Thursday, April 6, 2023

Mill Branch / Crowder Branch Loop Hike


Cherokee National Forest
Saturday, February 19, 2023

This trail is a doozy. Both Mill Branch and Crowder Branch are steep trails especially after the first little bit coming off Doublecamp Road. I have hiked Mill Branch before as an out and back and knew what I was getting into with that trail, but wanted to extend it this time so I put a loop hike together consisting of the following trails and forest service road… 

FS Trail #96 Mill Branch 

FS Trail #99 Fodderstack 

FS Trail #84 Crowder Branch 

FS Road #2659 Doublecamp  

AllTrails 3D Map of the route I took.
- Click Here For Recording -

I worked my way up Mill Branch that is a fairly well-defined trail until you get close to the end. It follows Mill Brach about to the top just before you hit the ridge and has several little waterfalls that make a pleasant walk to compensate for the work associated with the elevation. As you close in on the top, with the leaf cover on the ground and general landscape the trail becomes a little difficult to follow. The end of Mill Brach and the junction with Fodderstack, however, is not hard to find and stands out with a group of fallen trees by an aged trail marker.  

Fodderstack is easy to follow and follows a ridgeline. I hiked this one in February with low foliage and plant growth along the trail so I could see this section being overgrown in late spring and summer. Along this section of Fodderstack there was one good spot to get a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.  

The trail junction with Crowder Branch is a little confusion as it spits into three different trails, but Crowder Branch picks up further down on what is listed as #139 Big Stack Gap Branch. If you turn left here, just a little further down the trail you will hit another junction for #84 Crowder Branch.  

Here there are two really good places to camp. One is at the first trail junction with Big Stack where there is a flat grassy area just along the trail. The downsides to this spot are that it is right on the trail, and you do have to walk a little way to get to the water source. The second spot is just past the second trail junction with Crowder Branch just before you hit the downhill section of this hike. It too is right on the trail, but it is not particularly traveled, and it is right next to a mountain spring for easy access to water. I am planning to do an overnight stay here soon.  

It is here at the second campsite that the trail gets confusing. I actually had to break out the map and compass to get my bearings and still think I missed the actual trail in several places. The area is extremely overgrown and the trail itself does not look well-traveled, so the path becomes unclear. As long as you stay close to Crowder Branch you should not get lost as the stream takes you all the way back to Doublecamp Road.  

I hiked in Crowder Branch for a time until I was able to pick up the trail again. Several sections of the trail are extremely narrow with a downward angle that makes it difficult even before you add the slippery leaves to the mix. I was planning to do a video for this hike but had Frank with me and at this point really had to stop filming to concentrate on not falling or getting lost. I do plan to put a video together when I go back for my overnight.  

It was this very angled section of trail I could not tell for sure if it was the actual trail, but it did look like some kind of footpath. As you get further down the trail becomes more well defined and you end up back at Doublecamp Road. 

To complete the loop, you will need to take Doublecamp road back to the Mill Branch trailhead. This really is not a bad walk, just watch out for traffic as in the summer months this area becomes busy. This was a fun hike with just enough “pucker factor” to keep one on their toes. I would not recommend this one if you do not have any experience with a map and compass. I would also say that in the summer months the trail will be a bit more overgrown with vegetation and it will be more difficult to find the trail. Get outside and hike safely my friends. 

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