Day Hike 13: Basin Cove Overlook to Doughton Park Tent Campground

Delightful Doughton

Distance: 5.8 miles

  • Difficulty: Moderate. Some climbing early, relatively flat past Bluff Mountain.
  • Camping: The northern trailhead is the seasonal Doughton Park campground.
  • Land manager: National Park Service.
  • Volunteer Task Force Leader: Steven Joines,
  • Piggyback trail: Bluff Mountain Trail.
  • Connecting trails: Flat Rock Ridge, Bluff Ridge Primitive, Fodder Stack.

Passing through a high meadow near Bluff Mountain.

Inch for gorgeous inch, this is the most consistently scenic stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along the northern BRP.

You like high mountain meadows? After scrambling atop the Alligator Back outcrop, that’s pretty much what you’ve got: grassy meadows that gently roll downhill from Bluff Mountain.

You like views? The view down into Grassy Gap from Alligator Back is good for starters. The panoramas from the high meadows are stellar on a clear day, and then there’s the view from Wildcat Rock down — nearly straight down — into what once was the Basin Cove community. A thriving community once existed along the creek at the bottom of this very narrow, very steep canyon 1,500 feet below. A horrific rain in 1916 obliterated nearly the entire community. The only remaining signs of the natural disaster: a still visible scar down the hillside and a cabin at the base that survived.

You like human history? That surviving tiny cabin down below? It belonged to Martin and Jane Caudill, who raised 14 kids in the one-room structure.

View on Map

To see this hike on a map, visit our Interactive Map and click “Day Hikes” to view the endpoints.


Finding Your Way

Finding Your Way (west » east) Mileage
Trailhead: In the middle of Basin Cove Overlook (MP 244.7), look for break in the wall to find entrance to Bluff Mtn. Trail (BMT) on left. Descend steeply for 300 feet to intersect with Flat Rock Ridge Trail, which goes right. Go left. Pass trail sign to stay on BMT, which runs conjunctively with MST for next 6.5 miles. This is an easy, gradual descent for about 0.5 mile to a footbridge, then 60 feet to an old stile to the right of the trail. Continue to another stile and go through it to join a fire road (part of Grassy Gap Trail). At this stile, turn left onto road. 0.0
MST goes off Grassy Gap Trail, downhill on the right, about 50 feet before reaching gate up to BRP. 1.0
The trail may not be well marked in this part. Soon after you turn into the woods, you’ll see a concrete water trough at the bottom of the hill. Do not follow cowpaths leading to that trough; stay straight. Trail stays just below the ridgeline until you come to an open pasture. At pasture, there are no signs. Turn right and you’ll see a sign that reads “No horses” where trail re-enters woods. 1.1
Pass through a turnstile and walk around a bend. 1.5
Reach steps ascending sharply on left to Bluff Mtn. View Overlook (MP 243.4). It’s worth the short climb to the overlook to see the view. Continue north from the overlook. 1.7
After crossing a small stream, MST turns right as it ascends hill. 1.9
Come to Alligator Back Overlook parking area (MP 242.3). Alligator Back’s unusual outcroppings seen from here are geological features composed primarily of schists and gneiss. 2.6
Ascend 400 feet to top of Bluff Mtn. There are 5 sets of wooden steps before reaching an outcrop of rocks with spectacular views. Turn left and climb up the rocks to the ridge. Just past the summit, MST/BMT goes left toward the BRP. To the right is Bluff Ridge Primitive Trail. There is a 3-sided log-and-stone shelter a few yards down the right trail. The shelter is for viewing, not camping. 3.1
Descend toward the loop road for the Doughton Park picnic area (open seasonally), which you can see from the top of the hill. You are descending on BMT, so follow signs for that trail. 3.5
Cross the parking lot, then pass through a stile. Ascend another knob where a lone tree stands in a meadow. Descend into a field and go through another stile; trail makes a sharp left and begins ascending again. 3.9
Walk past restrooms (open seasonally) on the left. Bluffs Lodge (not open at this time) is on the right. You may want to take a short spur trail to Wildcat Rock. To reach it, go through the lodge parking area to the right end of the parking area. The Caudill Cabin is 800 feet below the overlook. To stay on the MST, stay left. 4.1
Cross the BRP and walk to the south end of the parking lot. 4.3
Continue past the Bluffs Coffee Shop (not open at this time) and Doughton Park Visitor Center and Park Store with snacks and drinks (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). BMT/MST continues at north end of parking lot. 4.4
Cross to east (right) side of BRP. 4.5
Cross access road, then go through stile into meadow. Follow faint trail through the meadow and go through another stile before entering woods and going through two more stiles. 4.8
Trail descends to BRP and crosses to west side at Low Notch Gap. 5.5
Trailhead: Doughton Park tent campground. 5.8