|5.5 hrs plus a half hour for lunch
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By Trail Contributor: Zach Robbins ()
If you're looking for a hike with few people, history, water, and more water, then try the Basin Creek Trail in Doughton Park. Doughton Park is a treasure trove of barely used trails in the northwest corner of North Carolina. The largest park operated by the Blue Ridge Parkway, it has over 30 miles of trails along creeks and open ridges. Starting at the base of the park on Longbottom Road, there are 5 hiking trails to choose from. Four of these involve steep climbs to the open fields and peaks on the west border of Doughton Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The 5th trail, Basin Creek, takes you deep into a wild gorge rarely visited. This trail follows the path many people took 150 years ago to the Basin Cove community. In 1916 a flood roared through the valley wiping out the community except for Caudill Cabin which stands at the end of the trail. Along the way you'll pass by 2 waterfalls, see historical remnants of the Basin Cove community, and cross many streams 16 times. Usually the highlight of a hike is a waterfall or summit viewpoint, but the end of this trail at the intact and restored Caudill Cabin in a clearing in the middle of nowhere feels remarkable.
The park is accessed by taking Traphill Road off of U.S. 21 near Roaring Gap. Once you pass the main entrance to Stone Mountain State Park, continue a mile beyond and take a right on Longbottom Road. After 8 winding miles, the road rounds a bend and crosses Basin Creek. Directly before the bridge there is a large gravel parking area on the left. The park boundary and trails are immediately across the street.
- Mile 0.0 – From the parking area cross Longbottom Road and the Grassy Gap Fire Road (no blaze) continues on the other side. A sign for Doughton Park beside a gate is visible.
- Mile 0.1 – Junction with the Cedar Ridge Trail, stay straight on fire road which gently follows Basin Creek for 1.5 miles.
- Mile 1.1 – Step over tributary stream that flows from a hanging valley.
- Mile 1.7 – 1st crossing over Basin Creek on rocks, there is also a log suspended above the creek with a rope guide line. On the other side of the creek is Basin Cove, an excellent primitive camp site. This is the only backcountry camping allowed in Doughton Park.
- Mile 1.8 – Trail junction – Grassy Gap Trail goes left, stay straight on Basin Creek Trail (blue blaze). Immediately climb above Basin Creek on a steep slope through a large swath of rosebay rhododendron.
- Mile 2.4 – On the left side of trail is the first intact chimney remnant from the Caudill community. Just past the chimney look for a mill grindstone lying in Basin Creek, a remnant of a grist mill washed away in the flood of 1916.
- Mile 2.6 – 2nd crossing over Basin Creek. There are 15 rock hop crossings over Basin Creek and side streams along the Basin Creek Trail. The blue blazes are few and far between but are prominent near all creek crossings. Note: All of the crossings are rock hops on sometimes slick rocks that are few and far between. If the water is high you will get wet. There are still possibilities of getting wet during normal levels but it is manageable. Trekking poles or water shoes are highly recommended.
- Mile 3.0 – 3rd crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 3.1 – 4th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 3.2 – 5th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 3.3 – Trail climbs high above Basin Creek which drops into a small gorge. Waterfall #1 on Basin Creek (~30 feet with multiple drops below main drop) can be seen in the distance from the trail. Warning: This waterfall has no clear access. The trail crosses the creek hundreds of yards below the waterfall and the creek is guarded on both sides by vertical slopes. Beside the waterfall the slope is almost vertical and is muddy with many rhododendrons. Above the waterfall there is a way to scramble to the top of the falls, but scrambling to the base is difficult and dangerous. The most likely way to get close to the falls is to hike directly up the creek.
- Mile 3.4 – 6th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 3.5 – 7th crossing over Caudill Branch.
- Mile 3.6 – After crossing Caudill Branch, the second site of chimney remnants is on a short side trail on the right. There are two small chimneys here.
- Mile 3.9 – 8th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 4.0 – Third chimney remnant found on left side of trail. Shortly after is the 9th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 4.1 – 10th crossing over Basin Creek. For the next 0.3-mi the trail rises above the creek again and passes through a section of stinging nettles. The creek drops into a small gorge that isn't visible from the trail.
- Mile 4.4 – 11th crossing over tributary to Basin Creek. On the other side of the crossing is the fourth chimney remnant beside the trail.
- Mile 4.5 – 12th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 4.6 – Waterfall #2 on Basin Creek. This is a beautiful 2-tiered drop ~20 feet on the left side of the trail. The rock outcrop on the trail provides the best open view of the waterfall. You can scramble down the bank to the base of the waterfall for different angles and to relax, but the bank is steep and muddy. Beyond the waterfall the trail is much less-trafficked and overgrown with weeds and stinging nettles.
- Mile 4.8 – 13th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 5.1 – 14th crossing over Basin Creek.
- Mile 5.15 – 15th crossing over Wildcat Branch. The trail leaves Basin Creek and follows Wildcat Branch the rest of the way to the cabin.
- Mile 5.2 – 16th crossing over Wildcat Branch. The trail passes through an older forest.
- Mile 5.5 – Reach the end of the trail at Caudill Cabin. The cabin sits in a clearing on a hill above Wildcat Branch almost 1000 feet below the Wildcat Rocks Overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway. From here it is difficult to see Wildcat Rocks. This cabin is the only intact structure remaining from the devastating flood in 1916 which swept through the Basin Creek valley wiping out the community. You can go inside the cabin and read the family tree that contains old photographs of the cabin.
- Mile 11.0 – Retrace your steps back down Basin Creek, and the Grassy Gap fire road to end the hike back at the Longbottom Road parking area.