Passions & Pursuits

December Hiking: Cerulean Knob

When a December morning dawns crisp and clear, and there is promise of a blue sky and sunshine, I like to head up to Cerulean Knob. If it has frosted the previous night, there’s a good chance the upper trees will be encased with glass-like ice, and they will sparkle in the sunlight. The deep blue of the sky reminds me of the namesake of this destination: the cerulean warbler, a small and rare bird whose numbers are declining, but hopefully can find a haven in the Smoky Mountains National Park.

The highest point on Rich Mountain, Cerulean Knob, tops out at 3,686 feet. My trailhead is Rich Mountain. This is a great route to warm up with on a cold Winter day, as the trail ascends about 1,500 feet in 2.3 miles.

Within a half mile or so, I corner around a switchback and can see a couple of the abandoned mine shafts left on the mountain. (This is a good time to stay on the trail!) I climb through stately pine-oak forests and appreciate the soft brown pine needles under my feet. Eventually I gain a northern view of the fields and farmhouses below me in Dry Valley. The cows look like chocolate chips on an ice-cream blanket of frost.

As I continue the ascent, a southern vista emerges, and Cades Cove Mountain is visible to my right. I can begin to see the glittering branches of the highest trees covered in ice and a dusting of snow.

As I journey to just below Campsite #5, I find the headwaters of Hesse Creek, the substantial stream that blesses us at Blackberry Farm. Here, it seeps out of the rocky ground and serves the backcountry campers above.

After the intersection with the Indian Grave Gap Trail, I continue east toward the short manway which will lead me to the peak of Cerulean Knob.

Years ago, a lookout fire tower stood here. The stone corners can still be seen, and a carved-out cistern continues to gather water. A thin rug of moss makes a good cushion for a picnic. The best views are around the corner, looking east of Townsend to the mountains in the background. It is a quiet but glorious place, this tip-top of the mountain, and on a bright December day, it’s one of my favorite places to be.

Joy Hopkins, Adventure Manager
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