Beautiful trail. Saw elk along the way! Be careful as I heard numerous reports that bears frequent this trail. Besides that, it was a fairly easy hike. I will say that it is a 'gradual uphill' most of the way so prepare to get a little bit of cardio work done!
My 17 year old son and I got onto the trail at Polls Gap and proceeded to Hemphill's Bald. The views were really fantastic! The hike on the way was definitely strenuous at times, but enjoyable! After the Bald, we proceeded on Hemphill Bald Trail, but missed our turn at Double Gap. If you go straight ahead at Double Gap, you will be on Cataloochee Divide Trail. We ended up following that trail, accomplishing right at 9 miles total for the day, before we exited the trail at Big Laurel Road where we were picked up by my husband. I sure wish we had accomplished our goal of the whole loop, but we did enjoy a great hike with stunning views!
Starting from Caldwell Fork, the Hemphill Bald Trail begins as one of the most tedious paths in the Catalooch. If the deep erosion from weather and horse travel makes you grateful you brought your boots, the six stream crossings will make you even happier you waterproofed them. At the first crossing, you have to hug the laurel on the right side of the stream to be able to discern where the trail picks up on the other side. I had to ford the next crossing, so packing a small towel is recommended.
After the final crossing, you'll encounter a lone, old growth poplar!
The trail conditions improve as it begins its strenuous 2 mile ascent toward the the Cataloochie Divide. On the way, you'll get some excellent views of Balsam and Sterling to the northwest and views of the approaching divide ridge to the south. When you arrive to the park boundary on the divide, the Cataloochie Ranch is beyond the fence line with awesome views of the Pisgah corridor to the northeast, the Plott Balsam range due east and Hemphill Bald waiting in the south.
Based on the beauty of the trail during its earnest ascent and the rewards to come at the divide, I'd easily give this trail 4 stars - but the first mile is too brutal to forgive.
Worthwhile? You bet!!!