Nantahala National Forest: Chunky Gal Trail - Tusquitee Gap to Tuni Creek, Hayesville, North Carolina
The Chunky Gal Trail is a 21-mile long hiking trail that connects the Nantahala Mountains with the Tusquitee Mountains. Despite its unfortunate name, it has many great vistas and is a good trail. This is the first time I visited it, but I was pretty happy with it - and I will return. The trail visits key peaks of the area such as Tusquitee Bald and Boetler Peak, as well as Muskrat Creek Shelter on the Appalachian Trail, which is where it ends. This hike occurred on February 14th, 2015. Originally, my plan was to hike the Chunky Gal Trail westward from Tusquitee Gap all the way to Tusquitee Bald, but it turned out to be a much longer hike than information had suggested, so I decided to turn around at some cascades on Tuni Creek.
R/T Length of Trail: 11 Miles
Duration of Hike: 7:25
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Good winter views; scenic sections on Tuni Creek
Cons: Much of return route is ascent
Scenic Views: None
Water Features: None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter
Trail Blaze Color(s): Chunky Gal Trail - Blue
Beginning Point: Tusquitee Gap on Tusquitee Road
Directions: From Hayesville, NC: Follow US Route 64 for 5 miles, and then, turn left onto Cold Branch Road. Follow Cold Branch Road for 4.1 miles until a T-intersection with Tusquitee Road. Turn right onto Tusquitee Road and follow it for 5.4 miles until the small parking area at Tusquitee Gap. The last 2.5 miles will be a narrow gravel road.
When I did this hike, I was planning to hike approximately 16 miles roundtrip to Tusquitee Bald, but by the time I was approaching Tuni Creek, my GPS program ALREADY had recorded nearly 5 miles, and I knew that after Tuni Creek, there is still around halfway of the hike, judging by the map. Thus, I decided to make Tuni Creek to Tusquitee Bald a separate hike for whenever Tuni Gap Road reopens, and meanwhile, turn around at Tuni Creek, still making for a pleasant winter hike.
I started my hike at Tusquitee Gap, and took the trail westward. It immediately started with a steep ascent up... well... Little Negrohead Mountain? That's what all official maps call it, believe it or not. While the ascent is steep, it's not long. At 0.6 miles, the trail rounds Little Negrohead Mountain's summit, without ever reaching it, and begins a descent that will be the story for much of the hike (in one direction). As soon as the trail hits the ridge, there are excellent winter views of Fires Creek Rim to the west. I could point out some of the key summits, such as Johnson Bald, Potlock Bald, and Tusquitee Bald, with Tusquitee Bald being the highest one and the one to the furthest on the right. Right away, what made me wonder was the incredibly deep valley between the ridge I was on right now and Fires Creek Rim. Knowing I had to descend somewhere down there, the distance already looked like twice longer than it was supposed to be. The descent along the ridge is steep, with few switchbacks, but the steep part comes to a close soon as a gap is reached at 1.1 miles. The next couple miles featured both uphill and downhill sections, but each downhill would be longer than uphill, although no steep grades here. At some point, the trail intersects an old roadbed, and turns left onto it. However, there is a very old turnaround here, now overgrown - watch for the trail exiting the turnaround on the upper right end.
Like I mentioned, there is a small rollercoaster pattern for a couple miles along the trail, but then, a more steady descent starts after the 2.5 mile mark. At first it's along the slopes with winter views abundant, but then, at 3.5 miles, it becomes steeper and comes off the mountain. Around the 3.5 mile mark, there is a sharp switchback in the trail, where the trail turns left, while a clear path goes right (uphill). This path wasn't marked, but on my way back, I somehow missed the switchback and went straight up the path and ended up at Tuni Gap, adding a half-mile to my hike. I didn't know about this approach from Tuni Gap. It has many severe blowdowns, but it is still a possible approach point. But after the switchback, even the main trail suddenly has tons of downed trees. Not sure what happened here, but there were so many that it started to get annoying. Luckily, it was not a very long section. The trail kept progressively getting steeper, and then, several short, steep switchbacks led down to a small stream and onto an old forest road at about 4 miles. It looks like this is Forest Road 6271 according to maps. It is gated and not open to vehicles. The trail turns left onto it and briefly follows it but soon turns right. This turn is very well-marked, so you will probably not miss it. After this, the trail crosses a couple small unnamed streams, and then, after several more blowdowns and several more steep switchbacks, the sounds of Tuni Creek suddenly appear. The trail reaches a ford of Tuni Creek at 4.3 miles, although I can see this can be crossed dry-shod if the water is slightly below normal or even normal. There are lots of scenic cascades on this section of Tuni Creek. After the ford of Tuni Creek, reach Bob Allison Campground (as of this writing closed, but I know Tuni Gap Road, along with the campground, are supposed to reopen very soon.
The trail skirts the edge of the campground, and exits onto Tuni Gap Road at 4.5 miles. Turn right onto the road. At 4.7 miles, cross Tuni Creek on a road bridge, and then turn left to keep following Chunky Gal Trail. The road continues up to Tuni Gap. The trail follows Tuni Creek for some time. There are several large cascades on the creek here. Then, the trail fords Tuni Creek at 5.5 miles and this was my turnaround point. I m estimating it's at least another 4 to 5 miles to Tusquitee Bald from here. But to get back to Tusquitee Gap, retrace your steps, and make sure to not go accidentally onto the Tuni Gap spur trail.
I can't wait until Tuni Gap Road is open so I could do the Tusquitee Bald hike. Below are a few pictures from this hike.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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