A Reflection: Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Smoky Mtn Trail Map
Smoky Mtn Trail Map

I may have said this before, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park is built for hikers and backpackers.  I don’t understand how anyone could go to GSMNP and stay in their car the whole time.  I personally feel that the majority of the main points of interest are deep in the middle of the park.  There’s really only two roads going through the park (Newfound Gap Road and Little River/Laurel Creek), and three scenic driving loops (Cades Cove, Roaring Fork, and Cataloochee Valley).  Not that the roadside views aren’t nice, but with over 520,000 acres to explore, it’s best to take the trails!  Maybe I’m biased.

I really loved hiking the Great Smoky Mountains.  I felt like the trails were well designed and maintained, making them very friendly for long days (unlike, say, the Whites of NH).  The wildlife viewing opportunity was unbeatable. Lastly, the hiking options were many.  The elevation profile is inspiring in itself, beckoning to any hiker to reach for the heights.  However, for those who prefer to stay low, the abundance of waterfall hikes is exceptional.  I personally found myself very drawn to the waterfalls of the Smokies, probably even more-so than points at elevation.

My least favorite aspect of the hiking in the Smokies is the abundance of horse trails.  I understand that we all have to share the park, but horse trails, in my opinion, are not fun to hike on.  They’re usually very wide (which to me can detract from the forest’s blanketing feel), eroded (which is unappealing both environmentally and visually), and filled with medium sized rocks that create an unpleasantly uneven and loose walking surface.

Ultimately, I loved hiking the Smokies, and feel I have a lot more hiking to do there.  I hope to return soon so I can again experience that “Smoky Mountain Magic,” which I often found on the trails.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park truly is a special place.

Below is a general overview of my fall in the Smokies.  Maybe some of this info will be useful to you if you decide to visit.  I hope you get the chance!

Favorite Trail:  The Boulevard

–  I love this trail!  It is a trail that you can really cook on, get some speed going.  Steep dropoffs on the side and amazing views make this one of the most exciting trails I’ve ever hiked.

view from the Boulevard
view from the Boulevard

Favorite View:  Shuckstack Fire Tower

– This 360 view from the fire tower is mind-blowing.  Going up the unmaintained fire tower adds thrill, and although it’s man-made, Fontana Dam is a very aesthetically pleasing water feature in this great view.

view from Shuckstack Fire Tower
view from Shuckstack Fire Tower

Favorite Waterfall:  Spruce Flatt Falls

– This was the first waterfall I had ever been to in the Smokies (see post “What We Can Learn…”), and despite all the gorgeous waterfalls I visited since, this one is my favorite.  However, I think Indian Flatt Falls and the waterfall in White Oak Sinks (which drops over an ancient fault, into a cave, and disappears) are pretty cool too!

Spruce Flatt Falls
Spruce Flatt Falls
Mt. Cammerer Lookout in snow
Mt. Cammerer Lookout in snow

Biggest surprise(s):  The opportunity to hike in snow, on November 14th, to Mt. Cammerer Lookout.  Also, seeing a Timber Rattlesnake and Coyote along Gregory Ridge Trail.

Biggest regret:  Only spending one night out in the backcountry (being an intern is a busy job)

Shortest Day:  1 mile – up to Elijah Oliver Cabin and back

Longest Day:  21 miles – AT from Icewater Springs to Mt. Collins, Sugarland Mtn. Trail to Sugarlands Visitor Center

Total miles hiked inside park (between August 31 and November 21 – not including hikes outside park during gov’t shutdown):  139.5 miles

above the clouds at LeConte Lodge
above the clouds at LeConte Lodge

2 thoughts on “A Reflection: Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    1. Despite the elevation of the Smokies, I really didn’t expect to see snow there this fall. I know they tend to get most of their snow in late winter/early spring, especially during the northbound Thru-Hiking season.

      Either way, it was a treat.

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