The name Boogerman Trail may sound like something conjured out of nightmares, but for those who don’t mind getting a little wet, this 7.5-mile loop is little more than a pleasant walk through towering old-growth forests.
The trail is named after Robert Palmer, who was given the handle “Boogerman” early in his childhood, although the reason varies from legend to legend. Despite enticing offers from lumber companies to sell his land so the lumber could be harvested, Palmer cared deeply about his woods, and allowed the old-growth forest to survive.
To reach the trailhead from I-40, take exit 20 near Jonathan Creek and turn right onto Cove Creek Rd. Signs guiding motorists toward the park entrance lead into the valley. Although the road is narrow and unpaved in many places, it should be passable with any vehicle. At the bottom on the left, just beyond the Cataloochee Campground is the Caldwell Fork Trailhead. This is where the Boogerman Trail begins.
It’s recommended to get the trailhead early, not only to beat the heat of the day and subsequent mosquitos, but also because around sunrise, there are great opportunities for elk and bear sightings.
The trail begins with a nice .8-mile warmup before it veers left onto the unmarked Boogerman Loop. The next mile or so is a continuous — but not terribly steep — ascent through old growth forests. While there are many downed trees due to various pest infestations, a simple look upward will still leave hikers at a loss for words, or maybe thanking Boogerman aloud for his consideration and forward thinking.
A couple miles in, a small trail branches off to the right and rises steeply to the old homestead site established by Carson Messer. It is common to see all the classic signs of bears in this area — including scat alongside the trail — so always keep in mind precautions to avoid any encounters.
The toughest part of this otherwise easy hike comes near the halfway point, where there is a roughly 200-yard scramble which may require a breather. From there, the trail descends, rapidly at first, before leveling off.
At about the 4-mile mark, shortly after beginning the descent is the first and largest of three stone walls. Situated in a nice, flat area with a campsite nearby, the impressively long wall is the perfect place to rest and grab a snack.
On the descent, hikers will zig-zag over a small creek. Although there are no bridges here, the crossings are shallow enough to avoid getting very wet. But don’t worry, the river crossings are coming.
The final run down to the end of the Boogerman Loop, like much of the way up, should be nothing more than a casual stroll. After two miles, there's a junction with the familiar Caldwell Fork Trail. Turn right.
The next mile or so of the Caldwell Fork Trail is a tougher than the first .8 miles. It’s not at all hilly, but expect a lot of small rocks while zigzagging over the river. Although most river crossings are either shallow enough to rock hop or have a sturdy bridge, there are three points where hikers are going to have to do some fording. With depths varying from a couple inches to a couple feet (depending on the last few days’ rain), it may not seem so bad, but don’t be fooled. The current can be swift at points and the rocks slick.
After a mile or so of slow going, hikers will hit the first Boogerman Loop Junction. Now simply settle in for a peaceful walk back to the trailhead.