HISTORY of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The first native peoples arrived in the Smokies in about AD 1000. They were believed to have been a breakaway of Iroquois, later to be called the Cherokee, who had moved south from Iroquois lands in New England. The Cherokee Nation stretched from the Ohio River into South Carolina and consisted of sevens clans. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee lived in the Smokies, the sacred ancestral home of the Cherokee Nation.
When the first white settlers reached the Great Smoky Mountains in the late 1700s they found themselves in the land of the Cherokee Indians. The tribe, one of the most culturally advanced on the continent, had permanent towns, cultivated croplands, and networks of trails leading to all parts of their territory.
In the late eighteenth century, Scotch-Irish, German, English, and other settlers arrived in significant numbers. The Cherokee were friendly at first but fought with settlers when provoked. They battled Carolina settlers in the 1760’s but eventually withdrew to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
To settle with the newcomers, the Cherokee nation attempted to make treaties and to adapt to European customs. They adopted a written legal code in 1808 and instituted a Supreme Court two years later.
White settlers continued to occupy Cherokee land, and by 1819 the Cherokee were forced to cede a portion of their territory, which included the Great Smoky Mountains, to the United States. The discovery of gold in Northern Georgia in 1828 sounded the death knell for the Cherokee Nation.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act, calling for the removal of all native people east of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The Cherokee appealed their case to the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Marshall ruled in their favor. President Andrew Jackson, however, disregarded the Supreme Court decree in the one instance in America History when an U.S. president overtly ignored a Supreme Court decision.
The Cherokees had adopted the ways of the whites to the extent of developing a written language, printing their own newspaper, and utilizing the white man’s agriculture and architecture. Nevertheless most of them were forcibly removed in the 1830s in a tragic episode known as the “Trail of Tears.” About one-third of the Cherokee died en route of malnutrition and disease. Altogether, about 100,000 natives, including Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw, survived the march to Oklahoma, but thousands died along the way.
A handful of Cherokee disobeyed the government edict, however. Hiding out in the hills between Clingmans Dome and Mount Guyot, they managed to survive. The few who remained are the ancestors of the Cherokees living near the park today.
Earlier settlers had lived off the land by hunting the animals, utilizing the timber for buildings and fences, and growing food and pasturing animals in the clearings. As the decades passed, many areas that had once been forest became fields and pastures. People farmed, attended church, and maintained community ties in a typically rural fashion.
The agricultural pattern of life in the Great Smoky Mountains changed with the arrival of lumbering in the early 1900s. Within twenty years, the largely self-sufficient economy of the people here was almost replaced, by dependence on manufactured items, store-bought food and cash. At the same time, loggers were rapidly cutting the great primeval forests that remained on these mountains. Unless the course of events could be quickly changed, there would be little left of the region’s special character.
The forest, at least the 20% that remained uncut within park boundaries were saved. The people, more than 1,200 landowners left the park. Behind them there remained over 70 structures, many farm buildings, schools, mills and churches. The great Smoky Mountains National Park now preserves the largest collection of historic log buildings in the East. Congress established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934. Land acquisition continued and in 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the several major highways lead to the Park.
The Cherokee Indians called this land Shaconage – “The place of the blue smoke.” We know it today as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it is one of America’s great natural treasures.
Welcome to the Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains are true “Mountain Magic.” Few of life’s experiences uplift the spirit more than these beautiful peaks and valleys. The “Land of Ten Thousand Smokes” as the Cherokees called the dancing wisps of clouds that populate the peaks and valleys, you’ll want to head for the Sugarlands Visitors Center located 2 miles south of Gatlinburg on Route 441 just beside the National Park. It’s filled with information racks, wildlife exhibits, wall maps, and Park personnel to answer questions.
The Four Season of the Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains is a unique place in all seasons, the waterfalls, wildlife, grassy balds, sparkling rivers and forest add an undeniable quality to life in this beautiful area. Mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers offer a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities for all seasons. The Smoky Mountains region is blessed with four National parks, one national forest and eight parks.
Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains and its friendly towns starts with wildflowers blooming through the last snow in late February to early March, as daffodils appear in great profusion and forsythia blooms. By early April, redbuds and dogwood are everywhere, and the Dogwood Festival and Gatlinburg’s Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage are in full swing. Then Dollywood opens the last weekend in April with a grand parade through Pigeon Forge.
Trout season opens in the springtime, too and of course it’s picnic time again. For those who love shopping, Gatlinburg craft shops are open, and Pigeon Forge’s many factory outlet malls are in full swing for the season (not that they are ever closed).
Other Great Smoky Mountain spring weekend events and activities in every town include Valentine’s Day here in the wedding capital of the USA, plus Easter Vacation, the spring Rod Run and finally Memorial Day weekend on the threshold of summer.
Summer the magic of the Smokies is what everyone dreams about. From back country camping, hiking, fishing, and water sports of every sort, or the gala array of amusements from Dollywood, Ogles Water Park, and dozens of go-karts, slick rides, bumper cars, miniature golf courses, arcades and bungee jumping, its every recreation wish come true.
Where else could you tour a deep underground cavern, feed a deer, lunch beside a waterfall, view the mountains from the world’s largest mountain cable tramway, ice skate and horseback riding is a special summer treat in the Smokies, with a dozen stables in towns, or built in the country and in the National Park offering rides for everyone.
Every summer day entertainment in the Smoky Mountains includes top-name celebrity concerts, country and bluegrass music, dinner theaters, rock’n’roll cafes, revivals, kid’s shows, and live comedy.
For more memories, there are dozens of souvenir stores, art galleries, gift shops and country craft studios. And fantastic food at great restaurants. The Smokies country breakfast places are especially well known, and there’s every kind of country cooking you can think of.
Fall the Smokies special magic may be the most famous and romantic in the autumn, from the warm days and frosty nights of Indian Summer or to the brilliant shows of red, yellow, orange and gold which splash the mountain sides and valleys as the leaves turn the region into a brilliant bright visual wonderland. Pumpkins and cornshucks in the fields and wood smoke tinting the air make fall in the Great Smoky Mountains a special season.
Fall is craft time in the Smokies, with special festivals, National Crafts Festival at Dollywood, Sevierville’s Apple Festival of arts and foods, and the traditional Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Show in the Convention Center. You can watch artisans at shows or in their country studios making hand crafted works. There’s broom making, candle dripping, intricate wood craving, quilting, pewter, and pottery. Plus, blacksmithing, weaving, sculpture and breathtaking watercolors by the artist in the country. There are toys of every description, leather goods, blankets, stained glass, glass blowing, lamps, and even painted saw’s. Plus, homemade molasses, apple butter, bread mixes, smoked country hams, jams’n’jellies, fudge taffy, and much more.
Winter , from November through February, the cities of the Great Smoky Mountains now join together in a four-month celebration called Winterfest. This joyous season includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, plus special January and February winter celebrations.
Winterfest sees Sevierville and Pigeon Forge decked out in thousands of decorative lights, while Gatlinburg shines from end to end with “Smoky Mountain Lights” The Dollywood Theme Park glows nightly with more than two million sparkling lights in an old-fashioned atmosphere, including special Christmas shows and events.
The Smoky Mountains is the place for skiing and ice skating at Gatlinburg’s famous Ober Gatlinburg Alpine Resort center at the top of the spectacular aerial tramway. Both natural and man-made snow on groomed slopes makes for great fun and sports and the large indoor ice rink is in use all year around.
The Great Smoky Mountains has truly become a four-season wonderland for all.
