Boogerman Trail – Cataloochee Valley

With more than 3,000 miles of trails, finding a new trail to hike on isn’t difficult at all.  I had read a few good reviews on Boogerman Trail, over in Cataloochee Valley.  Boogerman trail, if you follow the loop, is 7.4 miles roundtrip.  About 2 more miles than we had been doing, but I thought we were up for the challenge.   We were, but just barely, and Boogerman trail turned out to be more of a challenge than we expected!

Boogerman Trail

We’ve been to Cataloochee Valley in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park numerous times.  In fact, it’s one of our favorite places to visit and the closest place in the park to our home.  Our first adventure hiking in Cataloochee was down Pretty Hollow Gap Trail.

Our criteria for a good family hiking trail is that it either:

  1. Has to have a great destination, and in particular a waterfall
  2. Has to follow a creek

While searching for our next hiking trail, I ran across a few reviews of Boogerman trail, which seemed to be pretty popular.  My only concern was that the loop hike around Boogerman was 7.4 miles.   We normally do 3-5 miles, and 7 miles would be our longest hike ever.   Boogerman Trail had a few things that interested me though:

  • Numerous creek crossings
  • “Old Growth” hardwood trees
  • Historic sites and an interesting history

We decided to give Boogerman Trail a try.

Boogerman Trail – Cataloochee Valley

Location:  Cataloochee Valley in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Roundtrip Distance: 7.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Features: Creekside, old growth forest, historic sites
Directions: From I40, take exit 20 for Maggie Vally, and make an almost immediate turn right onto Cove Creek Road.  Follow Cove Creek and continue on it even after it becomes a gravel road.   Once your reach pavement again, turn left and follow the road to the trail head in Cataloochee Valley.  The trailhead is located just past Cataloochee Campground on the left.  The parking lot is just past the trailhead.  Just a heads up, Cove Creek Road is considered by most to be a crude dirt/gravel road, full of twists and turns and large pot holes.  The road is also very narrow, and only wide enough for one car, so go slow and take your time.

Recommended Gear: Good hiking boots or shoesDaypackDayhiker First Aid Kithiking rain ponchos, some snacks, water, a camera and [easyazon_link asin=”B0054NFYDG” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”blueridgemountainlife-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]bug repellent[/easyazon_link]

We arrived at Caldwell Fork/Boogerman Trail around 11:30 on a Sunday morning.  Traffic on the way in, along Cove Creek Road, was pretty light.   We parked at the trailhead parking lot, grabbed and strapped on our gear and headed off.   On our hike was myself, my wife, and three of kids, ages 14, 11 and 8.

Boogerman trail is located off of Caldwell Fork Trail.  The Caldwell Fork trail trailhead begins with a log bridge crossing, a pretty long one as you can see below.

Boogerman Trailhead
Boogerman Trail, Trailhead Bridge – Photographer Unknown

The trail then meanders through the woods alongside Caldwell Fork for .8 miles.  Just prior to getting to the first junction with Boogerman Trail, there is another creek crossing.  Normally there is a log bridge here, but when we hiked this past Sunday, it was gone.

wading-the-creekWe debated for a few minutes on whether to turn back or take off our shoes and cross. Fortunately we decided to cross.  We hiked up our shorts, and removed our hiking boots and socks.   We tied our hiking boots together and put them around our necks and got in.  Our kids had water shoes with them, so changed into those, and put their boots into their backpacks.

The water was cool, but not really cold as I expected.  You do need to be careful, and good hiking stick would have really helped here.  The water isn’t real deep, but the rocks are slick and a bit sharp at times.  The current in a few places was a little strong too.  All of us made it across with no issues though.

Just around the bend from this photo and on the left is the first intersection with Boogerman Trail.  Most people pickup Boogerman trail here.  Boogerman trail this point is fairly steep and up, so we elected to take the loop in a counter clockwise direction, and continued down Caldwell Fork trail to the second intersection with Boogerman trail.

Continuing on Caldwell Fork Trail

Caldwell Fork Creek
Caldwell Fork

Caldwell Fork trail is a really nice creekside trail, where you cross over the creek numerous times.   Most of the crossings have bridges, but due to recent washouts, we had to ford the creeks at least 3-4 more times, which to be honest was nice and refreshing on a hot summer day.

The trail offers some really gorgeous views of the creek and it’s small waterfalls as you can see in the photo to the left.

Caldwell Fork Trail is a horsetail though, and as a result, there are often some very muddy areas that must be walked around.  You’ll also want to watch for horse manure as well.

