DATE : May 16, 2016
Summer is the time when people want to get out and enjoy the warm weather. Many people want to strap on their hiking boots and hit the trails. Hiking in The Smokies is a wonderful place to enjoy a hike alone or with friends. There is nothing like crisp mountain air, a plethora of green, and meandering mountain streams to re-energize the spirit. If you hike high enough on the trails you will be able to see the clouds that linger in the valleys, giving the mountains their 'smoky' appearance.
The Great Smoky Mountains cover vast areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. Hiking trails are plentiful in these mountains. Enjoy these trails every season to see different landscapes and vistas. In summer you will delight to mountain laurels and picnic areas that beckon you to stop and enjoy the view. Winter brings a frozen wonderland of barren trees, breath that fogs, and trails that are almost empty. Spring will allow you to see everything as it awakens- flowers, bears and even streams that start to thaw. Fall is perhaps the most beautiful season for hiking. The weather is still very pleasant. The variety of trees turn to oranges, reds and burgundies- gorgeous rolling colors as far as the eye can see.
Popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains include Charlies Bunion trail, which is located on the Appalachian Trail that runs through the Smoky Mountains. This hike is 4-miles long one way with an elevation change of 1,600 ft. This trail does go along some exposed cliffs, so it is best to be an experienced hiker for this one. Also, don't bring Fido along for the trail. No pets are allowed.
Do you love hiking through old-growth forests? Do you want to walk through a natural rock archway, maybe snap a selfie? Then hiking the Alum Cave trail is perfect for you. Log bridges over a creek, bluffs to stand under, and a narrow tunnel- what's not to love about this trail? It is steep and rugged and can go 2.5 miles if you go to Alum Cave Bluffs or 5 miles if you go all the way to the summit of Mt. Le Conte. There is a nice heath bald where rhododendron and mountain laurel bloom near Peregrine Peak.
If you feel adventurous and want to really give those leg muscles a work-out, try the Chimney Tops Trail. Imagine trekking up 1,400 ft in 2 miles. Whew! That will leave you winded just thinking about it. Slosh through some rushing streams. The trail is rocky all the way to the switchback, where it winds around Sugarland Mountain. You will be able to see the summit of Mount Le Conte from there. The pinnacle makes up the first chimney. For this journey you will need sturdy walking shoes and plenty of water. This trail was recently renovated and the rocky summit is a wonderful place for a great view.
What mountain hike is worthy of the name without a gorgeous waterfall? Of course, the Great Smoky Mountains have plenty of waterfalls for those willing to look for them. Rainbow Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails for waterfalls in the Great Smokies. This fall drops 80' to the Le Conte creek tributary below. From the parking area to the falls is a 2.7 mile hike. You can hike past the falls to Mt. Le Conte Summit. The total of the hike is 6.7 miles. When you factor in the switchbacks, log foot bridges, streams to cross, and the rocky terrain, well- you will pay for the view of the falls. However, the gorgeous falls that have rainbows in their mists are totally worth the strenuous hike.
For those who want a gentle hike with lovely views and historic structures, Cades Cove is the place you want to explore. The 11-mile loop road will take you through this valley where history still lives. See the old homesteads where people lived in the rugged mountains before they were populated. With the nearest neighbor miles away, solitude was plentiful and the living was hardscrabble. Walk through the old homes and barns. Watch for wildlife on the road and along the trails within Cades Cove. Black bear, deer, wild turkeys and more are all plentiful within the valley. The best part? The loop is open only to foot traffic and bikes until 10 a.m. on Saturday and Wednesday mornings from May until September. Cades Cove is open from sunrise to sunset every day. Trails that lead to the famous Rocky Top, Abrams Falls and Thunderhead Mountain all originate from Cades Cove.
Dig out your hiking boots and your water bottle. Stretch your legs. Take off for an hour or a day or more. Hiking in The Smokies is filled with great places to explore.