The Diversity of plant and animal life in the Smokies
The Smokies wide diversity of flowering plants and trees makes for a colorful spring, summer, and fall. The spring bloom starts in the valleys around April and works upward to the peaks through July, while the changing colors of the foliage start on the peaks as early as mid-August and works downward to the valley into October.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas of land areas east of the Rocky Mountains. The Smokies has a biological diversity that is paralleled in the United States. Due to the many climates found in the Smokies, the park is home of 1,500 species of vascular plants, 2,000 species of mushrooms, 125 different species of trees, 10 percent of which are considered rare. Their area over 4,000-non flowering plant species in the park. With abundant sunshine and frequent rainfall it is no surprise that about 200 species of showy wildflowers bloom in the Smokies. They begin in March and last till late November. One forth of the park’s 500,000 acres is undisturbed old growth forest. More tree species than in all of northern Europe live in this small area of Tennessee and North Carolina. The list is long of the 60 native mammals and over 200 species of birds that live in the park. In addition, the park is haven for 27 species of salamanders, making it the most diverse salamander population in the world.
The Smoky Mountains are known for springtime flowers, including the trillium, phacelia, violets, lady’s slippers, jack in the pulpits, and snowy orchids. The Dogwood blooms in late April, spring flowers late March to Mid May, mountain laurel and flame azalea, May and June, the Catawaba rhododendron blooms in Mid June and the rosebay rhododendron in June and July. In August you may see wild clematis, yellow fringed orchis, bee balm, cardinal flower, monkshood, and blue gentian.
The goldenrod, ironweed, and asters bloom in late September to early October. Many flowers grow along park roadsides. Other good locations to see them along quite walkways and on designated nature trails throughout the parkway.
The Smokies’ various ecological communities are most often identified by forest types called life zones. Elevation, soil conditions, moisture or dryness, and exposure to wind and sun all play roles in determining the location of life zones. Botanists usually identify the forests by the kinds of trees that predominate.
Cove hardwood forest
Below 4,500 feet, deciduous trees cover sheltered slopes and extend into low-elevation coves and valleys. Trees of record or near record size are common. Typical trees include yellow buckeye, basswood, yellow poplar, mountain silverbell, white ash, sugar maple, yellow birch, and black cherry. Rhododendrons and lady’s slippers are common flowering plants. You can see cove hardwood forests on the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail at the Chimney Tops picnic area, Alright Grove near the Cosby entrance, and along the Ramsay Cascades and Porters Flat trails near the Greenbrier entrance.
Pine and Oak Forest
Oak and pine trees predominate to about 3,000 feet on slopes and ridges that are dry compared to other parts of the park. Other trees include hickories, yellow poplar, and flowering dogwood. This kind of forest also contains thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendrons. You will find pine and oak forests around Cades Cove and the Laurel Falls Nature Trail.
Eastern hemlock forests grow along streams and on slopes and ridges up to about 5,000 feet. Maple, birch, cherry, and yellow poplar trees are also found here. Rosebay rhododendrons proliferate along streams, while Catawba rhododendrons survive in heath balds and on exposed ridge tops. Hemlock forests are located along trails from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail toward Grotto Falls, and Newfound Gap Road to Alum Cave Bluffs.
Northern hardwood forest
Yellow birch and American beech dominate this forest, occurring mostly above 4,500 feet. Maple, buckeye, and cherry trees are also in the mix. Shrubs include Catawba and rosebay rhododendrons, hydrangea, thornless blackberry, and hobblebush. Many flowering plants grow here: creeping bluets, trilliums, long-spurred violets, and trout lily. You can see northern hardwood forests at Newfound Gap and along Clingmans Dome Road.
Above 4,500 feet, you’ll find red spruce and the few remaining Fraser firs (90 percent succumbed to an insect infestation). The many coniferous trees may remind hikers of Maine or Quebec. Above 6,000 feet, yellow birch, pin cherry, American mountain ash, and mountain maple occasionally appear. Plants here include dingleberry, blackberries, blueberries, Carolina and Catawba rhododendrons, and ferns such as hay-scented, lady, and common polypody. Spruce-fir forests grow along the Appalachian Trail and the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail along Clingmans Dome Road.
A total of 65 mammals live in the Park. Some, such as the coyote and bobcat are reclusive while deer are very common and obvious. Besides deer people most often see red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats.
Deer are common throughout the Park. An exotic, the wild European boar, causes widespread damage. Like other intrusive exotic species, the Park seeks means to control the boar population. Mammals native to the area, but no longer living here include, bison, elk, gray wolves, and fishers. Reintroduction efforts brought back the red wolf and river otter.
Reptiles and Amphibians
The Park has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve and has an international reputation for its variety and number of salamanders. The Smokies’ 27 species of salamanders make them the salamander capital of the world. Notable species include Jordans Salamander, one subspecies of which is found only in the Smokies, and the Hellbender, which can grow up to a whopping two and one-half feet long. Other amphibians such as frogs and toads thrive in the Great Smokies.
Reptiles include snakes, turtles and lizards. The only two poisonous species are the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead. Neither have a lethal poison, and death from snakebite in the Smokies is extremely rare. Other common reptiles include the eastern box turtle, common snapping turtle, and southeastern five-lined skink.
A favorite resident of the Smokies is the black bear. Presently over 700 black bears live in the Smokies. These wild creatures feast on the many berries, nuts, insect larvae and animal carrion in the mountains. The park is actually one o f the few remaining areas in the eastern United States where black bears can live in wild, natural surroundings.
The Smokies Mountains are famous the black bear population. Bear sightings usually begin in early March, but weather conditions can delay this. Newborns and mothers remain denned until May. Cubs remain with their mothers for a year and a half.
Park officials warn visitors that tamed bears lose their natural fear of people, and that violent bears must be destroyed. Also, bears that become overly aggressive are moved into the backcountry, which is open to hunting. Tame bears make easy targets for hunters.
Although there is no one best place to see bears in the Park, Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are among the best spots to look. Bears are most active early in the morning and late in the evening.
On the small chance of encountering an aggressive black bear the best action is make a lot of noise (a whistle works well), and slowly retreat. Only when between a mother and her cubs, or when dealing with a hungry, human-fed bears are they dangerous. Bears are excellent climbers, so climbing a tree is ineffective. Playing dead does not work either, since dead animals are part of the black bears’ diet. However, few dangerous bear situations occur.
With so much to do, it’s hard to choose, so use these pages as a guide. With over 800 miles of trails and more than 100 back county campsites, rafters, horseback riders, bird watchers and even those just taking a stroll use the extensive trail system to view the wonder of the Smokies up close. Trails are available for hikers with varying levels of experience, mountain bike, climb rocks, and view wildlife and waterfalls. The rolling hills and fertile valleys offer over changing views in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain region. The surrounding mountain ranges, with peaks rising higher than 6,000 feet. The landscapes gleam with expansive lakes, cool creek beds, flowing mountain streams and tumbling rivers. One of the Nations most famous trials, the 2,100 -mile Appalachian Trail, stretches 70 miles along the crest line of the Smokies. In addition to the trails, the park has 77 historic buildings and 151 cemeteries, which are preserved to remember the human history of the park.
Just a short drive away, the sounds of music, rides and laughter mingle in the family resort towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Townsend. The region is also home to the bustling cities of Knoxville, Maryville and Oak Ridge. Surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Located along the mountainous State border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the 514,885 acres of Great Smoky Mountains National Park include 477,670 acres recommended for inclusion into the National Wilderness System.
Several major highways lead to the Park. The following routes provide access to the three main entrances.
- From the east (and I-81): take I-40 to Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN Route 66 South, and continue to U.S. 441 South. Follow U.S. 441 to Park.
