AT 2017: Day 23, Hot Springs to Little Paint Creek Trail

We are three little bears in the wood

The small town of Hot Springs, N.C. has a reputation for sucking hikers into its vortex of restaurants and other conveniences of civilization, making it difficult to leave.

I wasn't trapped by the town today, but I was delayed a few hours before I could leave.

DateWednesday, May 3, 2017
WeatherMostly clear skies, warming to the low 70s
Trail ConditionsRoad walking and clear trails, with a steep climb leaving Hot Springs
Today's Miles13.1
Trip Miles286.2

True, I could have left sooner if I had been motivated enough to get moving earlier. I didn't leave the hostel until 7:30 a.m.

Most of the trail I would be hiking today I had already hiked several times previously. I knew it wasn't difficult trail and the weather forecast looked good, so I wasn't too concerned about my departure time. I knew I could put in enough miles to keep me on track for my goal of getting past Damascus, Va. before Trail Days.

My first priority of the day was breakfast, so I headed to Smoky Mountain Diner, a hiker-friendly restaurant just down the street from the hostel.

There are no grocery stores in Hot Springs, but Dollar General was right next door to the restaurant, so that made for a sufficient spot to resupply.

After I purchasing what I needed, I went outside and began sorting and repackaging. Anything in a box needed to be put in a ziplock bag to save weight.

While I was doing that, No Spoon and a hiker I had not met before named Coach came by. I gave them some of my ziplocks because I had more than I needed.

With those chores done I began hiking, which for the first half mile was an easy walk through town. The sidewalk doubled as the trail and was decorated with Appalachian Trail logos embedded in the concrete.

Before getting too far I spied a soft drink machine across the street, so I decided to make a brief detour to start out with an extra dose of sugar.

The town was originally called Warm Springs. Through most of the 1800s it was a resort town where visitors came to enjoy natural hot springs, which were promoted for their healing effects. The list of maladies that were promised to be cured is remarkably long.

Besides the hot springs, a resort hotel called the Mountain Park Hotel was a big attraction here. It featured North Carolina’s first golf course. By the outbreak of World War I tourism already begun to fall off. The hotel was used during the war as an internment camp for 2,500 German passengers, officers and crew members from ships detained in U.S. harbors.

The care and acceptance of the Germans was so positive that many returned to visit Hot Springs after the war.

The hotel burnt to the ground in 1920.

Just as I was finishing my soft drink, railroad crossing gates closed the road and a long freight train came down the track. It was the first time, and if I had to bet I would say the last time, my hiking was delayed by a train.

When the long train finally passed, I continued to walk down the road. The trail followed the road in order to cross a bridge on the French Broad River.

Immediately after the bridge the trail left the roadway and continued along the river.

On the river bank several tents were set up. Hikers who didn't want to pay for a hostel but wanted to be near town conveniences stayed here.

Before long, the easy trail along the river became a steep climb with several switchbacks up a cliff face. At the top were some rock outcroppings known as Lover's Leap.

All along this section of the trail I could take in views of the river, Hot Springs, and the mountains I had walked to get to town yesterday.

Once the trail reached the top ledge of the cliff it leveled out and continued over small, rolling hills.

I had a brief chat here with a couple out for a day hike. Just as they departed, one of them pulled out a trail bar and offered it to me. Though this was just a small bit of trail magic, I gladly accepted it. Once again it demonstrated how so many people are interested and invested in the success of thru-hikers.

As I continued on I saw evidence of the fire that burned a large section of the forest just over a year ago. Trees were scorched and blackened, but new growth was already greening up the area.

For two weeks last year, hikers had to be shuttled around this section.

At about noon I reached a small, man-made pond. There were a couple benches placed here, so I sat on one and ate my lunch in this pleasant, shady spot.

After a relaxing lunch I continued on. The trail left the shady forest for a short distance to travel on a dirt road. It was at this point I realized how warm the day was.

