There has to be few greater honors for a person than to have something named after them. However, for Robert "Boogerman" Palmer, that was probably not the case. Instead of calling this beautiful loop through North Carolina's Smoky Mountains the Robert Palmer Trail; they called it after his near lifelong nickname, Boogerman. The story behind the trail name is simpler, and less gross, than one might imagine. Robert Palmer was the son of one of the first settlers in the area. He was painfully shy and on the first day of class when the teacher asked his name, the tongue twisted boy blurted out, "Boogerman!" Alternatively, some versions tell that he stated Boogerman when the teacher asked what he wanted to do when he grew up. Regardless of how it started, the name stuck for life, kids can be so cruel, but apparently the people who name trails can be too.
Regardless of the silly name, the Boogerman Loop seems to capture the essence of the Smoky Mountains. It showcases the crystal clear streams, the old growth forests and, at many times, that trademark "smoke" in which the range gets its name. At one point, the trail also showcases the Palmer home, though it lies in a ruinous state.
|Trail Length:||7.4 miles||City/State:|| Clyde,
|Elevation:||1,040 feet gain
After heading north on I-40 from the nearest town of Clyde, take Exit 20 onto Route 276. Almost immediately after turning onto Route 276, take a right onto Cove Creek Road where the paved road will dwindle off into dirt and gravel. Expect some rough sections, but it is doable for most vehicles. After a couple of miles of bumpy road, turn into The Smoky Mountains National Park gate and drive on until reaching the turn-off for Cataloochee, turn left. Just past the Cataloochee Campground, turn left into the parking lot by the Caldwell Fork trailhead which leads to the Boogerman Loop.
Once at the Caldwell Fork trailhead, follow it from the parking lot and into the vast forest that liters the Smoky Mountains from its lowest valleys to its highest peaks. Almost immediately, hikers will cross one of the largest footbridges in the Smoky Mountains. It looks somewhat terrifying, being a sturdy log lined with ropes for handholds, but it is a fun way to start this particular hike off with a bang.
After travelling just under a mile, hikers will reach the first Boogerman Trail junction. Right continues on the Caldwell Fork, but hikers will want to keep left to formerly start the Boogerman Loop. While the trail has been well-forested thus far, it quickly becomes apparent on the Boogerman Loop that hikers are passing some beautiful old growth forest. The old trees including white pines, yellow poplars and eastern hemlocks are stunningly tall. Although, many of the hemlocks are dead and dying due to the prevalent wooly adelgid infestations that are killing them all over the east coast.
Unbeknownst to hikers, all these old trees that visitors can enjoy are all thanks to the Boogerman himself. Robert Palmer loved this forest and protected it during his time. He rejected each and every buyout offer by lumber companies that wanted to harvest these trees, thus why some of the tallest trees in North Carolina still reside along this trail.
After two miles of clear, but rooty and rugged trail that has been slowly on the incline as it weaves through mountain foothills, hikers will come to the old Palmer home site. It has degraded down to its foundation, but it is always a pleasure to explore a trail's namesake. Visitors have been known to find old pioneer artifacts, but they cannot be taken out of the park. Those who have found various things belonging to the Palmers generally put them around the taller parts of the foundation as a little mini-museum.
After a more pleasant, and flatter, hike through the woods, hikers will come to a sprawling rock wall. This isn't the remains of the Boogerman homestead, but rather his neighbor Carson Messer. The three feet high, eighty foot long rock wall is all that remains, but that in and of itself is pretty impressive considering it has withstood time. The Carson Messer homestead is near the half way point on the trail, but visitor will formally know the half way area due to the steep climb through the hills. Before the climb begins though, the trail will begin to follow a small creek known as Snake Branch. Hikers will have to cross over this creek several times on the trail, but without the benefit of a bridge.
After doing an exhausting climb through the hills, the forest will break up into a normally sunny little meadow that hosts some beautiful wildflowers during the spring and summer. This is a fine place for a break, especially in the area by the junction to complete the loop on the Caldwell Fork Trail. After breaking for lunch or rest, take a right onto the Caldwell Fork Trail to finish up the hike, although it is far from over.
On the Caldwell Fork, the trail will primarily follow the Cataloochee Creek as it heads back to the beginning of the hike. If hikers didn't get their feet wet while crossing the Snake Branch creek, they certainly will here. The trail cross the Cataloochee Creek about a dozen times on the way back to the trailhead. All the zig-zagging actually makes it a bit hard to keep track of the trail, but it is dangerous to leave it completely. The best advice for those who manage to lose it is to walk the creek bed until they find it again, on one side of the bank or the other. On top of the confusing junctions in the area, the numerous amount of horse traffic also leaves this portion of the trail muddy. Some argue this may be the worst part of this hike, but the challenge of it all has other visitors thrilled by it.
After navigating the oft-confusing creek trail, hikers reach the first junction of Caldwell Fork and Boogerman, take a left and the original trailhead and parking lot are under a mile away. As some may have realized, this hike can be done in reverse for those that want to get the wet and muddy creek crossing out of the way early on, though starting off on the Boogerman leaves a better lasting impression of the area.