- From I-40 in Knoxville: exit 386B U.S. Highway 129 South to Alcoa/Maryville. At Maryville proceed on U.S. 321 North through Townsend. Continue on TN Highway 73 to the Park.
In North Carolina
- From I-40, take U.S. Route 19 West through Maggie Valley. Proceed to U.S. 441 North at Cherokee. Follow 441 N into the Park.
- From Atlanta and points south: follow U.S. 441 and 23 North. U.S. 441 North leads to the Park.
To Park : the nearest major airport in Tennessee (McGhee-Tyson, TYS) is Alcoa, 45 miles west of Gatlinburg. North Carolina’s, Asheville Airport is 60 miles east of the park. No train or bus service accesses the Park.
In Park : personal vehicle, limited trolley service from Gatlinburg.
OPERATING HOURS AND SEASONS
The park is open year-round. Visitor centers at Sugarlands and Oconaluftee are open all year, except Christmas Day. Cades Cove Visitor Center has limited winter hours.
CLIMATE AND RECOMMENDED CLOTHING
Elevations in the park range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and topography affects local weather. Temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees cooler on the mountaintops. Annual precipitation averages 65 inches in the lowlands to 88 inches in the high country. Spring often brings unpredictable weather, particularly in higher elevations. Summer is hot and humid, but more pleasant in higher elevations. Fall has warm days and cool nights and is the driest period, and frosts occur starting in late September. Winter is generally moderate, but extreme conditions occur with increasing elevation.
Sugarlands Visitor Center , near Gatlinburg, TN, is open year-round and offers nature exhibits, a short film, guidebooks, maps, and park rangers who give lectures, guided strolls, and answer questions. Pick up your camping, hiking, or fishing permits here.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center , near Cherokee, NC, is also open year-round and its exhibits focus on mountain life of the late 1800s. Adjacent to the visitor center is the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic farm buildings. Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, TN, (closed in winter), sits among preserved historic buildings representing isolated farming communities of the 1800s.
Trails and Roads – More than 800 miles of trails provide opportunities ranging from ten-minute saunters on quiet walkways to weeklong adventures deep in the forest. There are about 170 miles of paved roads and over 100 miles of gravel roads. The “backroads” offer a chance to escape traffic and enjoy the more remote areas of the park.
During the summer and fall, the park provides regularly scheduled ranger-led interpretive walks and talks, slide presentations, and campfire programs at campgrounds and visitor centers.
LeConte Lodge , when night descends, you can wrap the silence around you like a cloak at LeConte Lodge. The only noises disturbing the stillness are the sounds of nature…nocturnal creatures going their way, the rumble of thunder or breezes rustling through treetops. Accessible only by foot or horseback sits atop 6,593 Mt. LeConte, the Park’s third highest peak.
Mt. LeConte Lodge is a rustic set of cabins and lodges located at the top of Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee.
Mt. LeConte is probably the most impressive peak in the Smoky Mountain National Park. While Clingmans Dome and Mt. Guyot are higher, they are both parts of high ridges, while Mt. LeConte seems to tower over its surroundings. It is the most prominent peak when approaching the park from the Tennessee side on Rt. 441.
The Lodge is only accessible by hiking one of five trails. The shortest and steepest is 5 1/2 miles long. The reservation includes dinner, a bed, breakfast, and a great view. There is no running water or electricity in the cabins, and all food is brought up the mountain by llamas. As rough as this sounds, it is VERY difficult to get a reservation. It’s a fantastic experience
Although the summit of LeConte is tree-covered and has no views, impressive views are available at Cliff Tops, and Myrtle Point on the other side of the summit. The summit can be reached via numerous trails, including Alum Caves Trail (4.5 miles), Rainbow Falls Trail (6.5 miles), Bullhead Trail (6.5 miles), Trillium Gap Trail (7 miles) and the Boulevard (8 miles). The Rainbow Falls – Bullhead combination makes one of the park’s best loops.
Reservations are required and can be made by calling . The lodge is open mid-March to mid-November. A variety of lodging facilities are available in the outlying communities.
Frontcountry Campgrounds : The National Park Services maintains developed campgrounds at ten locations in the park. Great Smoky Mountain camping is primitive be design. Besides sites nestled in the woods and along the rivers, all campgrounds provide running water and flush toilets. No hook-ups are available in the Park. Pets must be restrained at all times, and are not permitted on hiking trails.
Ten campgrounds operate in the Park. Most are open from early spring through the first weekend in November. Cades Cove in Tennessee and Smokemont in North Carolina are open year round. Sites at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont may be reserved for the period may 15 to October 31 through the National Park Service at or on line at http://reservations.nps.gov. The other campgrounds are generally open from late March April to early November. Camping fees range from $10.00 to $15.00 per night. For more information on all types of camping call .
Backcountry Campsites: Backcountry camping is free but requires a permit. Whether your planned hike is long or short, it is always a good idea to have on dependable hiking boots, wear multiple layers, and carrier rain gear. The temperatures are cooler in the trees, especially higher up. The higher the elevations also see more precipitation than the lower ones. Bring along drinking water, as the streams are not drinkable. Most campsites use self-registration at visitor centers or ranger stations, but shelters and rationed sites require reservations. Reservations can be made 30 days in advance by calling , 8:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m. daily.
There are no food facilities in the park. Numerous convenience stores and restaurants establishments are located in outlying communities.
Horse rentals are available in season at five horse stables in the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Wheelchair accessible facilities, including restrooms, are located at the three major campgrounds, Cades Cove and Elkmont in Tennessee and Smokemont in North Carolina, visitor centers, and many picnic areas. Campsite reservations can be made for the period May 15 to October 31 by calling Destinet at 1(800) 365-CAMP. A five-foot wide paved and level accessibility trail, Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail, is a quarter mile south of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Specially designed communications media, including tactile and wayside exhibits, large print brochures and a cassette version are part of the trail.
Twelve self-guided nature trails ranging in length from 1/4 mile to a mile roundtrip were selected and developed by Park naturalists for their interesting natural history, beauty, and accessibility. The new All-Access Nature Trail, 0.5 miles south of Sugarlands on Newfound Gap Road, was especially designed for the handicapped, parents with young children and older couples.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES/PARK USE
Camping, hiking, picnicking, sightseeing, fishing, auto touring, horseback riding, nature viewing, and photographic opportunities abound.
BASIC VISIT RECOMMENDATIONS
Plan your visit to the park by stopping at one of the visitor centers or writing ahead to obtain information. Also be sure to acquire safety information/tips pertaining to your planned activity, especially if you are not familiar with the area.
SPECIAL EVENTS AND PROGRAMS
The park holds a variety of annual events, including Old Timers’ Day, storytelling, a quilt show, Women’s Work, Mountain Life Festival, sorghum molasses and apple butter making, as well as living history demonstrations.
In winter during hazardous weather conditions, the two main roads will close. Do not leave valuables in your car. Adhere to Park rules and regulations.
Auto Touring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine natural areas in the East. An Auto tour of the park offers a variety of experiences, including panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching the horizon.
The roads are designed for scenic driving. There are numerous turnouts and parking areas at viewpoints or historic sites. Traffic, winding roads, and the scenery conspire to making driving time more important than distance here in the park. Figure about twice the time to drive a given distance that you would for normal highways. Be on the alert for unexpected driving behavior from others–they may be under the influence of the scenery! Gasoline is not sold in the park, so check your gauge. Remember that winter storms may close the Newfound Gap and Little River Roads.
