Category Archives: Hiking

Tips on the best places to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains with an emphasis on the Gatlinburg, TN area.

Spring Means Plenty of Guided Hiking Tours Around Gatlinburg!

FREE hikes in the Smokies and tours of Gatlinburg are just a part of the town’s efforts to get visitors and locals alike out and about, and enjoying Spring in the Smokies.

Take a Guided Hike
Locate some of the most beautiful spring wildflowers or take an afternoon and do some bird watching. These are just a few of the things you can do on a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. For the first 3 weeks of April, Gatlinburg is offering people the chance to go out with their very own hiking guide on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Jennie Burke will lead a “Walk with a Naturalist” on Thursdays at 2 pm at the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail in the Chimneys Picnic area.  Former Park Ranger, Ray Sellers will lead 2 walks: Old Sugarlands Trail and Trillium Gap Trail at 2 pm on the first and third Tuesdays (April 2 & 16). Former National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, Keith Watson will lead a bird walk at 9 am on the second Tuesday (April 9) on Rainbow Falls Trail. These hikes are FREE to anyone who wants to get out into nature, but guests are asked to sign-up ahead by calling Jennie (865) 436-0505. Space is limited! For a list of the hikes, click here.

Go on a Guided Tour of Gatlinburg
Go in depth about Gatlinburg’s past and present during the guided downtown Gatlinburg tours on Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. for the first 3 weeks of April. Tours are FREE to the public, but guests are asked to sign-up ahead by calling Jennie (865) 436-0505. Space is limited!

Sign up for one of these hikes or tours here or call (865) 436-0505.

BEST Hiking Trails in the Smokies

In no way is this a scientific study, it’s just our opinion of the hiking trails found in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s actually a list of our favorites in no certain order. Following years and many miles of trail study, we’ve put together a short list of BEST hikes found in the park and within close proximity to Gatlinburg.

Alum Cave Trail

A moderately difficult hike, the trail to Alum Cave Bluffs is 4.4 miles round-trip as you make your way to the 80 foot tall, 500 foot long bluff. Prior to reaching the cave, look east toward the Eye of the Needle and see peregrine falcons nesting on the outcroppings. The views from the cave also attract many a weekend photographer. Locals and manufacturing companies once mined Epsom salts from Alum Cave.

Forney Ridge Trail

This is a fairly easy hiking trail in the Smokies that begins at the Clingmans Dome parking lot and travels 1.7 miles to the top of Andrews Bald. The elevation does gradually climb over 900 feet on this trail despite it easy nature. Those of you who do decide to take the Forney Ridge Trail must be aware of the rocky path as loose rocks can appear in all shapes and sizes. Once you’ve reached Andrews Bald you realize how it got its name. It’s an open, grassy area that people flock to for pictures and various outdoor activities year round. Also, the views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Bald are unbelievable.

Mt. Cammerer

This 12 mile round-trip hike is not for the weak at heart or the novice hiker. Over the course of the trip, the trail climbs 2,500 feet from its beginnings at the Low Gap Trailhead in Cosby to its finale at the summit of Mt. Cammerer. The views here will simply take your breath away. If you feel up to, climb the stone fire tower that provides a full 360 degree view of the area.

Porters Creek

The Porters Creek hike is a pretty easy 4 mile round-trip jaunt beginning in the Greenbrier area of the park. This is a great hike for viewing old Smoky Mountain homesteads, and you might catch a waterfall too. Wildflowers are prevalent here during the spring. The old John Messer farm is located about a mile from the trailhead down a side path. The old homestead features a cabin and a cantilevered barn.

Rocky Top

Another rather strenuous trail that remains pretty famous in these parts due to its name, the Rocky Top Trail is 12.5 miles of Smoky Mountain hiking from the Anthony Creek trailhead, located in the Cades Cove picnic area. Hikers will cross Spence Field as they make their way along the trail. This is an area that is a must stop for photogs on sunny days. During the spring, this area turns into a pink and white blanket of laurel flowers.

