THE 10 BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKIES

Stretching more than 2,100 miles from Main to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail is the longest trail in the United States. 71 of these miles meander through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, beginning at the Davenport Gap in northeast Tennessee and exiting at the Fontana Dam in southwest North Carolina. Of the numerous hiking trails that follow the Smokies’ crest, here are ten particulars that offer some of the most beautiful views of the park.

Consider distance and difficulty before departing. Easy hikes are short with little elevation gain. Moderate hikes have some elevation gain and a more challenging terrain. Strenuous hikes are long with plenty elevation gain and terrain difficulties. At the start of every trail, check out the wooden signs with trail information and hang tight to your trail map to avoid getting lost in the Appalachian wilderness. You are responsible for yourself, so pay attention to the surroundings. If you do happen to get lost, do not leave the trail you told the guides you intended to hike, as they will look for you there first. Now that logistics are out of the way, all you have to do is choose a path to forge that fits your needs and abilities.

1. In the Tennessee side of the park is an area known as the Sugarlands because of the numerous maple trees that once grew there. Scotch-Irish, English, and German settlers once inhabited these lowlands, and hikers can still see evidence of their work and livelihood. On this short nature hike, you can see the land reclaimed by the National Park along with restored log cabins, ancient sycamore trees, stone fences, memorials, and Fighting Creek. Distance: 1-mile loop from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the John Ownby Cabin. Difficulty: Easy.

2. The Rainbow Falls Trail is part of the Cherokee Orchard/Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in the Tennessee side of the park. The scenic trail leads to Rainbow Falls, where the LeConte Creek spills 80 feet over a rock cliff before then twisting through a boulder field under the trail’s two footbridges. If the afternoon sun hits the falls just right, you can see a breathtaking rainbow in the falls, living up to it’s name. In an especially cold winter, hikers can see a column of blue-white ice instead. Also, take a breather at the 2.5-mile mark and bathe in an open view of the valley. Distance: 2.6 miles one way. Difficulty: Moderate.

3. Several trails take you past Grotto Falls, a must-see in the Smoky Mountains. Along the way, walk through Trillium Gap, one of the prettiest places in the springtime when blooming wildflowers pop up in every place the eye can see. These gently ascending trails move in and out of the mountains, over creeks, riverbeds, and through the Roaring Fork River. At the 1.1-mile mark, the creek falls into a deep pool, and at immediately after, hikers enter a narrow, rock-walled defile where the Roaring Fork sails 30 feet over Grotto Falls. The trail actually passes behind the waterfall through this grotto, so take care when walking on wet rocks. Distance: 1.2 miles one-way. Difficulty: Moderate.

4. To see numerous waterfalls and cascades, try the Metcalf Bottoms trails of Tennessee, hike from The Sinks, which gets its name from the swirling water of the Little River rock bowl and continue through Meigs Creek and to the Meigs Creek Falls. Check out flora, such as the crested dwarf iris and the maidenhair fern, both which bloom heartily in the spring. The route crosses Meigs Creek and its tributaries 15 times without the aid of footbridges, so wear sturdy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet! Distance: 3.5 miles one way. Difficulty: Moderate.

5. On a clear day, the views from the Low Gap Trailhead to the summit of Mt. Cammerer are unmatched along this rugged, rocky trail. For an even better view, step onto the deck of the stone fire tower, which provides 360-degree angles of row upon row of the blue, Smoky Mountains. Although this trail is the shortest route, remember that the summit reaches 4,928 feet. Distance: 12 miles round trip. Difficulty: Strenuous.

6. Beginning just outside of Gatlinburg in Greenbrier, the Porters Creek Trail has it all: streams, forests, remnants from early settlers, a little-known waterfall, and in the springtime, a mind-blowing display of wildflowers including bloodroot, hepaticas, and violets that cover nearly every square inch of the forest floor. At the one mile mark lies the John Messer Farm site, where hikers can see a cantilevered barn built around 1875 and a cabin built in the 1930s by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club. Distance: 4 miles round trip. Difficulty: Moderate.

7. The Andrews Bald Trail begins at the Clingman’s Dome parking area, so you must visit Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park. Because of the elevation, temperatures can be 10-20 degrees cooler than the lower elevations. The view from the Bald Trail is unmatched, but the course can be challenging. Use a walking stick on the rough parts of the trail, and remember that the first part of the path tends to be wet, so consider waterproof boots. Distance: 3.6 miles one way. Difficulty: Moderate.

8. Chimney Tops Trail, on the Newfound Gap road on the Tennessee side, is one of the most popular trails in the Smokies, so if you want to beat the crowds, it is best arrive early in the morning. The early wake-up call is worth it for the magnificent view from the tops. It is only a 2-mile hike to the top, but it is a very steep 2 miles. Distance: 4 miles round trip. Difficulty: Strenuous.

9. The Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is a path was designed for people with disabilities. The paved and fairly level trail makes it manageable and enjoyable for people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. It is also good option for those with children in strollers and older visitors. Distance: 3,000 feet. Difficulty: Easy.

10. Hiking in the Smokies would be incomplete if you did not at least attempt a strenuous trail such as the eight mile round trip Ramsay Cascades Trail, located near Greenbrier. The trail runs by a creek and passes through a deciduous forest, leading to the 100-foot Ramsay Cascades Waterfall–the park’s highest and largest waterfall–at an elevation of 2,375 feet. The trail starts out with a slight incline, and then becomes more challenging as you near the cascades. The entire route can take a little over four hours to complete. Distance: 8 miles round trip. Difficulty: Strenuous.

Always remember to look after your health before embarking on a hike of any sort. Bring sunscreen and insect repellent, and carry a first aid kit. Always wear appropriate clothing and ankle-high hiking boots. Always drink plenty of water and keep nourished along the trail. Get yourself in gear and get going—with so many options for every ability and interest available, the Appalachian Trail demands your footprints.

Learn more about things to do and see in the Smokies at our website at www.PatriotGetaways.com. Just click through to the blog when you get there.

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