Begin at the Sugarlands Visitors Center on Route 441 at the Gatlinburg entrance to the Park. The most popular drive through the park is Newfound Gap Road, 26 miles long, crossing the park entrance to the southwest. It begins at the Sugarlands at an elevation of 1,436 feet then rises to more than 5,000 feet above sea level at Newfound Gap. The road descends down 3,000 feet to Oconaluftee Visitors Center at the main entrance to the park from North Carolina.
The main road in the park is the Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. It is the only road across the mountains. Along it and at the Newfound Gap Parking Area you will get some of the best scenic high mountain vistas in the park – and on the East Coast, for that matter.
In southern Appalachian vernacular, a “gap” is a low point along a ridge or mountain range. The old road over the Smoky Mountains crossed at Indian Gap located about 1-1/2 miles west of the current site. When the lower, easier crossing was discovered, it became known as the “Newfound Gap.”
There are scenic overlooks along the way, roadside exhibits, and trailheads for the hikers. At Newfound Gap you can see for miles. The Appalachian Trial crosses the road here. There is also the memorial where Franklin D. Roosevelt stood to dedicate the national park in 1940.
The most popular stop is Clingmans Dome , accessible by a 7-mile side road. At 6,643 feet above sea level, Clingsman Dome is the highest point in the Smokies. One can drive almost to the top and then hike the last half-mile to the overlook tower. Take it slow because the high altitude means the air is thinner, but the fantastic, panoramic view is worth the effort. Clingmans Dome Road is a dead end spur off the Newfound Gap Road at the crest of the Smokies.
Clingmans Dome is a popular Park destination. Located along the state-line ridge, it is half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee. The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap, and then walking a steep half-mile trail. A paved trail leads to a 54-foot observation tower. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its 2,144-mile journey.
Vistas from Clingmans Dome are spectacular. On clear, pollution-free days, views expand over 100 miles and into seven states. However, air pollution limits average viewing distances to 22 miles. Despite this handicap, breathtaking scenes delight those ascending the tower. It is a great place for sunrises and sunsets.
Cloudy days, precipitation, and cold temperatures reveal the hostile environment atop Clingmans Dome. Proper preparation is essential for a good visit. Weather conditions atop Clingmans Dome change quickly. Snow can fall from anytime between September and May. Get a current weather forecast before heading to the tower. The cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome’s summit make it a coniferous rainforest. Unfortunately, pests, disease, and environmental degradation threaten the unique and fragile spruce-fir forest. Dead trunks litter the area, and dying trees struggle to survive another year. Berries thrive in the open areas, and a young forest will replace the dying trees.
Although Clingmans Dome is open year-round, the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through April 1, and whenever weather conditions require. People can hike and cross-country ski on the road during the winter.
Other motor trails exist; the most famous is the Cades Cove Loop, which as also a historical tour of those who settled in the valley. Northeast of Gatlinburg off RTE. 321 is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Tail Loop which takes you up the western flank of Mt. LeConte. This paved, narrow, winding jewel of a road fords streams and cuts across a deep gorge.
Roaring Fork Nature Trail
The trip begins on Cherokee Orchard Road. In the 1920s and 30s, this area was once 796-acre commercial orchard and nursery with over 6,000 fruit trees. A short three miles later stands Noah “Bud” Ogle’s Place, located at the end of the end Cherokee Orchard and the beginning of the one-way motor loop. Takes you on a 5-mile winding drive through forest and past pioneer structures.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is an intimate journeys though the Smoky Mountain’s lush mountain wilderness. In places it reveals some of nature’s secrets, while in others it weaves the story of the people who once lived here. Water is a constant companion on this journey. Cascades, rapids, and falls adorn the roadside. The sound of rushing water is never far away. The air feels damp and tropical throughout the summer months, yet the icy water rarely reaches 60F degrees.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is open to vehicle traffic from early spring until December 1 each year.
Blue Ridge Parkway
If you want to sample the Blue Ridge Parkway and also enjoy some beautiful mountain scenery, try the Balsam Mountain Road, which leaves the parkway between Oconaluftee and Soco Gap. It winds for 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) back into the national park’s Balsam Mountain Campground. Incredible azalea displays will dazzle you, when in season. If you are adventurous and want to try a mountain dirt road, continue past the campground to the Heintooga Picnic Area and the start of the Round Bottom Road (closed during winter). This is a 22.5-kilometer (14-mile), partially one-way, unpaved road that descends the mountain to the river valley below and joins the Big Cove Road in the Cherokee Indian Reservation. You come out right below Oconaluftee at the edge of the park.
Little River Road
Another view of the Smokies awaits you along the Little River Road leading from Sugarlands to Cades Cove. The road lies on the old logging railroad bed for a distance along the Little River. (The curves suggest these were not fast trains!) Spur roads lead off to Elkmont and Tremont deeper in the park, and to Townsend and Wear Cove, towns outside the park. Little River Road becomes the Laurel Creek Road and takes you into Cades Cove where you can take the one-way 18-kilometer (1l-mile) loop drive and observe the historic mountain setting of early settlers. If you are returning to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge from Cades Cove, try exiting the park toward Townsend and driving the beautiful Wear Cove Road back to U.S. 441 at the north end of Pigeon Forge.
Perhaps the most bucolic scenes in the Smokies are to be seen from the Foothills Parkway between Interstate 40 and Route 32 near Cosby, around the northeast tip of the park. Here you look out across beautiful farmland with the whole mass of the Smokies rising as its backdrop.
Only three sections are currently open to vehicle traffic. Completed sections of the Foothills Parkway are open year-round, weather permitting. Uncompleted sections are open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians.
At the west end of the park there is another section of the Foothills Parkway between Chilhowee and Walland. This 20-mile section is the Foothills Parkway’s longest segment The parkway is administered by the National Park Service. It provides beautiful vistas of the northwestern Smokies, including Thunderhead Mountain, highest peak in the Park’s western half. Many of its south facing overlooks peers over Happy Valley, into the Smokies, and beyond. Its north facing views oversee Maryville, Knoxville, and the Great Valley.
The Foothills Parkway skirts the Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s northern side. Only three sections are currently open to vehicle traffic. Due to funding and legislative difficulties, the ultimate status of the parkway remains uncertain. Despite political disappointments, the Foothills Parkway’s open sections provide beautiful views of the Park and surrounding country. Completed sections of the Foothills Parkway are open year-round, weather permitting. Uncompleted sections are open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians.
West – Running southwest from Walland to Chilhowee , this 20-mile section is the Foothills Parkway’s longest segment. It provides beautiful vistas of the northwestern Smokies, including Thunderhead Mountain, highest peak in the Park’s western half. Many of its south facing overlooks peers over Happy Valley, into the Smokies, and beyond. Its north facing views oversee Maryville, Knoxville, and the Great Valley.
Halfway along the segment, a trail leads to the Look Rock Tower (pictured). It is a third of a mile from the road. The trail makes a moderate climb. The tower provides a 360-degree panorama and a platform for scientific research such as air quality. Sunsets from the tower are often spectacular.
East – Foothills Parkway east is a six-mile road leading from Cosby, TN to Interstate 40 . Its eastern terminus is TN exit 443. Built on Green Mountain, the road provides wonderful views of Cosby Valley to the south and the Newport area to the north.
Other interesting drives in the park are the Rich Mountain Road, Parsons Branch Road (both closed in winter), and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It forms an 11-mile loop along with Cherokee Orchard Road. The one-way road runs for 8 miles. It is not suitable for bicycles, RVs, trailers, or buses. Cherokee Orchard Road is a two-way road without these restrictions and leads to the Rainbow Falls parking area. Airport Road in Gatlinburg turns into the Park’s Cherokee Orchard Road.