The Jump-Off

Starting at the Newfound Gap parking lot, this trail is 6.5 miles round-trip and travels 2.7 miles down the Appalachian Trail before turning onto the Jump-Off path. The Jump-Off features a 1,000 foot cliff, which represents the northeastern flank of Mt. Kephart.

Hannah Mountain Trail

If you’re one of those hikers who loves a good challenge, then look no further than the Hannah Mountain Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is a meandering 9.5 miles from Parson Branch Road to its junction with the Hatcher Mountain Trail at Abrams Creek.

You’ll trek across a number of Smoky Mountain ridges along the way after starting out on Parson Branch Road. To get there, turn off the Cades Cove Loop Road in Townsend just past the Cable Mill. Then follow the signs to Parson Branch Road.

Over the years, this trail has become known for its great hiking opportunities. And by that, meaning it’s a very even trail and smooth thanks to pine needles that fall along it. You’ll come to a massive tuliptree 1.9 miles on the trail – the first major natural marker. Accordingly, another natural marker found on Hannah Mountain is Mount Lanier, the mountain’s highest peak. You’ll descend its flank above Bell Cove and hike into a mixed hardwood forest.

Hikers will circle the north end of Hannah Mountain as they move further along the trail before coming to backcountry campsite No. 14. From there, hikers will follow the trail around the north end of Deadrick Ridge. You’ll climb Polecat Ridge after passing an old home site. This occurs before descending Scott Gap 7.6 miles in. Scott Gap is named in honor of George Scott who lived in the area that backcountry campsite No. 16 now occupies.

The Hannah Mountain Trail reaches its steepest point during the final 100 yards as it approaches Abrams Creek. You must wade the creek in order to cross it which can be hazardous after a rainstorm. Happy hiking!

Chimney Tops

Chimney Tops is one of the most visited places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its access point is found just a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown Gatlinburg. Well, a little more than a hop, skip, and a jump, but you get the picture. For a relatively short hike in the park near Gatlinburg, seek out Chimney Tops and you can thank us later.

As mentioned, it’s a two-mile trek from Newfound Gap Road to Chimney Tops and the trailhead can be accessed 6.7 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center traveling south on Newfound Gap Road. There is also a large parking area found there.

Not only does Chimney Tops offer spectacular mountain views, the short two-mile hike is most appealing to visitors. Just watch out as you get closer to the top, the trail gets pretty steep and can be fairly slippery when it rains.

As you start out, you’ll come to a bridge that crosses the Walter Camp Prong of the Little Pigeon River. This is a great place to view and take pictures of spring wildflowers. At 0.9 miles in you’ll have crossed your fourth bridge along the trail to Chimney Tops and you’re at the point in the trail where the Road Prong Trail junction appears. You’ll go on from that point to the right and hike a switchback.

chimneymapThis creek valley you’re now on will literally lead you up to the stars. It’s a steep trail and you’re likely to hear the sound of water rippling down the mountainside to your as you ascend Chimney Tops. Another switchback and you find yourself trekking across Sugarland Mountain. If you look through openings along the trail you’re sure to catch a glimpse of Mount LeConte in the distance.

Following a quick descent, you come to a sloping pinnacle and signs warning hikers not to travel beyond Chimney Tops’ two peaks.

Two paths can be taken to the top but hikers should be wary of the rocks leading up opposite of the rock face. Some are as old as 600 million years and shine from the thousands of hand that have touched them over the years on their way to Chimney Tops. You’ve made it! Turn around and marvel at Mt. LeConte and Newfound Gap Road, it’s been a great hike and one you’ll always remember.

Old Settlers Trail

The Old Settlers Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not for the weak at heart. It’s a 15.8 mile trail that takes hikers from the Ramsey Cascades Road to the trail’s junction with the Maddron Bald Trail. And while it may see daunting length-wise for some people, it makes up for it with the number of historic Smokies sites found along the way.

Simply put, if you’re into history, and especially the history of the Smoky Mountains, the Old Settlers Trail is one not to miss.

To reach the Old Settlers Trailhead, travel east from Gatlinburg on U.S. 321 and turn onto Greenbrier Road at the national park entrance. You’ll pass the picnic area and ranger’s station, then cross a bridge toward the Ramseys Cascade Trailhead. The Old Settlers Trailhead will soon come up on the left.

