Ever since I moved to Knoxville, my wife and I have been pushing to take as many weekends into the Smokies to experience all that we can. For those of you who don’t know, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies between Townsend, TN and Cherokee, NC. There are many other areas in which one could enter the park, but for the purposes of this blog, these are the areas I will primarily focus on. The Smokies are a great place to go out and enjoy the great outdoors, to take scenic drives, or the possibility to see many animals,including everyone’s favorite: bears.
As a kid, I never went to the Smokies, but as an adult, I love going and spending as much time as I can there. It is a large tourist destination, many families, college outdoor recreation programs, and locals visit to see the sights or to reminiscence. At times, it can be extremely difficult to explore, so arriving early or going during the colder season may help! Below is a list of places and excerpts from my adventures thus far:
Laurel Falls is an easy to reach waterfall in the park. Total distance round trip is 2.6 miles according to the park’s website. The trail is paved, which makes it easier to access but does have a slight incline, earning its moderate difficulty. During peak season, the parking lot does get full, but there are many options, including along the side of the road.
Chimney Tops is an extremely popular trail in the Smokies. During the warm weather weekends, it is extremely difficult to find a place to park to enjoy the hike to the top. The total distance round trip is 4.0 miles and includes a 1,400 feet elevation while headed towards the summit. I completed this hike with a pack on my back, which required additional time to reach the summit but it was well worth it. Sadly, due to the fires in November/ December 2016, the trail is currently closed. I hope that the park and all associates who are helping are able to get the park open soon, because I want to climb the chimneys!
Alum Cave Bluff trail is an amazing sight and is one of many stops to Mt. Le Conte. To the bluff and back to the trail head is 5.0 miles. Another popular trail, this trail is difficult to access during peak tourist season, an it is so popular that it has restroom facilities located at the trailhead. The hike includes many stairs thanks to a trail restoration project over the last 2 years, and is fairly easy despite its elevation gains. Many backpackers use this trail as it is the quickest route to Mt. Le Conte lodge and shelter.
Mt. Collins Shelter
The Mt. Collins Shelter is accessible via the Appalachian Trail and is roughly 4.0 miles from the Clingmans Dome Visitor Center or approximately 4.7 miles from the Newfound Gap parking area. The shelter sleeps 12, and backcountry permits can be obtained by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or a the Sugarlands Visitor Center for $4 per a night per a person. There is a privy for changing or the need for private facilities. There are also several bear bags that are available for campers and a water source that is approximately 0.1 miles away (it is a bit strange when you find a PVC pipe sticking out of the ground with water flowing out of it, make sure you boil/ treat your water!). As you can see from my picture, there is plenty of space for people and people come from all over to hike the park!
Areas Still to Adventure
There are many areas that I have still yet to adventure to. I am looking forward the opportunities to explore many more trails and shelters. It can be difficult to plan trips because I have a dog and I hate that I can’t take him with me. Regardless, there are some options that I am looking forward to, here is a list of places I am looking to try out:
- Mt. Le Conte Lodge and Shelter
- Curry Mountain Trail
- Abram’s Fall Trail
- Rainbow Falls
- Andrews Bald
- Charlies Bunion
A few trails I didn’t include that I have completed includes:
- Schoolhouse Gap Trail
- Cades Cove Loop
I hope this helps anyone who is interested in the Smokies, please feel free to leave a comment below of your favorite trails and share your experiences!