The road walking lasted for about a half mile and passed a couple large fields. Until 1970 hay and tobacco were grown in these fields. Then the U.S. Forest Service purchased the land.

Though crops are no longer grown here the fields are still mowed to maintain a habitat for wild turkeys and grouse.

At a spot called Tanyard Gap the trail crossed a bridge over U.S. Highways 25 and 70.

A spring was located a short distance past Tanyard Gap, so I stopped to filter some water. While I was there two thru-hikers, Cowgirl and Anvil, arrived and stopped to eat lunch.

Cowgirl said she was from Wisconsin, though it took me a while to make the connection for why her trail name was Cowgirl.

Cows. Wisconsin. Get it?

Anvil told me he got his name because he used to carry a heavy pack. He has already done a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.

A half-mile past the spring was the junction of the Roundtop Ridge Trail. At one time, this trail was the Appalachian Trail, but when land was purchased and the AT was moved to go up and over Lover's Leap, this trail section was renamed. It's still maintained and I have hiked it three or four times.

When joined with the AT, Roundtop Ridge Trail can be part of a nice loop trail for a long day hike or an easy overnight trip.

Another half-mile later was a side trail leading to a fire tower on top of Rich Mountain. I have also been there a few times and because of that knew the top of the tower would be closed. I wanted to continue to put in miles, so I decided to skip the tower this time and continued on.

The trail went through another field of blooming wildflowers, mostly trillium.

As I walked through this field I met a section hiker. He asked me about Hot Springs and trail conditions leading to it.

About twenty minutes later I met two more section hikers. They told me they were trying to hike with the first guy, but were having trouble keeping up with him. When one of them said the first guy was an Olympic silver medal winner in wrestling, it made sense why they were falling behind his pace.

I told them their friend had said he was thinking he would hike all the way into Hot Springs. They said there was no way they would try to do that today, but were relieved when I told them a campsite was only a quarter mile away.

At about 4:45 p.m. I arrived at Spring Mountain Shelter. It seemed too early to stop for the day, but I decided to get some water and cook dinner.

I met a few hikers, including Hobbes and Scout. Also here was Foxy, whom I hadn't seen since the day I nero'd in Franklin, N.C.

Then Foxy said, "Oh! I have something for you!"

He pulled out the spoon I had lost when I lost my stove at Mt. Collins Shelter.

Foxy told me a hiker had given the spoon to him in Gatlinburg. He had been using it while hoping to return it if he saw me again. He didn't know what happened to the stove.

I told him I had replaced the spoon and the stove, so if he wished to keep the spoon he was welcome to it.

He was happy to accept it.

After dinner I packed up and continued walking for about another hour. When I reached the junction of the Little Paint Creek Trail I found a good spot to set up my tent.

Another hiker was camped nearby in a hammock. It was Rafiki, a 20-year-old who decided to take some time out from college to hike the AT.

Rafiki took his name from one of the characters in the Lion King, a wise mandril who is deeply spiritual.

Rafiki the hiker was also spiritual, but at least for this moment I was uncertain of his wisdom. He wasn't sure he wanted to hang his food. I offered to hang his with mine, and he accepted.

That turned out to be a fortunate decision. Shortly after it got dark Rafiki began to shout.

He told me three bears were walking through our campsite. One of them walked right past my tent.

I didn't see or hear the bears, and they apparently didn't catch a whiff of our food. They took no notice of the bags hanging nearby and just kept walking.

We are three little bears in the wood
We live a life that's good
We have three little bowls and three little chairs
And three little beds where we sleep upstairs
Three of everything, that is why we sing
We are three little bears in the wood
We do just what bears should
We have three little forks and three little knives 
And three little bees in three little hives
Three of everything, that is why we sing
We are three little bears in the wood
We make our livelihood
We work and we play and we sing all day
We are three little bears in the wood
We are three little bears in the wood

From "The Three Bears" by Bobby Troup


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.