Standing chimneys and old rock walls are commonplace on the Old Settlers Trail and give hikers a glimpse at mountain life before the Smokies were designated a national park. You’ll also pass over more than a dozen creeks during the hike. If you’re backpacking the trail, it’s a relatively enjoyable two-day trip if you decide to use backcountry campsite No. 33.

The trail starts out along the Little Pigeon River on fairly level ground as you make your way through what was the Greenbrier community. A couple general stores and churches made up the area in the early 1900s and supported hundreds of farming families at one time. Records also show that 250 children were educated at the community school. The communities were removed when land was sold to make way for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Bird Branch is crossed 0.3 miles in before climbing and descending a ridge. Moving along, you’ll reach Copeland Divide where you can see Greenbrier Pinnacle to the east. After a short hike along the ridge, you come to Copeland Creek which flows to the Little Pigeon, and which you must cross. Snakefeeder Branch is crossed a few times as you keep moving on the trail and you’ll notice a standing chimney at a point. Soak Ash Creek is also crossed a number of times during this part of the hike. Its tributaries make their way through and around the Old Settlers Trail.

The trail forks 5 miles in, take to the right up to Evans Creek. More rock walls and chimneys are passed as you move along Evans Creek before you reach backcountry campsite No. 33 – a heavily used site. From here, you descend along the trail to Ramsey Creek. You’ll cross the creek at a beautiful rock chimney that’s a popular place for photo opportunities. You’ll cross the creek four more times as you notice old homesites and the like along this portion of the trail.

Next, you’ll turn right at a roadbed 8.9 miles in to keep on the Old Settlers Trail, hiking along Noisy Creek and traveling upward. Points along the trail titled Tumbling Branch and Chestnut Ridge are hiked through. Here, forests and creeks are passed as you explore the depths of the Smokies. You’ve also now reached the highest point along the trail. From here, it’s a downward hike to Texas Creek at 10. 7 miles in. You’ll notice as many as four home sites following the creek crossing and a number of small waterfalls that develop.

Bear to the right at the fork in the trail at mile 11.7. One of the better rock walls you’ll encounter on the Old Settlers Trail is at mile 12.5 and it eventually borders the trail on both sides. You’ll follow the Webb Creek from here and pass a number of home sites along the creek.

Hiking on, Indian Camp Creek is passed over by way of a newly erected foot log. You’ll soon rock hop Maddron Creek – the final creek crossing before coming to the Maddron Bald Trailhead and the finale of the Old Settlers Trail. Happy hiking!

Mount LeConte

Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,593 feet in elevation, just behind Clingmans Dome and Mount Guyot. However, it is the tallest mountain in Tennessee measuring from its base to its tallest peak at 5,301 feet. And there’s is no spot in the park as talked about or sought out around the Gatlinburg area as LeConte.

It has four subpeaks – West Point (6,344 ft), High Top (6,593 ft), Cliff Tops (6,555 ft), and Myrtle Point (6,200 ft) and is also widely known for LeConte Lodge, the highest inn providing lodging for hikers in the Eastern United States.

When discussing the LeConte name, it’s still of great debate which LeConte family member the mountain is named in honor of. Joseph Le Conte, famous geologist, gets many a nod, especially from those in his field. Still, some like the authors of A Natural History of Mount Le Conte, believe Joseph’s older brother John Le Conte, a physicist at South Carolina College, is the rightful honoree. This claim says that Samuel Buckley, in respect to John’s help in moving his barometer to Waynesville, North Carolina, named the mountain in honor of his friend for the aforementioned good deed.

The mountain didn’t see much activity until the 1920s though. Paul Adams, an enthusiastic hiker and explorer, spent a good dose of his down time creating his own adventures in the Smoky Mountains. The Great Smoky Mountain Conservation Association, a group dedicated to establishing a national park in the region, was an interest he set his sights on in 1924. Adams actually led an expedition up the mountain after joining the association with big-wigs from Washington, in order to show them up close the beauty the mountain possessed. They spent the night in a large tent which eventually became the LeConte Lodge – a cabin now, and a popular stop and lodging point atop Mount LeConte. It was a rousing success as nearly a decade later Mount LeConte was included in the establishment of the Smokies as a national park.

