November 12, 2022
Big Fork Ridge Trail and McKee Branch Trail are connector trails between various ridges. They contain few switchbacks, are very rocky and are difficult if hiked in the wrong direction. Fortunately, on this rainy, cold fall day, we chose to hike it the right way. These two trails were my last ones in the Cataloochee area. One car was left at Nellie, the former mountain town that existed in the 19th century until the early 20th and a car at the trailhead to Cataloochee Divide Trail.
We hiked in the rain and wind for 4.3 miles along the divide until McKee Branch. Cataloochee Divide has undulation with some ascent, but nothing overly strenuous. The descent down McKee was stark in contrast. Over 2.3 miles it is a 1,685 ft. down to Caldwell Fork. The trail is extremely rocky and rather slippery when rain is present. We took it slow, watching our steps, as the wet leaves often concealed precarious rocks.
The trail crosses Caldwell Fork and immediately begins a 1.5-mile ascent of Rabbit Ridge and Big Fork Ridge Trail. Again, nothing too difficult, but an unexpected uphill climb. I found Big Fork less rocky and a nicer trail.
The trail exits on a footpath near Nellie and the Caldwell House. A short road walk had us back to the warmth of the car.
Total mileage is 10.6 miles.