Boogerman Trail Missing Railing
Missing railing on Caldwell Fork Trail bridge

Our kids really enjoyed all of the creek crossings and bridges.  A few of the bridges were a little rough.  One had rotten spots in the log, where I’m pretty sure your foot would go through if you stepped on it.  A few others were missing some or all of the railings.  One bridge, was washed out a bit, and therefore turned some and required a little extra effort to cross.   All minor issues overall though, and honestly made the hike that much for fun and adventurous.  Our kids were actually disappointed when the bridges were normal!

1.9 miles from the first Boogerman trail intersection, you’ll come to the second.  This will be right after you cross a bridge, and up a small hill.  The trail is clearly marked with standard park trail signs.  You’ll note that Boogerman trail is a much small trail.

Boogerman Trail

Boogerman Trail
Boogerman Trail from the second intersection with Caldwell Fork Trail

We stopped at the second Boogerman trail entrance and took a snack break and drank some water.  After a short rest, we headed up Boogerman trail, which is a slow incline up the mountain.  The elevation gain is about 1000 feet, and will put right around 3700 feet at it’s highest point.

Just a few hundred feet up the trail, you’ll come to the site of the Carson Messer home.   All that remains of the home is the hole where the house was, and remains of the entrance door frame and a bit of stray metal roofing.  I must admit that standing there, and imaging the house as it was, with children running around, and Carson and his wife working the land and home was pretty awesome.  At the same time though, I felt sad that those times were gone, along with the people.

Messer Farm Site - Boogerman Trail
Messer Farm

Further on up the trail, you’ll see signs of what remains of a few out buildings on the left, with hand built stone walls behind them.   We weren’t exactly sure what these buildings were used for, but they appeared to be work buildings or maybe even small stables.

There was an interesting piece of equipment there though.  You can see it in the photo to the left.  The device was metal, and looked like it was used to measure things.

This part of the trail travels along side a small creek with lots of small waterfalls that makes for wonderful background sounds as you walk.  The trail does begin a steeper incline at this point, which will continue until you reach the top of the ridge.   Watch for the remaining foundation of the spring house along the edge of the creek.

Messer Cemetary
Messer Cemetary

Shortly on up, the trail will fork, with a trail going up and to the left and one continuing straight.  Following the fork to the left, and up a steep hill will take you to the Messer cemetery where there are four small and unmarked graves.

Back on the main trail, you’ll continue gaining elevation, and the pine trees begin to fade, and a heavy old growth forest begins.  In this section of the forest, all the way until you run into Caldwell Fork Trail again is “old growth” forest.  Fortunately “Boogerman” (Robert Palmer) protected his forest, and as a result, you’ll see some of the biggest trees in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park here.   Frankly, the trees were the biggest I had ever see in my life.

As the story goes, Mr. Palmer received the nickname, “Boogerman” as a child.  While in school, the teacher was asking the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, the young Palmer stated “The Boogerman” and the name stuck.

Hollow Poplar TreeThere is a very large poplar tree along this portion of the trail, and before you arrive at the Palmer home site.  The tree is hollowed out at the base and is a popular photo opportunity for hikers.

A little further up the trail, you’ll see the remains of the Robert Palmer home, which today is nothing more than an old chimney.   Shortly after is  a small trail leading to the Palmer graveyard.  We actually walked right by it and didn’t see it.  There is one small grave marker there, but nobody knows who’s buried there.

After a pretty grueling climb up an incline and a few switch backs, you’ll arrive at the top of the ridge, and at approximately 3700 feet in elevation.   The hike from there on is all down hill, and you’ll see many huge old growth trees, and cross a number of small creeks.  The grade down is pretty steep, so tighten up those hiking boots and be careful.

You will eventually come to a monster tree (seen below).  The biggest tree I’ve ever seen in my life and the biggest that we saw on our hike along Boogermans Trail.

Big Tree Boogermans Trail
Our two youngest sitting at the base of the big tree.

The trail continues downward until you eventually intersect back with Caldwell Fork Trail.  Turn right on Caldwell Fork to head back to the trailhead and parking lot.  Only .8 miles to go.

Boogerman Trail Final Thoughts

Boogerman trail is a really awesome trail with all of the creek crossings, old growth forest, and historic sites to see.   At 7.4 miles in total length though, and given the 1000 foot elevation gain, and back down, the trail is not for the faint of heart.  Given at least 4 bridges were out and required fording the creeks, this makes the trail that much more difficult.

Frankly we underestimated this trail, and by the time we returned to our car, we were exhausted and probably would not do it again, unless we conditioned ourselves a little more.  Don’t get me wrong, we were glad we did it, but *shew* were we tired!

If you are a conditioned hiker, and enjoy trekking through the mountains on a 7 mile hike, than I highly recommend it.

Other trails in Cataloochee include: Rough Fork Trail, Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, and Little Cataloochee Trail.

Have you hiked Boogerman Trail?  If so, share your thoughts in the comments below!





About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.


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