Best Easy Day Hikes Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 2nd Edition  by Randy Johnson

Best Easy Day Hikes: Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 2nd Edition Guide Book

by Randy Johnson (Falcon Guides)
Best Easy Day Hikes Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 2nd Edition  by Randy Johnson
Great Smoky Mountains is the country’s most popular national park. That distinction is due to much more than just proximity to nearby urban areas. This United Nations– designated International Biosphere Reserve— one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth— is a temperate rainforest that’s world- class lush. Despite extensive logging in the early 1900s, parts of the park escaped the logger’s saw, so tracts of old growth timber remain. The 800 square miles of the Smokies is one of the largest intact natural areas in the eastern United States. The Smokies contain entire watersheds of peaks and valleys completely devoid of trails. Though motorists rarely see it, hikers on park paths can savor that inspiring wilderness on even short walks.

© 2018 Randy Johnson/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Easy Day Hikes: Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 2nd Edition" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 22.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 22.

This dramatic waterfall—the park’s biggest by volume of water—leaps off a ledge into a misty plunge pool. Tackle this trail after significant rain and you’ll be impressed. Cross the bridge to start the hike, and the trail wanders streamside on a rocky, stony tread. It then climbs moderately to a crest, and dips into a beautiful dark forest of bigger trees. Now on a packed earth path, you’ll dip back down to the stream—the first of three times the route will climb into the quiet well above the rushing sounds of Abrams Creek, and then return.
Townsend, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.0
Mount LeConte is the park’s most spectacular peak, and the cozy accommodations of LeConte Lodge, not to mention bountiful (but simple) meals, make an overnight on this mountain one of eastern America’s real adventures. It’s not easy, but because there’s food and a warm bed waiting on top, this memorable hike is often tackled by well-equipped, motivated novices in good shape. It’d be a lot more difficult if you were backpacking!
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 10
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This walk on the storied Georgia- to- Maine footpath rises from Newfound Gap to fabulous views at craggy Charlies Bunion, and on a side trip to the Jumpoff. Newfound Gap may be a truly popular place to start a hike, but this trailhead is also the best way to reach a few of the Smokies’ most spectacular viewpoints. From the memorial to the Rockefeller Foundation, whose funds helped found the park (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the park here in 1940), day hikes reach two awesome views: the Jumpoff and Charlies Bunion.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.5
A waterfall, wading spots, and a scenic backcountry campsite make this a temptingly multifaceted day or overnight hike. Take off up the old logging railroad grade. It bumps up abruptly at first, then rises its entire length along Big Creek, one of the park’s most scenic streams. The grade lies on the right (north) side of Big Creek on this lower section of the trail. At 1.4 miles, Midnight Hole is a deep pool at the base of a ledge cascade.
Hartford, TN - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 4
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This is one of the Smokies’ true peak experiences. Great views and exhilarating exposure are both found at the top of this rocky summit. There’s also a side trip on the Road Prong Trail that follows the remnants of the park’s oldest Native American trail and first transmountain road as it rises toward the peaks. This popular trail launches a wide and graded trail down to a bridge over Walker Camp Prong. It’s uphill from there, and not far beyond you’ll cross another bridge, this time over Road Prong. Together, these streams scour the valley below as the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
The Smokies’— and Tennessee’s— highest peak (6,643 feet) is more than just another chance to add to your life list of grandiose summits to conquer. The vista is astounding when the weather’s right. Winter offers the best views from Clingmans Dome, but the road is closed December to March due to predictably heavy snowfalls. Only cross-country skiers willing to ski 14 miles round-trip (or backpackers on the AT) are likely to see the broad curve of the Earth from the tower.
Bryson City, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.0
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This trail is much more than a campground leg-stretcher. The designer of this trail must have been an artist. The way the trail offers up the virgin forest experience is almost as impressive as the setting itself. This amble not far from the drainage of Crying Creek is so scenic it could almost bring tears to your eyes. Drop past the mileage sign to an atmospheric old road grade and go right (south) on the Low Gap Trail, following the nature trail sign. Fine views look down onto the rushing stream in a mature cove hardwood forest.
Cosby, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.0
Here you’ll find one of the park’s best places to savor the towering grandeur of the old-growth cove hardwood forests that were so characteristic of the virgin Smokies. This mustsee trail is the essential Smokies in one short, inspiring hike. The Chimneys Picnic Area and this nature trail serve up the “forest primeval” of stereotype. Not every unlogged forest appears “virgin” in the towering way found here. This perfect ecosystem of heavy rain and deep, rich soils permits deciduous species such as beech, yellow buckeye, red maple, basswood, yellow birch, and coniferous hemlocks to reach record proportions of grandeur in height, circumference, and age (as old as 500 years).
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.0
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This truly great, longer circuit hike starts with what may be the park’s easiest (no doubt handicapped accessible) walk to a spectacular waterfall, Toms Branch Falls, not to mention Indian Creek Falls. Just driving in to the Deep Creek area conveys an important Smokies’ impression— these summits may not tower like the Tetons, but you sense that there’s a vast wildland ahead that stretches ridge after ridge beyond the park boundary.
Bryson City, NC - Hiking,Trail Running - Trail Length: 4.2
This is one of the best of the nature trails in the park that focuses on the changing Smokies’ landscape. The path and accompanying brochure do a good job of pointing out the clues to where human activity has disturbed the forest, and of explaining how nature is responding. The Elkmont Campground area was the site of a major logging operation in the early twentieth century. A logging railroad from Townsend, Tennessee, reached through this area to the heart of the Smokies. The extensive timbering that occurred largely clear-cut the forests, and the trail shows how the wholesale removal of trees has determined where different species have come to dominate in settings that offer them more or less ideal conditions for growth.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.8
