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The Swallow Fork Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is my daddy

Swallow Fork Trail Smoky Mountains

The beginning of the Swallow Fork Trail

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies a beautiful little 4 mile trail called the Swallow Fork Trail. It is halfway between the Catalootchee and Cosby trailheads in the less visited eastern side of the park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Swallow Fork

In 2003 after losing to the New York Yankees, Pedro Martinez said in a post game interview: “They beat me. They’re that good right now. They’re that hot. I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”

For those unfamiliar with the slang, the term means someone owns someone or has dominance over them. Midway through the Swallow Fork Trail up to the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail, I began to feel about this trail the same way Pedro did about the Yankees.

I had already hiked three miles straight up from Cosby to Low Gap via the Low Gap Trail. Even though it is a Low Gap, it is still the Appalachian Ridge, so the elevation gain from Cosby is substantial. Then I plummeted 2.5 miles down to Walnut Bottom.

This is where I met up with my soon to be daddy. The Swallow Fork Trail starts out innocently and follows the stream that bears its name for a gentle flat quarter of a mile. Then the trail starts to ascend. At first, the climb is a gentle up slope. Gradually the incline begins to get greater as does the strain on the thighs.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The trail begins to gradually go up. It seems gentle at first, but don’t be fooled

The elevation never goes ridiculously straight up and there are no switchbacks, but for 3.5 miles the trail goes steadily up, and up, and up, and up. The methodical nature of the incline is almost like Chinese water torture. At times you almost wish for the straight up the mountain approach. “Let’s just get this damn incline over” you scream to no one as your legs wobble like jelly.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Despite the physical discomfort the trail caused, the beauty of it was not lost on me

Great Smoky Mountains Swallow Fork Trail

Scenes like this helped ease the pain a bit

When hiking elevation, the distance is always muddled. After two miles when your head is dizzy and you are huffing and puffing like a freight train you feel you have gone 3.2 miles. Has to be less than a mile you think, you hope, you pray, but you are only halfway through the pain. Now you truly know what Pedro meant when he said the Yankees were his daddy because Swallow Fork Trail is yours.

Every ten minutes you need to stop and huff and puff and grab a drink of your diminishing water supply. You start to hallucinate and think you see the trail signs signifying the end of the trail in the distance around every bend only to find out the sign was just a log.

Great Smoky Mountains Swallow Fork Trail

At least I could pause, take a breather, and take photos like this

You trudge on although morale is low. You begin to wonder why you ever put on this heavy god damn pack. I hate backpacking you say to yourself. I am never doing this again. This is when you realize that the trail is your daddy as your insight discussion takes on the tone of a ten year old. You now fully understand the expression.

Just like in the 2004 AL Championship when the New York Yankee fans chanted “Who’s your daddy” to Pedro, the squirrels, the roughed grouse, the black-capped chickadees, and the pileated woodpeckers come out of the woods and chant the same to you as you wobble slowly up the trail.

Just when you are about to scream f bombs to the wilderness you see a break in the trees ahead. You come around the corner and you have attained the ridge and along with it the long anticipated junction. Even though I had completed the trail it was a Pyrrhic victory. It would be days before my legs and back would be the same. I may have finished, but I tipped by hat to the Swallow Fork Trail sign at the junction and called the trail my daddy and moved on.

Great Smoky Mountains Swallow Fork Trail

The trail relentlessly goes up

Great Smoky Mountains Swallow Fork Trail

A haggard smile before I tip my hat and admit this trail is my daddy

The point of this post is many. First, I hope it inspires hikers with the beautiful pictures of this enchanting trail. Many hikers in the Smokies only hike the Appalachian Trail and miss out on the gorgeous backcountry trails. Even though this one is tough, it is not so bad if you do not combine it with an earlier climb.

Another point is to plan your hike wisely when backpacking. It is 11 miles from Cosby to the Mt. Sterling campsite. 11 miles is not a crazy distance to hike; however, in this case the 11 miles is mostly up and carries hikers up and over two ridges. It is a brutal day, so backpackers should take note of elevation changes as well as miles when planning a hike in the Smokies. Do not overextend yourself and have a trail in the Smokies be your daddy.

For a view of the trail in Spring and an account of the hike from a different perspective, check out this interesting post.


The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then enter your email in the box to get email notifications for each new entry. Daily travel photos are excluded from your email in order to not flood you with posts. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).

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9 Responses to The Swallow Fork Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is my daddy

  1. Robb714 November 19, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Wow! What an awesome journey through the woods and not a grandma’s house in site. My first question is did you drink any of the pure fresh beautiful water from the streams? My next question would be, do you know whether the trail you followed was of that made by loggers or Indians (being the good chance where you hiked they were some of my ancestors, I don’t have to say Native Americans)? What you might not be aware of is if you walked a white man trail, there would be a paralleling Indian trail nearby to (spy) on intruders trespassing through (private) property, before it was unscrupulously removed from their possession by (primarily) my Great x 5 Grandfather (John Sevier). My final and most important question is: may I use the “Swallow Fork” picture for my blog banner picture? I will do my best to in-bed proper credit, keeping in mind I am brand new to blogging and still working out the kinks.
    Robb714 recently posted..Handling The Holidays

  2. Carol Hilker November 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    I have always, always wanted to take on the Smoky’s and the Appalachian region. I am in awe of all of your expeditions.

    Carol Hilker recently posted..The New York Times “No-Knead Bread Recipe”

  3. santafetraveler November 24, 2011 at 4:20 am #

    What beautiful country that is!
    santafetraveler recently posted..Tidbits: Santa Fe happenings, a little this and a little that

  4. Leslie June 13, 2012 at 1:56 am #

    You made it! Looks like a fun– if extremely strenuous– hike!
    Leslie recently posted..Camping 101: Top 5 packing tips for first-time campers

  5. Melissa October 3, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    I will be hitting this trail up next week sometime. I will be coming up Big Creek though which is a lot easier than the Low Gap trails. I am not a little scared of the Swallow Creek Trail. But looking forward to it at the same time. Look forward to digging around your blog some more.

    • travelingted October 3, 2012 at 11:17 am #

      Hi Melissa,

      Anytime you are in the Smokies and hike the backcountry trails, you will find rigorous trails like Swallow Fork as you are going up and down ridges.

      The plus side is you will see a lot less people. On this three day hike I saw around 20 other hikers. 15 of those were on the hour I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I did about two miles of the AT trail past Mt. Cammerer until I forked off on the Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail.

      I will take a little more difficulty for a lot less people any day. Thanks for checking out my blog.

      Have a great hike! I know you will.

  6. Reichhiker September 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    Any idea how many pounds your pack weighed on the Swallow Fork ascent?

    • Ted Nelson September 17, 2013 at 3:43 am #

      I would guess it weighed in the 50-55 pound range, but it has been a couple years, so it is hard to remember.


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