New Year’s Day on the Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop Trail

Green moss encroaching on a blue blaze.How did I let this happen? It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to hike in the woods.

Somehow October and November got away from me. I was beginning to show signs of Cabin Fever. And that’s not good…for anyone.

What to do?

You and I both know there’s only one cure for Cabin Fever; lace up your boots and hit the trail. Sounds like the perfect prescription, doesn’t it?

I love where I live! I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a million more times. But there are hundreds of trails within a short drive of my home. It’s really a hiker’s paradise.

Choosing a trail, however, can feel like standing in the middle of a video store and trying to decide what movie you want to watch.

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to pick this time. I headed straight to Standing Indian so I could hike one of my favorite loops; the Park Creek-Park Ridge loop.

The beautiful Upper Nantahala River.Follow the sign to the various trailheads.There's always some green to find in the winter woods.The Trail

The Park Creek and Park Ridge trails are actually two different trails and fabulous in their own way. Taking the half mile connector between the two trails turns an “out-and-back” trip into a very nice roundabout walk, bringing you right back to where you started. It’s perfect for families and hikers of almost any age.

Though there are no scenic overlooks or amazing waterfalls along this trail…or any “special” places you need to see – it still offers plenty of lush beauty, the solitude of the backcountry and the soothing sound of babbling water practically anywhere on the trail.

In fact, like most trails in Standing Indian, there are several places along this loop where it’s hard to discern the trail from the stream. But that’s all part of its charm.

Leaving the Backcountry Info Center, follow the signs and the blue blazed trail through the Standing Indian Campground. Various trailheads will branch off from this feeder trail.

I always start with the Park Creek trail first. It travels for about a mile along the Upper Nantahala River on what I think is an old railroad grade. History buffs might know for sure, but I do know there are other old grades in the basin.

Take your time as you pass through the thick rhododendron and dog hobble and check out some of the large boulders and rocky places along the river. Little side trails will reveal nice long views of the river, swimming holes, and some beautiful whitewater cascades.

A bridge over Park Creek.Leading the way on Park Creek Trail.One of the many cascades on Park Creek.The trail takes a sharp left turn when it reaches Park Creek. For the next mile and a half the path meanders around this bold tributary and begins a gentle, long climb.

I don’t think many hikers venture pass this point. Park Creek Trail begins to narrow and you’re likely to find fewer signs of travelers and many more tree branches and blow downs across the path.

This was the first time I’ve hiked the trail in the dead of winter. And, to my surprise, after about two miles in, I found a clearing I had never seen before. It was about twenty feet off the path. The thicket that separated it from the path is obviously too dense to permit detection in the summer.

It’s always fun finding these woodland meadows. The forest service maintains these openings for wildlife, but they’re nonetheless surprising when you happen upon one – a clearing in the middle of seemingly nowhere.

Doghobble encroaching on the path.

The trail crossing Park Creek.

Moss covered stone on Park Creek Trail.

Somewhere around the 2.5 mile mark, you’ll have to ford Park Creek. It’s fairly wide at this point and, depending on the amount of recent rain, the large stepping stones can sometimes be submerged.

It’s always a good idea whenever you’re hiking in Standing Indian to use trekking poles or a walking stick. With as much water on the trails and the numerous stream crossings, trekking poles come in handy, providing extra balance and stability.

There’s nothing worse in the winter than slipping off a rock and getting your foot soaked.

In about another tenth of a mile and you’ll come to a fork in the path. Park Creek Trail continues to the right and the Connector Trail to Park Ridge Trail turns left. This spot is generally well marked (although the sign looked like it was in need of some repair when I was there on New Year’s Day).

Trail marker for Park Ridge Trail.Rhododendrons along Park Ridge Trail.A spring running through the middle of Park Ridge Trail.There’s only about 550 feet of elevation gain on Park Creek-Park Ridge loop and most of it comes in the last quarter mile of the Connector Trail. It’s easy enough with switchbacks and when you reach the top you’ll find yourself at the intersection of three forest service roads.

These grassy roads are not on any of the maps I own, but one of the roads has a sign indicating it connects with Kimsey Creek Trail.

Turn right once you reach the forest service road, walk about 20 yards and take the Park Ridge return trail on your left. You’ll notice a set of stairs to the right. This is the continuation of the Park Ridge Trail which follows the ridge line between Park Creek and Kimsey Creek.

The Return Trip

A map of the Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop trail.

Park Creek Trail is marked as 33 and Park Ridge Trail is marked as 32 and 32A, which is the Connector Trail. The dotted line highlighted in orange is the AT at Rock Gap. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

From here it’s all downhill. For the next mile or so, you’ll amble around tall poplars, oaks and an occasional beech tree. Every now and again you’ll come across a rhododendron thicket hiding another soggy branch you’ll have to cross.

Eventually this will intersect with the old railroad grade you started on. Turn right and follow the signs back to the Back Country Info Center.

Anytime of year is great time to hike this trail. In the summer, it offers a lush forest, cool shade and plenty of watery distractions. In the winter, when the leaves are gone, you can see the incredible contours of the land around you as it makes a big circle around Bee Tree Knob.

Just shy of five miles, this fantastic loop is great for a family hike, power walk or even some scenic trail running. Let me know what you think if you ever get the chance to try it.

Where did you hike on New Year’s Day?

6 thoughts on “New Year’s Day on the Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop Trail

    • When it comes to hiking in Standing Indian…don’t leave home without them. My hiking poles have saved me from numerous slips and soakings.

  1. We did this yesterday and really enjoyed it. Weather was perfect and our dogs had a blast running free. Only saw 2 other people,the entire time and that was close to Standing Indian campground where we stayed. Definiltely will be back. We did 7 miles total and that was plenty

    • So great to hear, Johnnie!! I’m thrilled that you let me know about your hike. I love this loop for so many reasons and it makes me happy that you enjoyed it too. And, yes! Please do come back. There are many more trails to explore. ‘Til then…!

      • We plan on going back late July to do Lower Ridge , Deep Gap and Kimsey Creek

        FYI-The Lazy Hiker Brewery and Fork in the Road food truck made a great post hike experience. Dog friendly brewery

        • How exciting, Johnnie!! That’s the magic of the Standing Indian Basin – it’s hard to stay away!

          If you haven’t already, do check my blog for posts about Kimsey Creek Trail, Lower Ridge Trail, and the AT connector between the two. Lower Ridge is a difficult trail to go up and I usually recommend going up Kimsey Creek Trail, over the AT, and then coming down Lower Ridge Trail. Much easier!! Oh! And be sure to take the blue blaze trail up to the top of Standing Indian Mtn. Great views and it’s opposite the trail head for coming down Lower Ridge trail.

          And, yes! The Lazy Hiker and the Fork in the Road make a great post hike pit stop. Thanks for supporting our local businesses! I can’t wait to hear about your next visit to Standing Indian!!

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