How To Hike in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an ideal destination for hikers of all fitness and experience levels. As a whole the seventy trail system, not counting a section of the 2,165-mile Appalachian Trail, offers possibly the greatest diversity of hiking experiences in North America.

  • The .6-mile Toms Branch Falls trail is among the easiest and shortest. Parking is convenient. The incline is gentle. The payoff is a close-up view of a dramatic eighty-foot horsetail waterfall. By itself this trail is really more of an after-picnic stroll than a day hike. Two or three additional easy trails chosen for scenic variety provide an excellent daylong Smoky Mountains adventure.
  • Avid day trekkers rave about the many spectacular panoramic views along the Charlies Bunion trail. "Stunning," "breathtaking," "dizzying" and "jaw-dropping" are the words most often used to describe the view overlooking distant peaks forming the Smoky Mountains skyline. The moderate inclination of this eight-mile trail requires adequate fitness, some experience and good boots. Any season is a good season for the Charlies Bunion loop, but winter is best for clearer views and greater solitude.
  • For the ultimate in Smokey Mountain National Park distance bragging rights, serious hikers can enter the park at its southern edge from Fontana Road in North Carolina, traverse the entire length of the park straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina along the ridge on the Appalachian Trail, and exit the park by crossing Highway 32 at its northern edge near Waterville. Most of the features available in the park, the panoramic views, waterfalls, unique plant life, old-growth forests, wildlife and historical sites, can be seen from the A.T. This is a seventy-mile one-way trip. The average hiker spends seven days on this section of the trail. Obviously it requires good physical conditioning, and at least some backcountry experience is recommended. About midway through this hike peakbaggers will claim Clingman's Dome and then spend some time gazing at the view from the observation deck at the highest elevation on the longest trail in the United States.
  • Overnight guests are required to make reservations. Campsites, shelters or cabins are never more than a few miles away. The National Park Service estimates that there are about fifteen hundred protected black bears within the boundaries of the park, so caution is advised. The NPS also advises against hiking alone in the backcountry. Proper attire and gear are essential for extended hikes. Guides are available by advance arrangement.


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