The Maddron Bald Trail runs some seven miles from its trailhead along US-321 to the 5,212-foot summit of Maddron Bald. A large Southern Appalachian heath bald. While that view-rich ridgetop meadowland is a lovely goal, a shorter hike on the trail leads to another gem. The loop path through the old-growth Albright Grove.
That’s the route described in this review, which covers the first three miles of the Maddron Bald Trail to its junction with the Albright Grove Loop Trail. This makes for a 6.6-mile hike involving about 1,400 feet of elevation gain.
The Albright Grove is one of the finest examples of an old-growth cove hardwood forest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Perhaps the most spectacular expression of the Southern Appalachian wildwood. However, because it’s well away from roads, many park visitors never make the effort to hike here.
Reach the Maddron Bald Trailhead via a short drive off Highway 321 on Baxter Road in a rural residential area on the fringes of Cosby, Tennessee. The trail kicks off in second-growth woods along a historic gravel road installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Initially heading south along Buckeye Creek, the trail soon trends westerly into the Cole and then Maddron Creek drainages. All of these streams are tributaries of Indian Camp Creek.
Just before crossing Cole Creek, about 0.7 miles in, you’ll come to the Baxter Cabin. This one-room log cabin was built by Willis Baxter (as a wedding gift to his son) in about 1889 from a single American chestnut. That’s a testament to the massiveness of that mighty hardwood. Once a common fixture of Smoky Mountain forests but devastated by introduced chestnut blight.
Old stone walls in the woods are other signs that this forestland was once more settled back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Before long, you’ll find yourself heading up the valley of Indian Camp Creek itself. A footbridge then leads you across this stream. It heads off the northwestern slopes of one of the loftiest peaks in the Great Smokies: 6,370-foot Old Black.
Shortly after the Indian Camp Creek footbridge, at about the three-mile mark, you’ll find yourself at the turnoff for Albright Grove. This is the 0.7-mile loop trail marking your turnaround destination.
The loop trail takes you through a magnificent example of an ancient cove hardwood forest. The stature of the trees here is monumental. Particularly, compared to most of the second-growth timber you’ve hiked through on the Maddron Bald Trail. Eastern hemlocks (the Albright Grove’s dominant conifer) and tulip trees (aka tulip-poplars) with barrel trunks loom into a canopy that also includes sugar maples, silverbells, buckeyes, beeches, yellow birches, and other primeval hardwoods.
Take the Albright Grove Loop as slowly as your schedule allows. This is a place to linger in and soak up an ancient-forest ambiance. Which is not much available these days in the eastern U.S. Then retrace your steps to the trailhead—unless you’ve got itchy feet (and enough daylight), in which case you can continue on miles more to Maddron Bald itself.
-Break-ins aren’t at all unknown at the Maddron Bald Trailhead. Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle here. Plan on backpacking? Consider arranging to leave your car at one of the nearby businesses rather than overnight at the trailhead.
-A popular alternative for reaching Albright Grove is hiking out of the Cosby Campground and following the Snake Den Ridge and Maddron Bald trails to the loop.