September 14-15, 2019
Looking at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Smoky’s) map, Spruce Mountain Trail is intriguing. It is a 1.2 mile, in-and-out hiking destination located off a one-lane Balsam Mountain Road. Campsite #42 is the terminus of the trail. My desire to hike and camp here is because of this solitude, as it appears to stand alone with no intersecting trails. However, the modern history of this area is not one of remoteness. Four years after Congress created the Park, a fire tower and ranger’s cabin was built atop Spruce Mountain (pictured below) and electricity was installed. The tower is gone now and the only remnants are foundation blocks covered in thickets of blackberry brambles. Until being decommissioned in 2000, the Polls Gap Trail ran from Polls Gap (near Balsam Mountain Campground) and intersected Spruce Mountain Trail.
According to maps, Bear Branch is supposed to be located near the campsite, but having been warned by the Ranger’s Office that the site was dry, I made sure to bring enough water in with me.
Spruce Mountain is named for the red spruce that inhabit the area.* The hike from Balsam Mt. road is not difficult and only gains 700 feet. After 3/4 mile, the stinging nettle and more common pines diminish and the lush red spruce appear. The air changes from stuffy to the clear alpine air. Campsite #42 is without a doubt one of my favorites. It is nestled in a sparse clearing at the base of Spruce Mountain. It is surrounded by dense spruce trees and moss carpets the floor of most of the campsite. As I lay down in my hammock that night, I heard the longing hoot of barn owls close by, quickly followed by the high pitched yelp of several foxes.
I highly recommend this camping spot.
Total mileage is 2.4 miles.
*Allen R. Coggins, Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association
Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Aug 1, 1999 – page 142.