Mount Le Conte is made up of Late Proterozoic rocks; mostly metamorphosed sandstone, siltstone, shale, and conglomerate formed over 800–450 million years ago and lies in the Appalachian Blue Ridge geologic and physiographic province. Years of erosion and weather events have given the mountains in the region a distinctive sloping feature. Southern Appalachian spruce-fir left over from the last Ice Age cover the mountain’s peaks and upper slopes.

Hiking in Gatlinburg TN and the Great Smoky Mountains

 

Bridge along the Gatlinburg Sugarlands trail.

One of the best reasons to visit Gatlinburg, TN is for the breathtaking natural surroundings. Just look up from any spot, and you will see picturesque views of the Great Smoky Mountains enveloping you. The heart of Gatlinburg is just paces away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to more than 800 miles of hiking trails, over 500,000 acres of forest, 240-plus species of birds, peaceful waterfalls, beautiful flora and fauna, and plenty of opportunities for you and your family to commune with nature.

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is available to everyone, from those simply in the mood for a leisurely day hike to more experienced backcountry backpackers looking for a physical challenge. No matter what type of hike you choose to experience, you will be surrounded by soaring vistas, colorful wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and rich history including 77 historic structures. It is a perfect way to experience the mountains for the first time, and to introduce the great outdoors to the kids. Or, simply enjoy revisiting the rugged terrain you have traveled many times before, seeing something new at every turn.

Great Smoky Mountains StreamHiking trails are open all year round in the park. Each season brings its own set of views and experiences, and a hike any time of the year can be both a healthy and educational experience for anyone. Springtime offers copious amounts of blooming trees and flowers. Summertime is the time to splash in a cool mountain stream or picnic alongside a serene waterfall. The fall welcomes amazing colors, not to be missed. And winter is a special time in the Smoky Mountains, with crisp white snowfalls and views that reveal the true scope of the Great Smokies.

When you take a trip to Gatlinburg, you must take the short drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enjoy an unhurried walk through the wilderness, or experience a challenging overnight hike in the unspoiled backcountry. Take the kids to one of the many waterfalls or simply enjoy the serenity of a romantic picnic lunch beside a mountain stream. Your vacation experience in Gatlinburg will not be complete without paying a visit to one of the nation’s most beautiful natural treasures!

Get away from downtown and enjoy Gatlinburg’s more natural offerings… Bring your dog too!

The lure of downtown Gatlinburg and such attractions as Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies can sometimes make visitors pass up some of the more natural opportunities you won’t find anywhere but just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And while most point to Cades Cove and its Loop Road cycling/hiking opportunity in the area, the Gatlinburg Trail, as well as the Oconoluftee River Trail are two of the quicker ways to get out of downtown Gatlinburg and back to nature.

The big draw to the Gatlinburg Trail is it allows people to hike/walk, bike, and walk their dogs. The emphasis being that pets are allowed on this trail. You won’t find any other trails like the Gatlinburg Trail in the national park.

From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the Gatlinburg Trail traverses 1.9 miles of forest one-way just outside of town. The trail features a very scenic route running along side the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. The trail offers beautiful views of the river and is relatively flat. A pedestrian foot bridge even crosses the trail at one point. Along with wildlife and numerous species of wildflowers, several old homesites are visible along the trail. The sites’ old foundations and chimneys being the markers.

Located about 30 miles from Gatlinburg, the Oconaluftee River Trail is another trail near the park on which dogs and bicycles are allowed. At Oconaluftee, you’ll find the Mountain Farm Museum. This museum maintains a collection of historic log buildings that were once scattered throughout the Smokies. Some of these include a house, barn, springhouse, and a smokehouse. The Oconaluftee River Trail (1.5 miles) starts near the entrance to the museum. The trail follows the river to Cherokee, N.C. Mingus Mill, a historic, working grist mill, is 0.5 mile north of Oconaluftee. Oconaluftee is 1.0 mile north of Cherokee, NC on US-441.

