Hike the Big Fat Gap Trail

Rate this Adventure 12 miles 3000 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Brandon Jett

The Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness is an alternative to the overcrowded Great Smoky Mountains National Park just to the north. Beautiful southern Appalachian views, waterfalls, swimming holes and solitude await those fortunate enough to venture into this wild and remote gem of Wilderness Area.

There are many trailheads leading into the wilderness on either the Tennessee or North Carolina side. My favorite is the Big Fat Gap trail on the North Carolina side at an elevation of 3,060'. To see the best of what this area has to offer take the Hangover Lead South Trail to the 5,180' Hangover, where you have a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. Early mornings here are typically enshrouded in fog, giving one the feeling of waking up above the clouds. A few campsites can be found near the Hangover.  

Take the Haoe Lead Trail west for about 1.5 miles until you come to a trail junction at Naked Ground. From here find the Slickrock Creek Trail and follow it north until you finally reach Slickrock Creek. A few more miles downstream and numerous stream crossings later you will pass the Big Fat Gap Trail. Continue downstream until you reach Wildcat Falls, find a campsite and enjoy a unique three-tiered waterfall made for swimming and basking in the sun. A nice day hike to Lower Falls is worth the extra miles.  To complete the loop backtrack upstream to the Big Fat Gap Trail and hike the 2.5 miles back to the car.

This area is full of wildlife...bears, wild boars, deer and the streams are full of trout. I would advise avoiding the area during fall bear hunts on weekends.  

The 17,013-acre wilderness straddles Tennessee and North Carolina. Just to the west is the Citico Creek Wilderness creating a contiguous 33,000-acre roadless area between the 2 federally protected Wilderness Areas.

Another highlight of the area is the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in the southeast corner on the North Carolina side. The forest named after the journalist/poet Joyce Kilmer protects the largest stands of virgin hardwood left in the east. It's worth a visit to see these massive giants still standing. Make sure you read his poem "Trees" before visiting.

This is a very wild, rugged and remote area. The trailheads are mostly on gravel roads far from civilization. Be prepared, get the map, grab your camera and spend a few days away from the crowds of the National Park and enjoy one of the southeast's roadless gems.

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Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Swimming Hole


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