The Spur – Technically part of the Foothills Parkway , The Spur is the only direct route from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge. A scenic four-lane highway, it follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
Many Park roads have only a gravel surface. Two wheel drive vehicles can drive these roads. Some provide access to less visited park areas while other are scenic drives in their own right. Below are description of the three main gravel roads. All of them are one way
Cataloochee Valley nestles among the most rugged peaks in the southeastern United States. Surrounded by 6,000-foot mountains, this isolated valley was the largest and most prosperous settlement in what is now the Park. Once known for its farms and orchards, today’s Cataloochee is one of the Smokies’ most picturesque areas. Few people visit this beautiful valley, but spectacular rewards await those who do.
Along with preserved houses, churches, and farm buildings, Cataloochee offers extraordinary views of the surrounding mountains. It is also known for its dense wildlife populations.
Cataloochee is open year round. Access is via a long and winding gravel road from Hartford, TN or by Cove Creek Road (mostly gravel) near Dellwood, North Carolina. A paved road runs though Cataloochee Valley. RVs up to 32 feet can stay at the campground. .
Heintooga -Roundbottom Road
Heintooga-Roundbottom Road is a 15-mile road leading from Balsam Mountain Road to Big Cove Road. It takes 1 hour to drive. The only access to the area is along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting from a mile high, this road descends through the Raven Fork drainage basin. A few small vistas open along exposed ledges. The road travels through lush second growth forest and along cascading streams. Heintooga-Roundbottom Road is an opportunity to experience the Great Smokies solitude and wilderness. Following Raven Fork’s playful waters, the road leads into Cherokee, NC along Big Cove Road.
Rich Mountain Road
Rich Mountain Road heads north from Cades Cove over Rich Mountain to Tuckalechee Cove and Townsend, TN. The 8-mile road provides beautiful views of Cades Cove. Many prize-winning photographs come from here. Situated on a dry ridge, an oak-dominated forest lines the roadside. Once outside the Park, the road becomes steep and winding.
Parsons Branch Road
Parsons Branch Road leads from Cades Cove southwest to US Route 129 near Deals Gap. Virgin Oak Forest lines this historic route. At present the road is open only to hikers and equestrians. Floods washed away stream crossings in spring 1994. Recent funding will allow the necessary repairs to begin, and the Parks plans to open the road in early 1998.
Cades Cove is a historic district within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located near Townsend, Tennessee, this beautiful area receives 2 million visitors each year. It is the most crowded Park destination. Cades Cove is a look into the past. Man became part of Cades Cove beyond reach of human memory. Indians hunted here for uncounted centuries, but hardly any sign of them remains. White settlers followed the Indians to the Cove, and their sign is everywhere, buildings, roads, apple trees, fences, daffodils and footpaths. Cades Cove is an open-air museum that preserves some of the material culture of those who last lived there. Preserved homes, churches, and a working mill highlight the 11-mile loop road. Wildlife abounds around the cove and sightings of deer, foxes, wild turkeys, coyotes, woodchucks, raccoons, bears, and red wolves occur. Beautiful mountain vistas climb from the valley floor to the sky. Situated in a limestone window, the result of earthquake activity and erosion, Cades Cove provides fertile habitat. Settlers first came to the cove in 1819, and farmed this land until the Park formed in the 1930s.
Settlers first entered the Cove legally after an Indian treaty transferred the land to the State of Tennessee in 1819. Year after year they funneled through the gaps, driven by whatever haunted them behind or drew them in front, until they spilled over the floor and up the slopes. Most of them traced their way down the migration route from Virginia into east Tennessee (now more or less Interstate 81). Tuckaleechee (modern Townsend) was the last point of supply before the leap into Cades Cove. A few years’ later pioneers moved directly over the mountains from North Carolina. They all came equipped with personal belongings, and the tools and skills of an Old World culture, enriched with what they learned from the Indians.
The people of the Cove did not enter, settle and become shut off from the rest of humanity. They were not discovered by Park developers, still living a pioneer lifestyle. From the beginning they kept up through the newspapers, regular mail service, circuit-riding preachers, and buying and selling trips to Tuckaleechee, Maryville and Knoxville. They went to wars and war came to them. They attended church and school, and college if financially able. A resident physician was here most of the time from the 1830s on.
Although remote and arduous, life here was little different from rural life anywhere in eastern America in the nineteenth century.
Household and farm labor was done according to one’s age and sex. Men produced shelter, food, fuel and raw materials for clothing. Women cooked, kept house and processed things the husband produced. Children and the elderly took care of miscellaneous loose ends when and where they could. In this way the home was an almost self-contained economic unit. The community was an important aspect of life to the settlers in a rural society. It was an extension of the household by marriage, custom, and economic necessity . . . a partnership of households in association with each other. The community was democratic in a general sense, there were few extremes of wealth and poverty; there was widespread participation in community affairs; and, no clearly defined social classes locked people in or out. There were common celebrations like family gatherings, “workings,” and funerals. Politics was tied to state, regional and national affairs. Law enforcement was personal in many ways. Justices of the Peace applied common sense, based on common law.
In 1820 this was frontier country, newly acquired by the State of Tennessee from the Cherokee Indians. Families did not simply wander in and say to them selves, “My, how pretty, let’s settle here.” The land was owned by speculators who bought it from the state. Settlers bought it from the speculators, whose intent was to make money. In this way Cades Cove became a typical cumulative community . . . a miscellaneous collection of people who were not oriented toward a common purpose, as in the early religious settlements of New England. It grew without a fixed plan and families chose lands that were available and affordable whenever they arrived. Most of the people came from established communities in upper east Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and western North Carolina. Very few were “fresh off the boat.”
By 1850 the population peaked at 685. With the soil growing tired and new states opening in the West, many families moved out in search of more fertile frontiers. By 1860 only 269 people remained. Slowly, human numbers rose again to about 500 just before the Park was established in the late 1920s.
Beginning a new life here was basically the same for everyone. The East End of the Cove was settled first, being higher and drier than the swampy lower end. Huge trees were cleared by girdling them with an axe. The first crops were planted among the soon-dead timber. After a few years the standing trees were cut down, rolled into piles and burned. Orchards and permanent fields followed quickly on the “new ground.” Common sense told farmers to reserve the flat land for corn, wheat, oats and rye. Their homes circled the central basin, and pastures and wood lots hung on the slopes. Apples, peaches, beans, peas and potatoes were supplemented with wild greens and berries. Meat was varied and plentiful. Cattle grazed in summer on the balds (grassy meadows “bald” of trees) high above the Cove, white deer, bear, wild turkey and domestic hogs ranged the woods.
Cades Cove contains more pioneer structures than any other location in the park. Before the park was established, the area was extensively cultivated. Today, farming is still permitted there to help maintain the historical scene. Pastures, cattle, and hay combine with old buildings and open vistas to give the cove a pleasing rural aspect.
The homes of John Oliver, Carter Shields, Henry Whitehead and Dan Lawson dot the valley floor and represent a variety of building techniques. The Whitehead home is made from logs sawed square at a near by mill. Dan Lawson’s home features an unusual chimney made of brick fired on the spot. Other buildings include a smithy, smokehouse, corncribs, and a cantilevered barn.
Three of five original churches remain in Cades Cove today. The oldest among them is the Primitive Baptist Church, built in 1827. These churches and the surrounding cemeteries provide fascination insight into the lives and times if the 19th century. The Baptist Church was forced to close during the height of the Civil War because of its Union sympathies.