Like most hikers and trail-goers, you’re likely wondering about the best times to traverse the trail for such things as fall foliage and wildflower blooming periods. For those of you looking to get a head start this spring and summer on the native wildflower species, here is a listing of typical bloom times, along with some of the more popular shrubs:

Spring Wildflowers – Spring wildflowers can best be seen blooming in mid to late April, although late March and early April can offer a spectacular blooming preview during those warmer years.

Flame Azalea – This wild shrub will be in bloom at the low and mid-elevations in April and May. On Gregory Bald, late June and early July are typical bloom periods. On Andrews Bald, early July is the yearly period.

Mountain Laurel – Its white and pink flowers come into full view from early May through June.

Rhododendrons – Catawba rhododendron, growing at 3,500 feet and above, blooms in June. Rosebay rhododendron blooms in lower elevations in June and at mid-elevations during July.

What to Pack for a Hike in the Smokies

what to pack for a hikeWith the weather getting better by the day in East Tennessee, one of the most popular activities to enjoy in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area is backpacking, or hiking. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is chock full of trails, ranging from short and long to easy and challenging. No matter which type of trail you decide to traverse, it is important that you hit the path prepared.

When you decide to take a hike, tie on your hiking shoes or boots, put on your comfiest hiking clothes, and choose your path! But don’t forget your other supplies! The easiest way to comfortably bring along the supplies you might need on a day hike is to have a good backpack. This will allow you to carry everything on your back, with the weight evenly distributed on your shoulders. This will maximize your comfort on the trail!

For short hiking trips that will last one day or less, consider packing your backpack with the following items:

  • Clothing. Depending on the time of year, you might need extra layers, especially up in the higher elevations. A lightweight jacket with a hood will help combat winds and chilly air. A hat (waterproof is ideal), gloves, and lightweight scarf can also come in handy, and they can be easily stored away in your pack without adding much extra weight.
  • Weather protection. Just because you’re not at the beach doesn’t mean you don’t need sun protection! Sunscreen is very important, especially if you are hiking a mountain trail! Chapstick is also a good thing to have along, to protect your lips from windburn and sunburn.
  • Hiking Safety. A first aid kit is an absolute must! You don’t need to spend a lot of money on one, though. You can create a small, portable first aid kit comprised of essential items. It should include band aids, blister pads, anti itch cream, tweezers, and antibacterial. Don’t forget bug repellant, either! This will ward off pesky insects on the trail, especially in the summer. And if you are on any medications, bring an extra dose or two, just in case you need to take them during the hike.Another important tool that you should bring is a pocket knife. There are great, lightweight pocket tools available that include various types of blades, along with other instruments that can help you if you get into trouble. Another essential: a compass (along with a trail map). It is vital that you stay on the marked trails, but if you should happen to get lost, a compass will help you get your bearings and hopefully find your way back to the hiking trail. As for hiking trail maps for Gatlinburg, TN you can pick some up at the Sugarlands Visitors Center just inside the National Park as you leave the north end of Gatlinburg. Be sure to put the map in a plastic bag in case you encounter wet weather…or terrain.
  • Snacks. Even if you are going on a shorter hike, you should always bring snacks and water with you. Hydration is extremely important. You might not feel like you are losing fluid, but you are, especially if you are hiking in the mountains! Bring a refillable water bottle that you can store in a side pocket of your backpack (one filled bottle per person). And pack lightweight snacks like granola bars or snack bags of GORP (raisins and peanuts), which will help you and your group refuel after a mile or two.
  • Fun stuff. The Smoky Mountains offer breathtaking vistas, so don’t forget your camera! You will want to photograph the views, flowers, wildlife, and document the fun times you are having on the trail! Another fun thing to take along is a small notebook and pen. Journaling can be a great way to remember your hike, the things you see, and even the conversations you have with your hiking party.

A day hike in the mountains and forests around Gatlinburg, TN is a fun and invigorating way to explore the area! You will see many beautiful and amazing sights! And if you plan ahead by packing your backpack with a few lightweight essentials, you can relax and enjoy your hike, no matter where the trail leads you!