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A best-kept secret, this entry point to the national park near Maggie Valley permits an easy hike to the highest log cabin in the Smokies. The circa-1870s John Love Ferguson Cabin, the Smokies’ highest, sits 5,000 feet above sea level. It’s accessible from the gate of the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center, one of the five such centers established in national parks in 2001. Once the estate of Voit Gilmore and Kathryn McNeil, the 530-acre Purchase Knob tract was donated to the park in 2000 and is the Smokies’ largest private gift. The former summer home is now a facility where school and other groups come to help scientists in residence with park research. The easy, 2.8-mile lollipop loop starts near the learning center’s gate.
Waynesville, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.8
Grotto Falls is a place where anyone can experience the cinema fantasy of standing behind a waterfall (though don’t expect to be completely hidden back here). Grotto Falls shoots off a semicircular ledge, and the trail artfully swings behind and below the cascade. Leave the lot amid a verdant old- growth forest of towering hemlocks now suffering from the park’s infestation of the hemlock woolly adelgid. Go left (southeast) at the junction on the Trillium Gap Trail, 0.2 mile above the parking area. As the trail winds higher, it rises gradually through mature cove hardwood forest and delves into, then out of, the first stream crossing.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.6
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This is a nice mini-waterfall walk for kids and those with only a little time. Climb the wide road grade up and left (north) from the parking lot to a junction with the Deep Creek Horse Trail. The bridle trail descends left and rises right: Turn right (south) up the wood steps, and shortly turn right again (northeast) at the falls sign. The trail dips down nice rock steps and crosses a scenic bridge below the falls, where you’ll find an embedded bench. Just past the bridge, there’s a perfect rock seat at the base of the falls. You could almost picture a Romantic poet perched there pondering. Near the falls, this is not a trail signs are actually embedded in some bootleg paths that might mislead the inexperienced.
Bryson City, NC - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 0.7
This great hike is recommended for easy roadside access to historic structures and a longer super-scenic streamside stretch that’ll make you feel like you’ve walked into an early photo of hardscrabble backwoods life in the Smokies. Few visitors to the Smokies today would fail to agree that the decision to found the park was a wise one. Then again, no one alive now had to look back over their shoulder at a former home they had to abandon in what is today America’s most visited national park. You can only imagine the plight of displaced residents. This trail movingly conveys the beauty of the place they left behind— and the investment needed to carve out a life there in the first place.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.7
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The Mountain Farm Museum may just be a stroll, but combine it with one of the Smokies’ best kept secret easy walks, the Oconaluftee River Trail, and you have one of the park’s best combinations of scenery and interpretation. It is a masterful meshing of insight into Native Americans and later settlers, the perfect outdoor add- on to the exhibits at the new (since 2011) Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
Cherokee, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
The Smokies’ “Quiet Walkways” are great offerings—short strolls through sylvan settings along the Newfound Gap Road and in other places. They lead to very easy glimpses of nature and are often less busy than trails to specific points of interest. Some tie in to existing trails but most are segments of now-interrupted valley roads used by early settlers or loggers. These paths invite motorists to get out of their cars and stretch their legs. There are four along Newfound Gap Road between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Newfound Gap. The first Quiet Walkway (at 1 mile) explores a setting similar to the Sugarlands Nature Trail without the pavement or people. Bear right near the river to reach a nicely intact portion of the old valley road.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.5
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The Smokies’ Quiet Walkways are great offerings—short strolls through sylvan settings along the Newfound Gap Road and other locations. They lead to very easy glimpses of nature and are often less busy than trails to specific points of interest. Some tie in to existing trails but most are segments of now interrupted old roads used by settlers or loggers. These paths invite motorists to stretch their legs and return. There are five along Newfound Gap Road between the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Newfound Gap.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.5
Reaching one of the Smokies’ highest and most scenic waterfalls requires a long but not too taxing day hike. The trip into this well-watered, rhododendron-rich watershed is made all the more special by one of the park’s most impressive big forests. Ramsay Cascades must have an identity crisis. Over the years it’s been consistently spelled inconsistently, with either “sey” or a “say” at the end. Southern Appalachian family names had a way of evolving over time—this is another example.The 1.5 miles, on a very gradual forest road, makes a nice stroll without going all the way to the waterfall.
Gatlinburg, TN - Hiking - Trail Length: 8
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One of the park’s steeper nature trails rises above Smokemont Campground, site of one of the Smokies’ biggest early twentieth-century logging operations. A few longer options include a loop and a very easy overnighter for beginner backpackers. The Smokemont Nature Trail starts at a roadside sign and crosses three single log bridges that impart a deep woods Smokies feel. The second bridge spans lively, cacophonous Bradley Fork, and the third crosses a silent, lazy side flow that could almost be another creek in a completely different place. Beyond, the trail slams into a sharp hillside and splits, each side rising steeply to wrap around the knob above. Go right (north) and the trail undulates up along a very steep side hill overlooking the campground.
Cherokee, NC - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 0.75
This 0.5-mile nature trail wanders the whispering lush evergreens of a Canadian zone forest. It also showcases a microcosm of the environmental factors that are destroying the world’s high-elevation woodlands. The ultimate irony may be that even as we argue the causes of global warming, these northern forests, so dependent for survival on the South’s coldest climate, are being killed by simple air pollution. That same pollution can make hiking a little harder on hazy days, and the park indeed issues pollution alerts. There’s no better place in the Smokies to experience the unfolding tragedy of what we’re doing to our planet.
Bryson City, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.5
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