I really am fortunate. Living so close to Standing Indian – and all the wonderful trails it has to offer – is, well, the best thing in the world. Really! It’s a hiker’s paradise!
I could write thousands of blog posts about it and post umpteen million beautiful photos, but it’s not the same as seeing this place for yourself.
I suppose I could – or should – leave it at that. Visit Standing Indian – period! But then this would become a very dull blog. And besides, you’d never get to read about Kimsey Creek Trail…which…you’d be better off experiencing personally rather than reading about it. But…then…well…oh!
Ok! Enough. You get the picture. You’re here. You might as well read about Kimsey Creek Trail. Then you can decide if you’d like to see it for yourself…or not. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It’s, by far, one of my favorite trails in the Standing Indian Basin.
And like many of the the trails in Standing Indian, you can pick up the Kimsey Creek Trail at the Backcountry Information Center. Just follow the signs to the junction of Kimsey Creek Trail and the Park Ridge/Park Creek loop and turn left. You’re ready to hike Kimsey Creek.
The Magic Begins
There are only a couple of steep, short inclines on the Kimsey Creek Trail and you’ll be glad to know you’re getting one of them out of the way right at the beginning. It’s not a long incline but it will elevate your heart rate, depending on what kind of shape you’re in.
As it switches back on itself and winds up the hill, you will soon find yourself walking along the Standing Indian Campground and past the outdoor amphitheater. Further on, the path descends to an old forest service road, where you’ll look down on the large group campsites, a great place for groups up to 50 campers (reservations required).
In my opinion, this old forest service road, which you’ll be on for a couple of miles, is one of the many things that makes Kimsey Creek Trail so enjoyable. This wide, scenic walk along Kimsey Creek is rather deceiving. You don’t even realize you’re gradually going uphill the whole way.
Many people will follow this section out until the path narrows again and then turn around for a short, 4 mile, out and back hike. And if this is all you end up doing, it’ll still be one of the most memorable hikes you’ve ever taken.
This section is punctuated by many water crossings, springs, and feeder streams for Kimsey Creek. So many, in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the creek and the trail. But don’t let this dissuade you! Yes. Kimsey Creek Trail is a wet trail. But it’s fun hopping from rock to rock – especially with hiking poles – or you can tramp right through the wet spots like an old pro if you want. And kids LOVE this section because of all the water.
Waterfalls and Falling Waters
As you follow the well marked blue blazed trail, you’ll come to a small bridge where the road ends and the single lane path picks up again. The first thing you’ll see when you cross the bridge is one of many backcountry campsites along Kimsey Creek Trail. You can’t reserve these, and sometimes they’re overgrown with raspberry canes, but if you do decide to camp in one of these places remember to practice the Leave No Trace principles.
I love this section of the trail! It passes through a narrow ravine as it continues to meander along Kimsey Creek. There are several small, picturesque waterfalls, a rickety, but safe, bridge, and great places to meditate with the sound of running water dominating your senses.
And, the temperature?! Wow! Is it cool through this section – anytime of year. It’s like being in an air conditioned forest in the summer. It can be 80 degrees in Franklin, but only 65 degrees along this part of the creek. In the winter and through early spring, it’s not uncommon to see huge icicles hanging from the rock faces along the creek. And, with full leaf coverage, it almost appears to be dusk most of the day throughout this section.
It really is magical! And if you don’t go any farther than this on the trail, you’ve had a great hike. Seriously!
The second distinct incline in the trail marks the end of this section. The path climbs up and away from the creek, winding around small swales and ridges, hopping feeder streams, and past some rather large trees. Dappled sunlight makes another appearance as the ridge rises and though the canopy is thick in the summer, you may get a glimpse of blue sky letting you know it’s still daylight.