John P. Cable’s 19th century farm once a self-contained world, today the farm illustrates the daily lives of early settlers. The farm centerpiece is the 1868 mill that still grinds corn raised in the Cove.
Exhibits explain the history of many structures, self-guiding trails interpret the natural scene, and park personnel demonstrate pioneer activities at the Cable Mill on a seasonal basis. Deer and turkey are found in the cove and woodchucks (groundhogs) are often seen near the road.
Cades Cove’s main auto touring route is the 11-mile loop road tracing its fringe. The loop takes from 1 to 1.5 hours to drive. Traffic is often bumper to bumper, especially in summer months and October. Throughout the summer, the road is closed to motorized vehicles on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 10am. Bicycle rental is available. Other opportunities to explore the area include walking, hiking, hayrides, horseback riding, and fishing. Rich Mountain Road, a gravel road suitable for 2-wheel drive vehicles, offers a unique perspective of the cove – and a way to escape the traffic.
If you like to tour Cades Cove a more leisurely pace, bicycles may be rented (April through September) at the Cades Cove Bike Shop. On Saturdays and Wednesdays, starting in May and ending in September, loop road is closed to autos and open to bicycles only from sunrise until 10:00 a.m. For more information call
Horses are available for rent in the Cades Cove Riding Stables. The horse back tour is a guided tour along the cool, wooded trails of the mountains, over small streams and up to vistas of trees and wildflowers. The stables are open seasonally from end of March to the first of November. For more information call
A hayride is a unique and fun way to see Cades Cove from April through October. Hayrides last one and half-hours leaving from the Cades Cove riding Stables and are available daily. Groups of fifteen or more may reserve a wagon for day trips as early as 10:00 a.m. For more information call
Picnicking-for those who enjoy the occasional meal outdoors, Cades Cove is equipped with a picnic area near the campground. Grills and tables area provided, or you may pack a lunch and eat along a trial in the area.
Hiking is a major attraction in the Great Smoky Mountains, and there are more than 900 miles of trails from quite walkways to strenuous climbs by thundering streams and waterfalls.
The hiker should be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. The temperature on some hikes can be 10 degrees cooler than when you left the lower elevation. Combine this with the fact that the Smokies are also the wettest place in the South, and you have the possibility for great discomfort in the event of a sudden storm. The higher elevations in the park can receive upwards of 90 inches of precipitation a year.
Don’t judge the complete day by the morning sky. In summer the days usually start out clear, but as the day heats up, clouds can build up, resulting in a heavy shower. Winter is a great time to be in the Smokies, but also represents the most challenging time as well. Frontal systems sweep through the region, with alternately cloudy and sunny days, though cloudy days are most frequent in winter. When traveling in the Smokies, it’s a good idea to carry clothes for all weather conditions.
Hikers Should Be Prepared For All Conditions
Footwear should be a major concern. Though tennis shoes may be generally appropriate for some day-hikes, boots should be worn on the uneven trails in the Park. They support the ankles from sprains and the foot from cuts and abrasions.
Stay on the designated trail. Most hikers get lost when they leave the path. If you get temporarily lost, try to retrace your steps until you cross the trail again. Then it’s just a matter of guessing which way you were headed when you left the trail. You will either continue the way you were headed or go back to your starting point–either way, no harm is done.
Always bring rain gear and a wool sweater. They don’t weigh much and might make the difference between being miserable or not in the event it rains. As mentioned earlier, the Smokies get approximately 90 inches of rain a year. This is good. Its what makes the Smokies such a wonderful place to be. Don’t start a hike if thunderstorms threaten–some of the most devastating damage ever to the Park has been from great storms in years past.
Cross-streams carefully. Getting wet, even in summer, could lead to hypothermia, which leads ultimately to disorientation, poor decision making and, in extreme circumstances, death. Having said that, don’t let a fear of hypothermia, getting lost, or bears prevent you from the enjoyment to be had by trekking the trails of the Park.
There is no record of anyone ever being killed by a bear in the Smokies. When we questioned a Park Ranger about how to react to meeting a bear on the trail, he smilingly told us the most likely sighting of a bear will be its tail disappearing over a ridge. Most “incidents” occur when an ignorant visitor feeds or otherwise harasses a bear.
To avoid crowds, hike during the week; avoid holidays; go during the “off” season. Also, go in the morning before most folks are through eating breakfast; this is a good time to see wildlife and morning light is great for photography! You can also avoid crowds by using the outlying trailheads such as those found at the Cosby and Wears Valley entrances. I’m embarrassed to say we didn’t know these existed for our first 18 visits to the Smokies. But to our delight, we found new vistas, trails, and landscapes to discover for the first time.
Plan Your Hiking Trip with Care
With a little care and planning, your hiking trip to the Smokies can be much more rewarding and repay you with more great memories. You can enjoy not only the visual splendor of the Park, you can view it without counting out-of-state license plates, and you can get more fit in the bargain.
Waterfalls of the Smokies
Waterfalls adorn most every stream in the Smokies. Only one waterfall, Meigs Falls, is visible from the road. It is 12.9 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near the Townsend Wye. All others require hiking, and range from easy to strenuous. Below is a listing of the Smokies best known falls:
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular in the park, because the falls is spectacular! Laurel Falls is the easiest waterfall hike on the Tennessee side of the park. It is 2.5 miles roundtrip, and follows a paved trail. The trail cuts through the middle of a series of cascades. Laurel Falls is 60 feet high. Laurel Falls passes through a pine-oak forest. The mountain laurel, which is abundant along this trail, blooms in mid May. The trail crosses through Laurel Branch at the base of the upper cascade of the falls. The fall is divided in the middle by the trail and a pleasant pool.
The trailhead is located on Little River Road to Fighting Creek Gap between Sugarlands Visitors Center and Elkmont Campground.
Grotto Falls is off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It is 2.4 miles roundtrip though a hemlock dominated forest. This easy trail, through a hemlock forest, crosses three small streams and leads behind the falls. The cool moist environment at the falls is perfect for salamanders and summer hikers. Grotto Falls is distinctive as the only waterfall in the park. The walk is easy, the way broad and the falls peaceful and refreshing. Though often crowded, Grotto Falls is an excellent stop over en route to Mount LeConte. Large boulders and fallen trees offer plenty of seating. The falls itself is fifteen, maybe twenty feet high, usually having a good amount of water coming over. The trail takes you right behind the falls! This is an exciting initiation into the ‘wilderness experience’ for many. Wet rocks are extremely slippery, do be very careful. The scenery here is hardwood bottomland, somewhat rocky and rooty, but quite negotiable for even the out of shape hiker. Trees are often fair to large in size, especially the hemlocks.
Beyond the falls, the trail becomes notably steeper as you wind your way up two more miles to Trillium Gap amid the folded shoulders of Mount LeConte. The scenery changes slightly here, as the trees are sparser and substantially younger. In season (around late April), wildflowers here are unusually profuse and lovely. Occasional panoramic glimpses through the trees will also entice you on. Aside from the flowers, Trillium Gap is hardly a scenic wonder, just a wooded saddle between Mount LeConte and Brushy Mountain, more of a crossroads than a destination: Porter’s Flat is to the east, Brushy Mountain to the north, LeConte to the south and Grotto Falls to the west. I insist that any trip past Trillium Gap be accompanied by a one-mile jaunt (round trip) up Brushy Mountain. The signs at the gap point the way north on a rocky trail through blueberry, heath and rhododendron bramble. This view is one the best on this side of the Smokies, especially if LeConte is clouded over. (At only 4900 feet, it is far less often afflicted by fog.)
