This was my first time in this trail. Went up old butt and came down shining creek. The only advice I have is take a portable charge for your phone because you will take some much video and pics. Once at 6000 feet the landscape was awesome.
This loop is a nice way to knock out several less-traveled trails in one of the quintessential wildernesses of the Blue Ridge.
Starting on Shining Creek Trail from the Big East Fork camping area off Hwy 276, the Old Butt Knob Trail spurs to the right after about 3/4 of a mile. Although there is no sign for it, the trail is pretty obvious and very hard to miss if you are looking for it.
I can only describe the ascent as epic. Gaining 1500 feet in just the first 1/2 mile, you're up there pretty quick! Great lookouts abound - primarily to the south - all the way up to Shining Rock.
Heading south on the Art Loeb Trail coming through Flower Gap, there is a stunning view of the Cataloochie Divide, Mt Sterling and Guyot - the figurative and literal rock-stars of the eastern Smokies - all standing layered together to the northeast. All the while, blueberries line the path with such abundance there was no need to stop for them - just grab as you go! Does this sound like the after-life yet?
The Alltrails app on my phone came in pretty handy from this point on. The social trails along the ALT live up to their notoriety. I went down one for quite a ways before the app convinced me to turn around. Likewise, I missed the Grassy Cove access trail head, continuing on ALT for about 1/8 mile before retracing my steps. This is not a place to travel for the first time without some navigational skills and/or guidance system.
From the ALT, the Grassy Cove access trail is pretty overgrown, but upon arrival to Grassy Cove Ridge, it descends into a lush, old growth forest with (surprise) a beautiful grassy floor. Gorgeous and somewhat surreal - I loved this part of the hike the most!
The Big East Fork Trail forks to the left immediately following Grassy Cove's second creek crossing. From there, the creek stays on your left for the entire trip back to Hwy. 276. There are two areas where the trail takes you to the creek and disappears, but following along the edge, it picks back up again. The BEFT travels behind a western ridge that blocks the late afternoon sun, resulting in an everlasting twilight for its 3.5 mile duration.
The mapping track gave this loop 11.5 miles, but it is definitely just over 13. Even so, it still took 10 hours to complete! Maybe I could have shaved off another hour without the turnarounds and all the picture stops........but not much more than that.
Pack an extra Payday for this one!