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Snowbird               

LENGTH: 15 miles  SKILL: Advanced
PROS: Waterfalls, Wildlife, Solitude  CONS: None 
WATER: Plentiful    


NOTES: Take Trail 64A to avoid many creek crossings. Can be dangerous after rainfall. Snowbird Trail, after Upper Falls, and Kings Meadows Trail can be difficult to follow. 
Backcountry orienteering skills are necessary for this hike.

THIS HIKE BEGINS AT THE END OF FOREST ROAD 75 AND ENDS AT THE HOOPER BALD PARKING AREA ON THE CHEROHALA SKYWAY

Click here for a trip report | Camping

Located in the Nantahala National Forest finding Snow bird is like finding a four leaf clover. You feel lucky when you see it. This wilderness area is secluded and not very well known to hikers, so the chances of finding solitude are great. This is actually a proposed wilderness area and wilderness designation has been blocked by a senator (Helms)  several times. The Big Snowbird Trail begins at the end of Forest Road 75 and the drive in is a preview of what lies ahead. The trail is "wet" and an excellent hike for the summer.

Big Snowbird Trail (64) is the trail at the end of the parking lot. It resembles an old road but it is an old railroad grade. Railroad artifacts will punctuate this entire hike. The trail (grade) begins a gentle climb along Snowbird Creek. Dense rhododendron, as well as hemlock and beech trees separate the trail from the creek.  At times the trail is high above the creek but it never comes within easy reach of the rushing water. After 1.5 miles the trail passes a small waterfall on the left, an excellent place to cool off in the summer. As the trail follows the creek many small cascades can be seen on your right. At approximately 2.5 miles the trail turns right at an old junk car. Just ahead a few feet you cross Sassafras Creek. This is an excellent campsite and is just above the confluence of Sassafras and Snowbird Creek. The trail climbs slightly and you pass Sassafras Creek trail on the left. This is an alternate route that can make this a loop hike.

Continue hiking on old logging railroad ties that are still in the ground. Just one of many artifacts left from the timber days.

 

   Hiking on narrow gauge railroad ties.

After 4 miles you pass Big Falls on the right. There are a couple of good trails that lead through the thick rhododendron to the multi tiered falls.

    

Big Falls

Another 1/2 mile or so down the trail you cross the creek on a sturdy log bridge. On the other side is an excellent open area for camping. There is plenty of room for many groups to camp at this confusing trail junction. There are many "fishing trails" here and many hikers take a wrong turn. This is also the junction of 64A, a dry route that takes you to the other side of Middle Falls. 64A climbs a hill steeply and rises above and out of site of the creek rapidly. After a mile the trail passes a junction on the left with Middle Falls Overlook Trail. This is a spur that has a nice view of the falls. Just ahead the trail rejoins Trail 64 at a cable bridge.

         

        Junction of Trail 64 and 64A

Taking the "high" trail (64A) is ideal for cold weather hiking. If you feel like splashing around, take 64 instead. In a mile it crosses the creek 11 times!  After reaching the cable bridge, turn right on the trail without crossing the bridge. This will put you back on trail 64.At the bridge there are several good campsites right beside Snowbird Creek. This is a very popular camping area and rightfully so! Middle Falls are very beautiful and there are plenty of beautiful creekside sites here. Less experienced backpackers and hikers should make this a "turn-around" point or the first half of a loop. After this, trail 64 becomes more and more difficult to follow.

As you continue hiking through dense Rhododendron on big Snowbird Trail (64) you rock hop several branches. Upper Falls, approximately 1.5 miles past Middle Falls, are difficult to access because of thick Rhododendron. It is, however, possible to view them from the trail. Another mile down the trail, after you cross an un-named branch, is a large cache of railroad artifacts. In the clearing you will see several large metal parts. If you bush whack up the branch to the right of the main trail you will see more metal parts, some paint cans and a possible railroad junction. A very interesting place to explore or to make camp. As with most of this section of trail, the foliage is so thick that very little light reaches the forest floor.

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          Playing with old railroad scrap.

After this clearing the Big Snowbird Trail is very hard to follow. Here it begins its' many crossings of this pristine creek. There aren't any alternate trails to keep your feet dry so in cold weather or times of high water you may want to back track to the trailhead. From here to the you will notice thick grass and Rhododendron along the trail. Brook trout are residents of this creek, proving that this water is very "clean". Because of the erosion caused by careless logging practices, the creeks in this area supported no fish population for many years. Thankfully the creek has completely recovered and now supports a healthy fish population including the "Brookies".

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      One of many creek crossings after Upper Falls.

This section of trail is not very well traveled, possibly due to the many creek crossings. It is difficult to follow the trail because of the numerous washouts that must be negotiated. The railroad grades weren't built to last forever.

Recently at the Ranger Station one hiker said that he wouldn't recommend this section of trail ( or lack thereof ) to anyone. He went on to say "If you have some sins that you may want to do penance for, this is the trail to do!"

If you happen to get "turned around" just remember that the "trail" follows the creek.

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                           Trail washout.                            

At 8.5 miles the trail junctions with the Mitchell Lick Trail. This is a welcome sight after thrashing through the rhododendron!

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Filtering water from Snowbird Creek

The Mitchell Lick Trail (#154) leads up (1.5 miles) past the King Meadows Trail (63). To continue to the Skyway, and your other vehicle, continue your climb to the junction with the Hooper Bald Trail. At this junction, a left will take you .1 mile to the parking area on the Cherohala Skyway. A right will take you to Hooper Bald in just one fifth of a mile.

The Cherohala Skyway was a very controversial issue during its planning and construction. The local residents needed a highway to connect with Tellico Plains for hunting, tourism and other purposes. Environmentalists fought this highway because it cut through unspoiled wilderness and because it severed important migratory paths for several species. Rare animals and not so rare animals have been affected adversely. Migratory paths that had been previously untouched since the beginning of time, were changed forever. The result has been the reduction of the population of some wildlife species.

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          The Cherohala Skyway cutting through the wilderness

Enjoy the breathtaking views that can be observed from the parking areas cleverly placed along this Skyway. The ride from Big Junction to the starting point is the "Icing on the cake" and a great way to complete this hiking trip.

Gettin'There                                    

To reach the trail head, take Route 143 west out of Robbinsville, NC. After passing views of Santeetlah Lake on the right you will see Snowbird Rd (S.R.1127) intersecting with Rt. 143 on the left. Turn here and continue for approximately 2 miles or 3/10 mile past Robbinsons Grocery. Turn left on Little Snowbird Rd.Continue on Little Snowbird Road for approximately two miles. Look for Big Snowbird Rd-(State Road 1120) a dirt road on the right. This is FR 75. Turn right here and follow it until the end. This is the trail head. The Snowbird trail is straight ahead and over a large berm.

To reach Big Junction and the car drop off, continue on 143 out of Robbinsville, past Snowbird Road and continue on until Route 143 becomes the Cherohala Skyway. After a spectacular drive to the higher elevations, enter the Hooper Bald rest area on the left. It is a developed rest area that is past the 5000 elevation sign and on the left. The graveled Trailhead begins at the picnic tables. Follow the trail signs to enter the Snowbird Basin. Drop one of the vehicles off here and double back to FR 75. Overnight parking is allowed.

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Camping Information

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