The Smokies are the perfect place for the phrase, “go take a hike” to be taken literally. With over 800 miles of scenic trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is something suitable for everyone from the casual walker to the avid backpacker. So, pack your hiking boots and a camera and be prepared to be invigorated, impressed and inspired.
Most trails in the national park have been converted from old automobile road beds or old railroad lines. Since many of these avenues of transportation were one way in their construction, it is rare to find a loop hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Of the few that do exist, they offer up a variety of sights and sounds for the day hiker in the mountains to enjoy. Here are a few of the favorites.
Located at the Chimneys Picnic Area, the Cove Hardwoods Nature Trail is an easy one mile round trip loop hike suitable for almost all members of the family. If wildflowers and scenic cove forests are your main area of interest, then this is the hike for you. Early April to early May is the best time for spotting wildflowers here as the blooms almost literally blanket the forest floor.
Cucumber Gap is an easy to moderate day hike totaling about five and a half miles all together. The trail is highlighted by wildflowers in the springtime; however, Huskey Branch Falls and Little River are welcome and photogenic sights just about anytime of the year. You can also catch a glimpse of the old vacation cabins, many of which have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and slated for preservation. The majority of the wildflowers bloom in early April and the fall colors arrive in October.
Short, easy and family friendly describes this loop hike which begins at the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just outside of Gatlinburg. The one mile round trip hike will take you across mountain streams and past an old log cabin providing some insight into the area’s rich cultural history. In the early April you can see the Virginia Bluebells which grow in a very limited number of areas inside the Park. A side trip to Cataract Falls via the Gatlinburg Trail is highly recommended.
The Rich Mountain Loop trail is an eight and a half mile round trip day hike that has a moderate difficulty level. One of the best features of this day hike is that you get to experience the beauty that is Cades Cove without having to deal with motorists that can crowd the eleven mile paved loop road through the cove. Highlights along the way include the John Oliver cabin, built in the early 1820s, wonderful views of Cades Cove, and the highest point on Rich Mountain with the remains of the old Rich Mountain Fire Tower. This trail is best hiked in October to take advantage of the fall color.
Smokemont is a six mile loop hike on the left just before entering the Cherokee Indian Reservation heading south east on Newfound Gap Road. This moderate day hike takes you along several waterways in the Great Smoky Mountains including the Oconaluftee River, Chasteen Creek and Bradley Fork. For the history buffs and genealogy enthusiasts, Bradley Cemetery is located just a few hundred feet from the main trail. In addition to the mountain streams, wildflowers are an additional highlight dotted throughout the National Park landscape. Spring to early summer is the best time of the year for viewing the wildflowers.