November 27, 2015
William Holland Thomas was a renaissance man: attorney, North Carolina State Senator, soldier, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In fact, he is to this day, the only white person to be chief of the Cherokee. During the Civil War, he led a legion of Cherokee Indians and mountain folk for the Confederacy.
Spanning the ridgeline between Deep Creek and Newfound Gap Road, the Thomas Divide Trail is most meritoriously named. It is ridge walking at its best: sweeping views, wonderful terrain, dense trees. Thomas Divide is the fourth longest trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), behind the AT, Benton MacKaye, and Deep Creek Trail.
On a Friday, when most were scouring for Christmas deals, Perry and I drove to the northern terminus off of Newfound Gap Road. The first 1.8 miles are mainly uphill until you reach the Kanati Fork junction. To the west you can clearly see Clingman’s Dome and Mt. Collins. A slight mist was hugging Clingman’s ridge.
Shortly after passing Kanati, we climbed up and over Nettle Creek Bald, a bygone bald, now with young trees. We then descended for two miles until we reached the Sunkota Ridge Trail junction. For the next .4 miles the Thomas Divide briefly joins the Mountains-To-Sea Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail, before diverging off at the Newton Bald Trail.
It was then three more miles to the Deep Low Gap junction. Before starting the trail, I had remarked that I would be surprised to see another soul on the trail. We stopped at Deep Low Gap around noon and ate our lunch. Deep Low is nestled between two high mountains and is the perfect lunch spot. As we ate, we met several groups of hikers. Among them, two women came up the eastern side of Deep Low. I am continuously impressed with the kindness and geniality of Tennessee hikers, who portray the sense that they have never met a non-friend on the trail. One of the women was older and her friend told us that she had already hiked every trail in the GSMNP twice. Before departing, she kindly looked at me, said good luck on my quest to hike all the trails, for “I know that you will do it.” Such kindness.
After lunch we quickly climbed up a large mountain for the next .7 miles, before descending to Indian Creek Motor Trail junction. The trail from here is an essentially an old road, wide and curving down the eastern spine towards Deep Creek. We lost track of time for the next 2.1 miles as the trail meandered downward. The trail passes Stone Pile Gap Trail and then it is an easy 1.1 miles until Tom Branch Road and the car.
Total mileage is 13.7 miles.