April 7, 2021
The Big Fork Ridge Trail starts at Rough Fork at a nice single-log bridge. This is a nice trail, wide in parts, that gradually ascends Big Fork Ridge with only 612′ of elevation gain. There are some nice switchbacks and the ridge provides a wide spot for water and a snack. There were some April flowers blooming, bloodroot and its wide white petals and the obligatory giant, dying hemlocks. From research, I was surprised to read of the medical, historical use and misuse of bloodroot.
The descent from Big Fork Ridge is slightly more than 800′ to the gentle valley beside Caldwell Fork. .1 miles from the eastern terminus is the McKee Branch Trail. This is a beast of a trail with at least one easy water crossing. It covers 2.3 miles, but covers 1,650′ of ascent. The first .25 miles are picturesque, and appear to be a former home site. Aside from the clearing, this is a tough climb. Water runoff and erosion have created a ditch-like feeling to the trail. It’s a tough climb in a relatively short period to the Cataloochee Divide. Certainly the walk back down was much easier.
All the names of the trails and ridges stem from the creeks in the area. Caldwell, Big Fork Ridge, and McKee all flow and become Cataloochee Creek, which runs into Waterville Lake and the Pigeon River.
Total mileage is 10.64 miles.