be some sign of an abutment or foundation. I found nothing of the sort.

Caldwell Fork crossing

Caldwell Fork crossing

Unfortunately, there is no way across Caldwell Fork other than by wading. You can walk up and down the riverbank all you want looking for an easier place to cross, but there isn’t one, so if you want to continue, do as I did and take off your shoes and socks and wade across. The water came up just below my knees—less than two feet deep—but the depth all depends on the amount of recent rainfall. The bottom is rocky, and it is easy to lose your balance. I crossed with $3,000 worth of camera equipment on my shoulder and only managed not to fall because I had hiking poles. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to carry a pair of water shoes in your backpack and use them when crossing because some stones are pointy and they may hurt the bottoms of your feet.

The biggest hassle with crossing is the time it takes to get your feet dry. I spent about 20 minutes just dealing with taking off and putting on my boots. In addition to water shoes, I also suggest packing a small towel for drying your feet. You must wade across two more creeks on this hike, once again at this spot when you return and at a second, even deeper creek farther up the Caldwell Fork Trail. Also, there are numerous creeks that you must cross on stepping stones, but your shoes will still get wet, so be sure to wear waterproof hiking boots. I don’t suggest hiking the entire trail in water shoes, but I’m sure it can be done.

As soon as you get across the creek the trail narrows and begins uphill. It resembles a gully and is full of small rocks—like a creek bed—and it will be very muddy if it has just rained. Water was still trickling down the path during my hike, for it had rained heavily the day before.

In only a couple of minutes you will come to the intersection with the Boogerman Trail, which is where the loop portion of the hike begins. I turned onto Boogerman and proceeded to hike the loop in a clockwise direction, but you could stay straight on the Caldwell Fork Trail and pick up the Boogerman Trail farther down when the two trails intersect for a second time. I don’t think it matters which way you go—clockwise or counterclockwise—as far as avoiding any difficult climbs.

Gully-like and rocky terrain

Gully-like and rocky terrain

BOOGERMAN TRAIL

You will find that when hiking loop trails in the Smoky Mountains that are comprised of two or more trails, one is usually fun and the others usually suck. On this hike it is the Boogerman Trail that I could do without. For those who hike for exercise or to connect with nature, this is a perfectly good hike. However, as a photographer I hike to see something such as a nice view, a waterfall, or some sort of historical ruin waiting at the end of the trail. Hiking on the Boogerman Trail is simply hiking in the woods. You see the same thing at the beginning as you do at the end and all points in between—trees.

Once you get past the gully portion, which runs its course rather quickly, the terrain on the Boogerman Trail is quite smooth and populated only with a few roots here and there. Its saving grace is that while it does proceed uphill, most of the ascent is gradual and of moderate difficulty at worse, with most climbs lasting no more than a minute before being interrupted by long stretches of level terrain. There is only one strenuous climb on the trail, which comes just after crossing another creek at the 3.5-mile mark (you can get across on stepping stones without getting too wet). Here you encounter what I call “tippy-toe” hiking: a hike up a hill so steep that you must push off with your tip-toes and may not cover 4 inches with a stride. If I didn’t lean forward, I might have fallen backwards and started somersaulting down the hill. The climb covers about a tenth of a mile, and it took me five minutes to reach the summit. While not overly long, it is strenuous.

At the 4.25-mile mark is an old stone wall, the remains of a mountain homestead. Yes, this is sort of neat and it does redeem the Boogerman Trail somewhat. You will encounter more of these walls as you continue down the trail.

One of many stone walls along the Boogerman Trail

One of many stone walls along the Boogerman Trail

There is also a hollowed out tree that is so large that you can stand in it. This would make a great shelter in a rain storm—just hope that a bear doesn’t get the same idea.

Hollow tree large enough to use as a shelter

Hollow tree large enough to use as a shelter

Not long after passing the stone wall and the tree are two more creek crossings. You can step across on stones, but you most likely will get your feet wet. The trail follows the creek for a good while, and the terrain becomes rocky during this time. The stones from the creek were used to build the walls that you have been passing, including a complex of walls that you can walk around in. However, there are no buildings remaining.

Another stone wall

Another stone wall

There is one more creek crossing similar to the previous two just before you reach the end of the Boogerman Trail, which dead ends back into the Caldwell Fork Trail 5 miles into the hike. Take a right to begin a long, gradual descent to the parking lot.

CALDWELL FORK TRAIL

As mentioned, the Caldwell Fork Trail is the fun trail, for along the way you will encounter a number of Indiana Jones bridges, shallow creek crossings, and another creek that you must wade across. However, the terrain continues to be gully-like and full of fist-sized stones for much of its length, though there are a few smooth sections here and there. Hiking becomes slow-going as you must watch your step so that you don’t twist an ankle.

A look across an Indiana Jones-style bridge

A look across an Indiana Jones-style bridge

There is one thing to be aware of when crossing the deeper creeks on the Caldwell Fork Trail. As you approach a creek, if you aren’t paying attention you may find yourself heading straight for the water on what resembles a typical boat ramp. On the other side you will see that the trail continues up another ramp. Before taking off your boots, look up- and downstream to see if there is a bridge. In most cases there is one. Horses are allowed on this trail, and what you are looking at is the spot where the horses cross, for they cannot walk across the Indian Jones bridges. The ramp provides smooth access to the water. If you end up here, most likely you weren’t paying attention and missed the fork that takes you to the bridge for hikers.

At the 6.25-mile mark is the second creek that you must wade across. This creek is a little deeper, but as before, don’t waste time looking for a shallower or narrower crossing point. Take off you shoes and socks and walk across. Also remember that you must re-cross Caldwell Fork just .75 mile farther down the trail before continuing to the parking lot.

Second creek crossing

Second creek crossing

CONCLUSION

The total hike is just short of 8 miles, and takes about 4 hours. The Caldwell Fork Trail is a blast, while the Boogerman Trail is nothing but a long, uphill hike through the woods. I’d almost suggest just hiking out-and-back on the Caldewell Fork Trail and doing everything twice…almost. But I leave that up to you, dear reader.

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Last updated on March 12, 2020
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