4 routes · Trail Running
Hemphill Bald Loop
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A classic 13-mile trail run loaded with views, plus the potential to view the famous elk herd that roams throughout the Smokies.
Trail Running Difficult
- 21 km
- 906 m
- 906 m
- 3-4 hrs
- Low Point
- 996 m
- High Point
- 1.7 km
The Hemphill Bald Loop is a must-do trail run and favorite among locals. Though there is no shortage of climbing, much of the route is on former roadbeds, likely used by loggers, miners, or even ranchers. The views from the bald summit are stunning, the Cataloochee Ranch and adjacent Ski Area both visible to the southeast. Depending on the time of year, you may even stumble across the infamous elk herd, which tend to be most active around dusk or dawn. After reintroduction into the park in the early 2000s, there are now upwards of 200 healthy elk roaming throughout the Cataloochee area source.
The loop is best run counter-clockwise, with Hemphill Bald sometimes chosen as the destination or an out-and-back. This route, however, continues over the summit, descends the west side of the mountain, then returns via the Caldwell Fork and Rough Fork Trails. It does end the run with a long, sustained climb, making the out-and-back a slightly easier option overall. Water is also limited on the Hemphill Bald Trail, but abundant on the others as long as it's treated or filtered first.
The trailhead is along Heintooga Ridge Road off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a few minutes from Soco Gap and typically open between May and early-November. Click here for the most up to date information from the National Park Service.
For an added bonus, check out Soco Falls after your run. It's on US-19, just a few minutes west of where the Parkway crosses the road. Head west towards Cherokee and look for the roadside pull-off on your left. It's less than 1-mile away and a quick walk to view the falls.