Kimsey Creek Canyon – Unofficially Speaking
Eventually you’ll come to a blue blazed tree, which looks like it has very long legs. It reminds me of the Tree Ents from Lord of the Rings. You get the feeling like it just might walk through the fern-carpeted forest at night and return to the exact same spot as the sun rises. Haha! I’m sure it doesn’t, but, then again, I haven’t spent the night at this spot to know for certain.
The trail drops sharply here and rejoins Kimsey Creek. I call this section of the trail Kimsey Creek Canyon. Oh, no! That’s not its official name. I made it up. It’s not on any cartographer’s maps. But you’re deep…well below the canopy, surrounded by steeply rising ridges, and dwarfed by the mountain tops. Often times, though you don’t feel it before or after this section, the wind roars through here as if it were the only passage it has through the mountains.
It’s not like the Grand Canyon, mind you, with sheer cliffs on either side. No. These mountains are much older, softer, worn down by time and weather. In the winter, when the leaves are gone and you can see the contour of the land around you, the canyon-like quality really shows. And the way the land opens up as you come out of this section, heading toward Deep Gap, almost gives the impression, geologically speaking, that there may have been a land bridge or ice dam many thousands of years ago, which eventually gave way to what is now Kimsey Creek, forming the Kimsey Creek Canyon.
Who knows?! But it sure is fun looking at the land and speculating on the history and the forces of nature that shape it.
The Final Accent
As the trail continues, it’s time to say goodbye to Kimsey Creek. The path begins its last ascent towards Deep Gap. There are a couple of short climbs, but overall the trail still has a fairly gradual grade, compared to other trails in Standing Indian.
When you average the elevation gain over the entire distance of the trail it’s only about 250 feet per mile. Very easy! I think the reason why the trail is listed as “moderately difficult” is because of all the water crossings, rocks, and roots you have to contend with – not the elevation gain.
Anyway, soon you will come to a large meadow adjacent to a gravel parking lot, which is accessed by US Forest Service Road 71. (Please note: USFS 71 is only open spring through fall. Check with the local Nantahal Ranger Station (firstname.lastname@example.org) for opening and closing dates.)
USFS 71, a six mile long, one lane, gravel road with turnouts, connects U.S. Hwy 64 with Deep Gap. Deep Gap (elev 4341) is the terminus of the Kimsey Creek Trail, trailhead for the Deep Gap Branch Trail, and a popular waypoint on the Appalachian Trail for weekenders and AT section hikers.
You’ll always find cars in the various parking lots at the end of Kimsey Creek Trail. In fact, certain times of the year this area gets quite crowded. For example, in April you’ll be hard pressed finding solitude amongst all the section hikers, thru-hikers, and the people gathering ramps, a pungent, wild onion,considered a delicacy by many, that grows rampant in this area. And, of course, again in the fall when all the leaf lookers come out for our colorful fall display.
How’s It Go Again? Oh, Right? Just Do It!
Kimsey Creek Trail is a great out-and-back hike that’s available year round from the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian. It’s also part of a very popular loop trail (Kimsey Creek Trail/Appalachian Trail/Lower Ridge Trail – 11 miles in total) that makes for a great, but long, day hike or a wonderful weekend backpacking trip.
BUT – and this is a big but since this is a very important Public Service Announcement – if you decide to do the loop, I strongly recommend starting with Kimsey Creek Trail first. The Lower Ridge Trail, beautiful and scenic as it may be, is quite steep in parts and is MUCH better to come down, than to go up. Believe me!
So! If you’ve made it this far, after reading all these words, I hope you realize that you really need to experience this trail for yourself – more than once and at different times of the year.
There’s magic in discovering the beauty of a trail for the first time and Kimsey Creek Trail will easily feel like a new experience every time you hike it. So…hike it! And let me know what you think about it in the comments section.
Trail at a glance
Mileage: 4.1 miles one way to Deep Gap
Elevation change: Approx 1000ft from Backcountry Info Center to Deep Gap
Water sources: Springs/Streams
Trailhead: Park at the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian and follow the signs for Kimsey Creek Trail.