The flora changes little for about a mile past the gap. However, swags and northern slopes are notably more coniferous. Beyond this, the trees thin out further and the upper elevations offer the familiar Frazer Fir and heath scrub terrain (see Mount LeConte). It is about three and a half miles from the Gap to the lodge atop LeConte. At a mile or so past the gap, you will look up and behold the looming silhouette of LeConte, 1000 feet above you and 2000 feet dead ahead. The last mile and a half of this trail are quite long. Not too scenic except when flowering sometime in late May. Press onward! Eventually you will see the wooded apex of High Top just ahead of you.
Indian Creek Falls is a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike out of the Deep Creek Area. Sliding down 35 feet of sloping rock strata, the water livens and cools the air. This is an old road trail paralleling Deep Creek. It provides an easy grade and a good walking surface. There are pines, oaks, rhododendron and hemlock, with wildflowers in the wetter places. Along the route is Toms Branch Falls , another a beautiful fall.
Henwallow Falls is near Cosby Campground, south of Cosby, Tennessee. It is a 4.4-mile roundtrip along a moderate trail. This 45-foot fall receives fewer visitations than any other area falls. This makes for a pleasant walk through a hemlock, polar and rhododendron forest to the top of the falls. A side trail leads to the base of the falls in a series of switchbacks. Hen Wallow Creek, only two feet wide at the top of the falls, fans out to a width of twenty feet at the base. This is an easy trail except for a few hundred feet before the falls, which is almost easy.
Abrams Falls is a 5-mile roundtrip hike. The trail begins in the back of Cades Cove loop road and is a moderate hike. Abrams Falls has the largest water volume of any park fall, and is among the most photogenic. The trail to the falls changes from pine-oak on the ridges to hemlock-rhododendron forest along Abrams Creek. Due to the undertow, swimming in the pool at the base of the falls is very dangerous.
Ramsay Cascades is a strenuous 8-mile roundtrip hike. The highest waterfall in the Park. Eastward lies the Ramsey Cascade and Greenbrier Pinnacle trails. A leisurely walk along a well-graded roadbed leads to an old parking loop at about one-mile. The trail forks to the two locations. Ramsey Cascade is a famous trail of eight miles leading to a spectacular waterfall. Formally, an invigorating rock climb to the top of the falls yielded an extraordinary view westward. However, deaths and injuries on the cliffs have forced the park service to disassemble the bridge over the river leading to the trail to the top. To ban this gorgeous overlook is unfortunate, however the safety of the park visitors is indeed a paramount issue. Several huge tulip poplars hug the path about midway. The hike is long and tiring, rarely unpopulated, but well worth the effort. In winter, the waterfall is even more beautiful and less crowded. But the trail is sometimes vague under snow, so don’t make a first time of it in the winter months. Local ground squirrels will mooch unceasingly in all months.
Rainbow Falls , at 80 feet, is the highest single plunge water takes in the park. It is rated between moderate and strenuous. This trail makes a good challenge and reveals a beautiful fall. Imagine hiking 2.7 miles and hearing the gentle sounds of a flowing mountain stream throughout your walk. The LeConte Creek is always within hearing distance of the trail to Rainbow Falls. It runs down from Mt. LeConte and into the Little Pigeon River in Gatlinburg. Rainbow Falls is a 75-ft. drop. In the wetter months, the waterfall is a beautiful rush of water that cascades over. There is a setting log at the base of the waterfall that provides a wonderful view.
Mingo Falls can be reached by following the Pigeon Creek trail out of Mingo Falls Campground (on the Cherokee Reservation, south of the park). A longer side trail branching off at the halfway point will take you to the top of the falls. Mingo falls has a spectacular drop of about 120 feet.
Trails of the Smokies
Mount LeConte is the terminating pinnacle of a five-mile spur off the Great Eastern Divide, the ridge separating Tennessee from North Carolina. Formerly, the mile-high wall of the Eastern Divide literally separated the ‘civilized’ east from Indian Territory to the west. LeConte is distinctive in its three prominent peaks, all above 6,000 feet, running almost due east west. It overshadows the small tourist town of Gatlinburg, nestled six miles northwest of and one mile beneath its crown.
Leconte’s three peaks are Cliff Tops, High Top and Myrtle Point . Cliff Tops is the westward-facing peak, only a quarter mile walks from the camp. This is where the sunset is viewed. As can be gathered from the name, the rocks here cap a cliff several hundred feet high. High Top is the center and tallest point on Mount LeConte at 6,593 feet above sea level (only 50 lower than Clingmans Dome).
Myrtle Point , an eastward facing heath bald and rock outcropping. It is 0.8 miles from the cabins, a fun walk. The finest vantage points from which one may view the entire LeConte range are: Gatlinburg, Sevierville, even more so on the Chimney Tops from the south and Brushy Mountain, a quarter mile jaunt off the Trillium Gap trail, is, in my opinion, the most impressive way to view the mountain.
Also available on top of Mount LeConte is a backcountry shelter. It is basically a lean-to with a chicken wire fence over the entrance to discourage bears. Reservations are required and it is not easy to obtain them in crowded seasons – late spring and fall. Crude (and not too comfortable) bedding is found inside, although I personally prefer sleeping on the ground. No facilities are offered except a fire ring. Drinking water and pit toilets may be found the lodge, less than a quarter of a mile away.
Alum Cave Trail is five and a half miles with a vertical climb of around 2600 feet. Strangely, most claim the easiest is via Newfound Gap, an eight-mile trip, but only a vertical climb of 1200 feet.
The Alum Cave trail is well known as the shortest route to Mount LeConte (about 5.5 miles each way). The majority of people who take this beautiful hike, however, do not venture all the way to LeConte. And the vast majority of beauty along this trail is found by the time you reach the “cave.” The first or second week of June is just incredible for purple rhododendron along this trail. Mountain Laurel is also waxing near this time. The very wide trail follows a quaint creek bed for the first mile or so to Arch Rock – an interesting hole through a shaly spur. The trail then heads up the base of Mount LeConte. The trail is usually crowded, but wide and enjoyable.
Clingsman Dome , the observation tower is a concrete edifice standing atop the highest point in Tennessee, 6643 feet above sea level. The tower actually straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina State line, however North Carolina boasts a taller peak, Mount Mitchell, 70 miles to the northeast. Surrounding firs encroach upon the panoramic view from the top. Photographs at all compass points detail the peaks and other pertinent landmarks visible from the top. Sunsets and sunrises are spectacular from here on clear days
The ‘trail’ is wide and paved, much more like a road. Benches are provided at several locations along the way. Climb is 400 feet in a half-mile. Most books list this as strenuous, for hikers it is easy to maybe moderate. Although this trip is a quick, busy view, it should not be passed by. It is the highest point in the park, the view is excellent and it is the classic Smoky Mountain photo stop
The Chimney Tops – the first half mile is thick rosebay (white) rhododendron creek bottom. In its season, for a week or two in July, these so fill the hollow that it looks to be freshly covered with a late snow. A smattering of mountain laurel and catauba (purple) rhododendron are pretty in early (maybe second week of) June, but THE time of the year is early – mid July.
Leaving the modestly hilly lowland rhododendron forest of the first mile, the trail splits left and right. A left turn ascends the Indian Gap trail. Turn right to tackle the chimneys (this way is not usually marked). Shortly ahead, the fourth wooden bridge crosses the creek for the last time. Be prepared, just ahead is the ‘steep part.’ Do not be deceived by any trail books speaking to the contrary, this strenuous half-mile gaining 600 feet over loose rocks. In chilly weather, the earthen embankments on the left often display curious ice formations extruded from frozen ground. A sharp bend to the left followed by a switchback right mark the end of the worst of it. There is still some uphill, but if you have made it this far, don’t dare think of turning back now. Ups and downs wind for no more than a half-mile to the base of the Chimneys. Several nice views on the right make good resting spots, but no need to use film now as the view from ahead will be similar, but far better.
As you approach the ridge, be very careful of the web of tree roots. If your ankles and balance are good. The trail dead ends into what first seems to be a cliff. But upon further inspection, several people are probably climbing up it or have already climbed it.
Once to the top the view is unforgettable. Walk all the way to the end of the flat section on top for the best view. The gaping holes in the rocks are the bona fide Chimneys. Various myths circulate as to why they are so called. Mount LeConte stretches before you with the Boulevard trail running from there to the right. To the hard left is Sugarland Mountain. The loop appears tiny but is plainly visible in the forest far below. The narrow rocky catwalk ahead is to the lower Chimneys. This is a more challenging climb than the way up and offers no better view, but is not crowded and is great fun for the adventurous.
The Boulevard Trail is an eight-mile walk to Mount LeConte. Initially, follow the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap northeastward. The beautiful trail is wide and busy for the first mile or so. Rocks and tree roots are large and common, so be careful if you are not accustomed to walking on such things. Frequent views through the trees are spectacular year round.
Parking spaces are abundant at the gap. The trail climbs 1000 feet in 2.5 miles from the gap to the branch-off at the Boulevard Trail. Ups and downs are common, but there are much more ups than downs. Once upon the Boulevard, you will descend 400 feet down the west flank of Mount Kephart. The terrain does not vary greatly. Upper elevation conifers are mixed with various hardwoods, graced by a carpet of grass and wild flowers. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow all the way. From this point on the trail is a veritable roller coaster (though slow) of ups and downs and ups and downs along the Boulevard ridge. At about three miles from where the turn off from the A.T., you follow the crest of a steep ridge, falling away on both sides, the views are gorgeous. Even those with a fear of heights should not experience trouble, however, as the trail is plenty wide. Ahead looms massive Mount LeConte, appearing just minutes away. There yet remains scaling the oft misty and wooded peak, two miles over and 750 feet up.
The Boulevard is often claimed to be the easiest of ways to LeConte. Under no uncertain terms that this is the case. The Boulevard is a very long hard haul even without a pack. It is the most difficult, except for perhaps Porters Flat via Trillium Gap, which is longer and gains far more elevation. The combination of many uphill and downhill are more strenuous than even continual uphill.
However, the Boulevard is a “classic must do” kind of trail, and very beautiful. Just make sure you devote the entire day to enjoy it, lest weariness spoil the last few miles.
Brushy Mountain Trail to Trillium Gap is a must If you are ever at Trillium Gap DO NOT MISS BRUSHY MOUNTAIN. This bald-like peak of just over 4,900 feet is only a shy mile and a moderate hike up to one the best panoramas in the park. Clouds rarely obscure the view as at LeConte and the vistas are in all directions. Flora is scrubby brush, and rhododendron. The trail is well maintained.
Andrews Bald in the flame azalea season of July and you are in the place to be. Not only are the views magnificent, but the colors of the well-publicized azaleas equally grand. Your outing will start from the Forney Ridge (Clingmans Dome) parking area and head down the southwest slope of the ridge. A left turn at the first intersection will steer you toward Andrews Bald. Trails are well marked and well maintained. If you are unfamiliar with rocky ground, you may find the going either slow or dangerous – choose slow. The trail takes the shelter of the southwest shoulder for a mile before walking the ridge for another mile. Occasional views off to the right are only a taste of those to come.
The bald is on top of a high point (about 5,900 feet) along the ridge. So, on the ascent from the saddle (at 5,750 feet), you are on the North Slope. Accordingly, the vegetation changes to coniferous about a half mile before reaching the top. The climb up to the open field is steep and discouraging. Take heart, just as you resolve it must be further ahead than you thought, you break out suddenly into something like the opening scene of the Sound of Music, only Smokies style. The bald is a grand place for a picnic, or equally good to just sit and rest. Do look around, as there is more than enough room to find a solitary spot with a wonderful view. For those who wish to continue down Forney Ridge, the trail is hidden down the hill and to the right from where you entered. Go straight ahead, towards the view. When you get near the brush, simply follow it to the right until you find it.
Charlie’s Bunion – This 1,000 foot sheer drop-off can be found four miles east along the Appalachian Trail. The cliff is named after a bunion that prevented Charlie Conner, an Oconaluftee settler, from traveling through the Gap in 1928.
An 8 mile roundtrip, rated moderate. Following the Appalachian Trail, this hike is rocky and is along the State-line ridge. It has excellent views.
Fishing is another popular Smokies recreation, there are more than 70 species of fish including rainbow trout, native brook trout, that populate our rivers and streams. A fishing license is required for ages 13-65.
Information contained herein is a summary of the fishing regulations for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The official publication for all Park regulations is Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations. A copy of the Code of Federal Regulations may be found at most ranger stations and visitor centers.
Persons possessing a valid Tennessee or North Carolina state fishing license may fish all open Park waters. Licenses must be displayed on demand by authorized personnel. State trout stamps are not required.
Tennessee License Requirements
Residents and nonresidents age 13 and older need a license. The exception is residents who were 65 prior to March 1, 1990. These persons require only proof of age and Tennessee residence.
North Carolina License Requirements
Residents and nonresidents age 16 and older need a license. Residents age 70 and older may obtain a special license from the state.
Persons under 16 in North Carolina and under 13 in Tennessee are entitled to the adult daily bag and possession limits and are subject to all other regulations. The Park does not sell state fishing licenses. They may be purchased in nearby towns.
Fishing is permitted year-round in open waters.
Fishing is allowed from a half hour before official sunrise to a half hour after official sunset..
Daily Possession Limits
The possession of brook trout is prohibited .
Five (5) rainbow or brown trout, small mouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish.
Twenty (20) rockbass may be kept in addition to the above limit.
A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
Rainbow and Brown Trout: 7″ minimum
Smallmouth Bass: 7″ minimum
Rockbass (redeye): No size limit
All trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken. Any brook trout caught must be immediately returned unharmed to the water.
Lures, Bait and Equipment
- Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod.
- Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used.
- The use or possession of any form of fish bait or liquid scent other than artificial flies or lures on or along any Park stream while in possession of fishing tackle is prohibited.
- Prohibited baits include, but are not limited to, minnows (live or preserved), worms, corn, cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds, liquid scents and natural baits found along stream.
- The use or possession of double, treble or gang hooks is prohibited while on a stream.
- Fishing tackle and equipment including creels and fish in possession are subject to inspection by authorized personnel.
- Play a fish as rapidly as possible, do not play to total exhaustion.
- Keep fish in water as much as possible when handling.
- Handle fish with a wet hand, even when using a mesh landing net.
- Remove hook gently; do not squeeze fish or put fingers in gills. Use long-nosed pliers to back the hook out gently. The use of barbless hooks is encouraged.
- If deeply hooked, cut the line, do not pull the hook out. Most fish survive with hooks left in them.
- Gently hold fish upright facing upstream and move slowly back and forth in the water.
- Release fish in quiet water.
Poaching robs fishermen of fish and all citizens of a valuable natural heritage. You can help by reporting incidents when you see them. Remember, you will remain anonymous. Record vehicle description and license plate number if possible.
There are many ways to enjoy the Smokies as there are personal preferences for doing so. No other place has such a diversity of fun…whether your hiking, camping, backpacking, horseback riding, fishing, picnicking, or enjoying the local attractions in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge.