Hiking & Camping

HIKING THE GREAT 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 great trails of the Smokies. With over 800 miles of trails and more than 100 back county campsites. Trails are available for hikers with varying levels of experience. Walking and hiking are favorite ways for many to see The Great Smoky Mountains. The rolling hills and fertile valleys offer many changing views in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain region. The surrounding mountain ranges, with peaks rising higher than 6,000 feet. The Smokies, wild landscape, rich with traces of its past, calls people back year after year.

TIPS FOR ENJOYING HIKING IN THE SMOKIES

Planning your trip… Regardless of how small or large your group, tell a responsible person about your trip and establish a check in procedure. This person is to notify the park authorities if you are over due. Keep your group together. Always keep track of your buddy, have a buddy system. Stay on the trail. Get off the trail and you can become truly lost in seconds in the dense growth. You are then impossible to find from the trail. If night finds you, stay put. The chance of injury and becoming more lost increase dramatically. Hiking alone is dangerous, if you do so, leave a detailed itinerary with someone, and then stick to it.

SMOKY MOUNTAIN WEATHER

The hiker should be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. The temperature on some hikes can be 5 to 10 degrees cooler than when you leave the lower elevations. The Smokies is also the wettest place in the South. In the upper elevations of the park it can receive as much as 90 inches of precipitation a year. The rain is what makes the Smokies such a wonderful place to be. Don’t start a hike if threatening thunderstorms are in the forecast. Some of the most devastating damage ever to the park has been from great storms, which can be upon you with little warning.

Spring… March has the most changeable weather, snow can fall on any day, especially in the higher elevations. Spring backpackers are often caught unprepared when a sunny day in the 70’s turns into a wet, bitterly cold one. Many major blizzards have occurred as late as early April. The weather is usually milder in mid to late April.

Summer… The days usually start out clear, but as the temperature rises, the day heats up, clouds can build up, resulting in a heavy shower. Most thundershowers occur in late afternoon. Summer weather usually persists through mid September. Expect in the upper elevations for the temperatures to range from the mid 80’s and in the upper 50’s.

Autumn… In mid September, a pattern of warm, sunny days and crisp, clear nights begin. Cool, rainy days also occur. Most leaves begin to turn in October making for a brilliant show of reds, yellow, orange, and gold which splash the mountain sides and valleys as the leaves turn the region into a brilliant and a bright visual wonderland. Dustings of snow may fall in the higher elevations.

Winter… Is a great time to be in the Smokies, but remember that the temperature will be much cooler in the higher elevations and is the most challenging time as well. Frontal systems sweep through the region, with alternately cloudy and sunny days, though cloudy days are more frequent in the winter. The days during this fickle season can be sunny and 70 F. or snowy with highs in the 20’s. Major snow storms often leave backpackers in the higher elevations, especially in the Appalachian Trail.

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT

Footwear… Footwear should be chosen with great care. Hiking shoes or boots should be worn when hiking trails in the park. Boots will support the ankles from sprains and the feet from cuts and abrasions. Truly waterproof boots can be a big plus in the Smokies. Not only will they keep your feet drier during rainy weather, but they also give you a little extra assistance when crossing shallow streams. Wear an inner pair that is light and non absorbent, to prevent excess moisture buildup next to your skin. Wear a pair of socks that are a wool or synthetic blend for extra cushioning. You can find hiking socks at many sports stores. The proper footwear will make a difference.

Clothing… The one essential piece of clothing for hiking in the Smokies is rain gear. The Smokies get approximately 90 inches of rain per year. Bring it along even on sunny days when there’s not a cloud in the forecast.

During the cooler months, always carry warm clothing, including hat and gloves. Many a balmy morning has turned into a frigid, wet afternoon on Mt. LeConte or the Appalachian Trail. During the springtime months you might want to carry a light jacket or sweat shirt just in case it is a little chilly. Remember even in the spring, the mornings can be 5-10 degrees cooler in the higher elevations.

Backpack equipment… take the appropriate clothing with you in a backpack. An emergency space blanket is no larger than your fist and weighs only a couple of ounces. A coach’s whistle can be carried in your pocket or around your neck. Always carry a medical supply kit, with ankle & knee braces, bandages, ointment for minor cuts, sting kit, water filter, waterproof matches, flashlight, high-energy foods, pocketknife, compass, and crampons. Include Benadryl, or similar medicines for reactions to stings.

SAFETY & MEDICAL

Stream Crossing & Waterfalls

Heavy rains – particularly in warm weather – cause swollen streams that may be unsafe to cross. Do not cross a stream unless you are sure you can make it. Also, make sure your pack can be discarded quickly, wear shoes to protect your feet, use a stout stick for extra support, and even if you loose your footing, float with your feet downstream to protect your head. Just walking near a stream, on moss-and spray covered rocks can be hazardous. Waterfalls can be extremely hazardous, climbing on them has resulted in numerous fatalities.

Drinking Water

All water obtained in the backcountry should be treated before drinking to protect you from health hazards. The recommended treatment is boiling for one minute. Pump style water filters may not remove certain bacteria or viruses, but most now remove Giardia. Chemical disinfectants require very long contact time for the water temperatures found in the mountains. Do not drink untreated water.

Bears & You

Bears in the park are wild and unpredictable, but they have caused few injuries to people who followed reasonable precautions. In fact, only when bears have been fed or have taken unprotected food from humans do they tend to cause property damage or injury.

Always remain watchful. If you are lucky enough to spot a bear, observe it from a distance, do not throw food or leave food behind for it to eat. Keep your pack and food nearby and maintain a watchful eye in the adjacent woods. Bears can be sneaky. If a bear approaches you, quickly gather your supplies and retreat along the trail. Leaving food behind only encourages further problems. Report all bear incidents to a park ranger.

Insect Stings

Reactions to stings from yellowjackets, bees, and wasp range from minor local swelling to life threatening phylactic shock. Local pain and swelling can be expected in 24 hours. Benadryl, an over the counter antihistamine, is helpful. Redness and local warmth are common and is not necessarily due to infection. Itching and hives are a more serious reaction, which should have medical attention. Multiple stings can make a person very ill. In the United States, many more people die from insect stings than snakebites each year.

Snake Bites

There are copperheads and timber rattlesnakes within the park, but they are usually not aggressive, preferring to avoid human encounter. Most bites occur from stepping on an unnoticed snake, or when attempting to handle or play with the snake. Prompt local pain and swelling signal injected venom, unless a rare bite directly into a vein has occurred. Beware that copperheads blend in with the trees, branches, rocks and the surface of the ground.

Keep the victim calm, avoiding any unnecessary activity. Splint the extremity as though for a fracture. Send for help. If walking out is necessary, do so slowly, and with many frequent rest stops.

Poisonous Plants

Learn to recognize poison ivy by its characteristic three-leaf pattern. Vines may be difficult to identify. Playing or swinging on vines may be hazardous enough without adding the inconvenience of an itchy rash. Washing with soap and water within 30 minutes of exposure may be preventive. Smoke from  burning poison ivy vines can cause the same rash, but all over you, don’t throw vines on the fire.

Ankle Injuries

A twisted ankle can bring an outing to an abrupt halt. An audible snap usually signals a serious sprain or fracture. Immediate first aid measures of ice may not be available and may be contrary to the goal of getting back to transportation at the trailhead. The decision to walk or limb out is one’s own decision.

Those with weak ankles should favor heavy boots with adequate ankle support, and possibly a brace to wear in the boot. The slips on variety are sold in pharmacies.

Heat Related Illnesses

Heat exhaustion is caused by water and salt depletion in a hot environment. Weakness, feeling faint, nausea with possible vomiting, headache, dizziness, and possibly fainting, alone or in some combination are frequent symptoms. Muscle cramps may be present. The victim usually appears cool and clammy.

Prevention includes the use of cool, loose fitting clothing, frequent rest in cool places, avoidance of direct sunlight, and drinking lots of liquids. Field treatment for heat exhaustion consists of cooling measures, removal of excess clothing, seeking shade, lying down, resting, and drinking cool liquids slowly and steadily.

Victims of suspected heat strokes should be cooled at once by whatever means is available. Drenching the clothing with creek water would be ideal, but any water will do. Send for help, this is a true medical emergency.

Hypothermia

This is an extremely dangerous condition involving the lowering of the “core” temperature {the temperature of the body’s vital internal organs} beyond the lower level of efficient metabolic function. This causes involuntary shivering in an attempt to generate heat by muscular activity. At this point the victim may say they feel very cold but be rational. Confusion and loss of muscular coordination soon follow without treatment. One of the first signs may be a companion falling behind or tripping often. The victim may behave and walk as though drunk and may lose coordination of fine motor skills such as those needed to strike a match. With this or soon after comes mental behavior. Hypothermia victims may be confused as to undress in freezing conditions or hallucinate.

This condition is brought on by a combination of factors. The coldness, wetness and wind are potentially a deadly combination even with temperatures in the 50’s. Children are at a greater risk because of their greater ratio of surface area to weight. At higher elevations in the park there is a year-round potential for this to occur.

You lose heat through breathing, becoming wet, being exposed to wind, sitting on cold objects, and through radiant losses-the heat your body gives up to its surroundings. Prevention is aimed at those factors present on the day of your hike. Cotton is great for coolness in the summer, but a disaster when wet and cold. Avoid blue jeans in the winter. Synthetic pile fabrics are best for dependable warmth. A wind and rain suit will do double duty in foul weather, offering added insulation against radiant losses. Be sure your head is covered up,  40% of your heat loss can be from your head. In the winter, and transition seasons, take a sweater in case the weather turns, or you’re caught out late.

Field treatment involves stopping further heat loss and warming the victim. Usually getting dry and warming with a hot drink is sufficient. More sever cases may require an emergency shelter to warm the victim.

Getting Help

If you are faced with a situation where outside help is needed, don’t panic. Take a few minutes to sit down and fully assess the situation and plan your actions. Plan your route to the nearest trailhead where help may be obtained, or back to your car as the situation dictates. Seek the closest phone or park ranger station. The General Information Number is , 911 emergency service is available in many areas.

With a little common sense and good judgement, the chances of your having anything but fun are remote. Proper planning will further reduce the likelihood of problems on your outing.

THE TRAILS OF THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 800 miles of trails, and more than 500,000 acres of land. There are 60 species of mammals, 58 species of fish, 80 types of reptiles and amphibians that include 23 snake varieties {2 poisonous – the timber rattler, northern copperhead}, 27 types of salamanders, 200 species of birds, 2,000 species of mushrooms, 125 tree species, 50 varieties of ferns, 350 species of mosses and liverworts, 230 lichen species, and 1,300 species of flowering plants.

More than ten million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yearly, but most only see the park superficially. The best part of the Smoky Mountain area is the National Park itself, and most people’s view and experiences of the Park are limited to the main roads. There is so much land and so many sites, discovering the beauty and solitude of this park, that there is a lifetime of adventure and experiences left undiscovered.

This guide will feature many easy to moderate to strenuous hikes. The guide provides the length, highlights, cautions, trailheads, and summary.

Abrams Falls Trail

Length: 4.2 miles, from the trailhead in Cades Cove to Hannah Mountain and Hatcher Mountain Trails. (2.5 miles to Abrams Falls, round trip 5 miles)

Highlights: Abrams Creek, Abrams Falls, and spring wildflowers including Bleeding Heart, Rhododendron, Mountain Laurel and many more.

Caution: Do not climb on slippery rocks around waterfall.

Trailhead: Turn right onto unpaved side road between sign posts #10 and #11 on the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. Side road terminates in large parking area.

Elevation: You will climb to approximately 1,800 feet at a one point, but when you arrive at the falls you will actually drop 300 feet lower than when you started.

The portion of this trail, which goes to Abrams Falls, has been one of the most popular in the Smokies. A fairly easy to moderate 5 mile hike that is ideal for the beginner or a family. Plan on roughly two to three hours, depending on your pace and weather you have small children along. The trailhead is at the site of the former guest lodge operated by John Oliver in the 1920’s. He was a direct descendent of John Oliver, the first settler in Cades Cove in 1818.

Abrams Creek borders the trail, and Abrams Falls were named for Cherokee Chief Abram. He lived in the village of Chilhowee at the mouth of Abrams Creek on the Little Tennessee River. This place is now buried beneath the waters of Chilhowee Lake.

The broad, heavily used path crosses Abrams Creek by bridge just beyond the trailhead. The site and sound of the creek enhance the pleasure of the walkway in all seasons. The wide path runs through a tunnel of rhododendron, not far from the picturesque stream. The trail rises and passes over a low pine ridge. Then it descends to near stream level again. Up and down the path goes four times. The second rise is over Arbutus Ridge, named for trailing arbutus, one of the earliest blooming spring flowers. The trail crosses a dip in the crest of ridge at 1 mile. To the west, the tip of Arbutus Ridge balloons into a mile round circle, which the creek curves.

This path provides excellent opportunities to see the underlying bedrock, which is Cades Sandstone. The trail rises again southeast to form strata that are worn away by waterborne sand and rock. Crossing Arbutus Ridge, the leading edge of the hairpin curve passes by sharply titles Cades Sandstone outcrops.

At the falls a 20-foot plunge Abrams Falls is over the resistant ledge of this sandstone. Beyond Arbutus Ridge, the trail rises again on the mountainside above the creek. The trail eventually runs above the falls and drops to Wilson Branch just beyond. Abrams Falls is a delight to see, especially in high water. It flows over a bluff into a broad pool more than a hundred feet across.

For those who want to hike further, the hiker can pick up the Hannah Mountain Trail and Hatcher Mountain Trial.

Alum Cave Bluff Trail

Length: 4.6 miles round trip.

Highlights: Arch Rock, Alum Cave Bluffs, old growth forest, and spectacular views of the Smokies, springtime wildflowers including Dog Hobble, Violets, and many more

Caution: Exposed cliffs of ice in the winter and even the early spring in the higher elevations.

Trailhead: Drive 8.6 miles east on Newfound Gap Road. There you will find two parking areas, there is a sign marking the trailhead.

Elevation: You will gain 2,600 feet.

The Alum Cave trail has some of the most spectacular views and scenery of any trail in the park. You will begin the hike at the Grassy Patch just off the parking area. Shortly after entering the forest, you will parallel the Alum Cave Creek for approximately a mile and then follow Styx Branch, a main tributary of Alum Cave Creek.

A few hundred yards beyond this point, you’ll see the boulder and log remains of a 1993 flash flood and landslide on your left. The massive slide of soil, rock, trees, and water surged out of the hillside, taking a swatch of the trail along with it. The slide spread above this point where the valley widened, and massive hardwoods stopped the catastrophic flow. Just ahead you’ll pass through the slide debris.

At mile 1.5 you come to Arch Rock, where a set of stone stairs aids your passage through one of the few natural arches inside the park. After crossing Styx Branch by footbridge, the trail curves through thick rosebay rhododendron and old growth hardwoods. The forest opens again at the 1993 slide.

The trail climbs moderately up the side of Peregrine Peak. At the 1.8-mile mark you will come upon Inspiration Point, a panoramic view. Thereafter, you’ll pass through an area of low shrubs. The trail climbs steeply along the face of the mountain and reaches Alum Cave Bluff at 2.2 miles from the trailhead.

Alum Cave is not what the name implies. It’s not a cave, it’s a jutting ledge of black slate, forming out over the trial to give the impression of a cave. The name Alum Cave comes from the deposits of alum found along the cave walls.

For those who want to continue on to LeConte Lodge, the trail curves up and around the bluff and begins following the ridge that forms the southern Flank of Mount LeConte.

Baskin Creek

Length: 2.7 miles, from Trillium Gap Trail to the middle of Roaring Fork Nature Motor Trail. Highlights: Baskins Creek Falls.

Caution: Steep, slippery manway to falls, strenuous hike.

Trailhead: Park on the side of the Cherokee Orchard Road just before the entrance to Roaring Fork Nature Motor Trail. Walk up Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail 0.2 miles to junction. At Baskins Creek Trail. Turn left onto trail.

Elevations: Approximately 2,600 feet.

Mainly due to the cryptic nature of its trailhead, Baskins Creek Trail is rarely traveled. From the junction. of roaring Fork Motor Trail and Baskins Creek Trail, a segment of the Baskins Creek Trail leads 100 yards to the right where it terminates into Trillium Gap Trail. The trail weaves through an impressive forest of chestnut oaks, red maples, Northern red maples, and Eastern Hemlocks, striped with maples and large blackgums.

At 0.2 miles you climb an easy piney ridge with many trees killed by the Southern pine bark beetle. Descending steeply from the ridge toward Falls Branch, you pass through more pines and an abundance of mountain laurel, in late May and June. Cross Falls Branch on stepping stones at 1 mile. The trail now descends steeper, down a short canyon dug by the rollicking branch.

Baskins Creek Trail intersects another rugged spur to the left at 1.3 miles that is sometimes signed Baskins Creek Falls 1/4 mile. This spur leads past a rock pile and homesite in a broad, flat area, besides the waters at Falls Branch. Tall, even-aged tulip trees mark an old field. The route becomes steep, slippery and dangerous where it cuts down to the base of the falls. If you don’t feel you can make the descent safely, don’t even try it.

The fall pours over a substantial Roaring Fork Sandstone Bluff 25-30′ tall. Baskins Creek Trail climbs steeply through rhododendron, then cuts over to an odd, dry gulch. The climb up the gulch is steep enough to raise a sweat in January.  Make frequently stops, to admire the sizeable chestnut oaks and Northern red oaks growing on the slope to the left. Topping the ridge, you will be able to hear the Roaring Fork roar if its flow is high. After a quick descent of the ridge, you come to Bales Cemetery and trails end at Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The cemetery is currently closed for restoration.

You can also hike to the falls from these trailhead 1.5 miles, but starting from the other end is a bit more interesting of a walk. This is a very strenuous hike, only experienced hikers should hike Baskins Creek.

Chestnut Tops Trail

Length: 4.3 miles from Townsend “Y” to Schoolhouse Gap Trail

Highlights: Winter views, wildflowers including Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, Jack in The Pulpit, Hepatica, Toothwort, Yellow Fringed Orchid, Fire Pink, and Trillium

Caution: Poison Ivy, no water along entire trail.

Trailhead: Townsend “Y”

Elevation: 1,400 to 2,500 feet in elevation.

Spring Beauty! Bloodroot, Hepatica, Trillium, Toothwort, Yellow Fringed Orchid, Jack in The Pulpit, and Fire Pink are words that you will be constantly repeating to yourself if you hike this trail in April. Chestnut Tops is perhaps the most popular wildflower trail in the park. At least it’s the most compact, for the greatest display is all within the first half mile. The trail bursts forth wildflowers throughout April and continues to a less degree right to September.

It’s a joyous walking trail whenever you can get to it. The trail winds up and along Chestnut Top Ridge jumping back and forth from dry piney slopes to cooler mixed hardwoods. A fall and winter hike will offer excellent views across Turkey Pen Ridge and up the valley of the West Prong of the Little River to Thunderhead Mountain.

The trail winds and climbs along the ridge, finally leaving the sounds of the Townsend “Y” at 1.0 miles. Long and easy switchbacks continue for the next mile, taking you deeper into the hardwood forest. As you approach a sharp right bend at 2.0 miles keep an eye on the pines to the left. Here you will see a bear marker tree. The pine has been scratched and bitten by a large black bear.

Just ahead you’ll get a good view of Thunderhead Mountain and the Smokies crest. At 5,527′, Thunderhead Mountain is the tallest peak in the western end of the park. The views will come and go.

Steadily climbing, you will reach the highest point by 2.8 miles. Now a short drop will bring you at Bryant Gap. The park boundary is just off the trail to the right. The trail levels out for the next mile until it reaches the junction with Schoolhouse Gap Trail. Turning left here will take you down to Laurel Creek Road, which runs between Townsend “Y” and Cades Cove.

Finley Cane Trail

Length: 2.8 mile, from Laurel Creek Road to Bote Mt. Trail.

Highlights: Rhododendron tunnels, wildlife, wildflowers including Golden Rod, Cow Parsnip, and Jewelweed.

Cautions: Trailhead parking.

Trailhead: To reach the trail head you must travel west on the Laurel Creek Road, 5.75 miles towards Cades Cove from the Townsend “Y”. The parking area serves 3 trails, Finley Cane, Lead Cove, on the south side and Turkey Pen Ridge on the north side of the road.

Elevation: 1,700 to 2,000.

The Finley Cane Trail is most often used as an access point to Spence Field via the Bote Mountain Trial. Finley Cane is an easy hike. The Finley Cane Trail is the rocky path to the left. It parallels the road for a short distance heading east or downhill. Immediately you will notice the tunnel of Rosebay Rhododendron and Fraser Magnolias abound. These trees will line the first half of the trail. Just passing a large American Beech tree, you will turn away from the road and cross Sugar Cove Creek. This is an easy rock hop at low water.

You will begin the climb along the north flank of Bote Mountain. During June and July you will run into a tunnel of rhododendron, which will open and close for more than 0.5 mile. The tunnel is a wonderful place to be on those hot days. The large white flower clusters are some of the most beautiful in the park.

After you rock hop the Laurel Cove Creek and Hickory Tree Branch within 200′ of each other, the rhododendron will give away to the hardwood forest. At 2.5 miles you will pass right between 2 gorgeous pillars, each 2′ in diameter. These majestic columns are draped with purple red grape vines-a magnificent sight.

Throughout the hike you have been slowly rising and falling. On the mountainside, the trail has been dry and smooth. But occasional spring branches cross the path. They run almost imperceptibly, yet the continual flow leaves the trail muddy in places. This mix of wet and dry provides you with a diversity of more than just salamanders to view. Mushrooms are yet plentiful here. Count the different varieties you see, but do not expect to see them all. Park researches estimate over 2,000 species exists here.

The last mile of the trail climbs from a dry crossing of Finley Cove Creek to Bote Mountain Trail. Along the trail it will be rocky in places, so watch your footing. When you reach Bote Mountain you have many choices. You may want to continue to Spence Field, West Prong Trail or a third choice may be to combine Finley Cane, Bote Mountain, and Lead Cove into a 7.1 mile round trip journey, this is a strenuous hike.

Grotto Falls

Length: 3 miles, moderate hike.

Highlights: Grotto Falls, wildflowers including Bellwort, Fraser’s Sage, Squirrel Corn, Trillium, and Trout Lily.

Cautions: Minor water crossings.

Trailhead: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, From Gatlinburg’s main street Hwy 441, turn onto Airport Road at light #8. At 2.6 miles from the light pass the Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail. Beyond the Ogle Place where the road divides, take the right fork. At 3.4 miles pass the Rainbow Falls-Bullhead trailheads which lead to Mt. Le Conte. At 3.7 miles turn right onto the One Way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Two miles from the gate (5.7 miles from Gatlinburg} the Grotto Falls Trail begins on the right beyond a parking lot.

The trail initially passes through a forest dominated by hemlock. At .15 of a mile bisect the Trillium Gap Trail. A sign points the way towards the falls and to other destinations. The trail soon crosses a small creek on stepping-stones. With a sharp left bend, the trail ascends. Leveling at the quarter mile, arriving at an open point of land where the trail turns right. For the next .85 of a mile ascend moderately over rocky and root laced stretches, while outlining flower-filled hollows and crossing small creek and ridge lines. At 1 mile the treadway levels entering the cove of Grotto Falls. The lower falls become visible. After treading a rocky stretch, you will arrive at the upper tier of Grotto Falls at 1.5 miles.

The falls spread to a 12-foot width from its 2-foot beginning in the sandstone above. The 20 by 30-foot pool at the base of the falls is a favorite spot to cool hot feet. Grotto Falls is named for the cave like appearance of the rocks behind the falls. It is fun to walk behind the waterfall and is the easiest way to get to the other side.

Other destinations to hike: Trillium Gap is 1.5 miles beyond the falls. From the gap, it’s a moderate hike to Brushy Mountain, a heath bald with beautiful views of Greenbrier, Mt. Le Conte, and Pigeon Forge. It’s 3.6 miles from Trillium Gap to the top of Mt. Le Conte.

Indian Flat Falls

Length: 7.5 mile hike roundtrip, moderate

Highlights: 4 falls, 65 foot drop/170 foot run, wildflowers including Bluets, Foamflower, Jack-in-The- Pulpit, Violets, Showy Orchids.

Trailhead: From the intersection of Little River Road and Laurel Creek Road, go 0.2 miles toward Cades Cove and turn left at the Treemont sign. Follow Treemont Road, it will turn into a gravel road, follow it 3 miles until it ends at a turnaround.

Indian Flat Falls is a strand of four falls whose individual beauty is magnificent due to their placement on the necklace of Indian Flat Prong. Indian Flat is truly a magnificent site.

Cross the footbridge over Lynn Camp prong to an old railroad bed, which goes in two directions. Take the left fork, which follows the creek along the Middle Prong Trail. Pass the cascades, stay on the Middle Prong Trail past the junction with Jakes Gap Trail. A little over 1 mile past the trail junction the trail climbs the ridge on a couple of switchbacks. Indian Flats Prong is crossed on a bridge.

The trail moves away from the creek and upward on more switchbacks. At the second switchback a side trail leaves the main trail on the right. Follow the side trail on an old roadbed about 150 of the uppermost falls. The side trail isn’t marked and can be overgrown in the summer. It’s worth the struggle through the underbrush for this sight.

Little Greenbrier

Length: 4.3 miles, from Wear Cove Gap Road to Laurel Falls Trail.

Highlights: Scenic Views, wildflowers including Orchids, Rattlesnake Plantain, and Dutchmen’s Pipe

Trailhead: Wear Cove Gap Road at park boundary. From the Little River Road, turn into the Metcalfs Bottoms Picnic Area. Proceed straight across the bridge for 1.25 miles. The trailhead is to the right just before the top of the hill. There is very limited parking here.

Elevations: Trial starts at approximately 1,900 feet and rises to 3,700 feet.

This trial features many beautiful views, it actually receives very little use. It’s therefore a perfect place for those looking to get away from the constant activity of America’s most visited national park.

The first quarter mile of the trail climbs through a pine oak forest before turning and entering a mixed hardwood forest. This is how the trail will be almost the entire time, mostly pine-oak and all up hill.

Climbing along you will catch a glimpse of the Wear Cove from the ridge. You will be in and out of the park boundaries several times along the trail. This trail holds a number of real treats. Scattered along the trail you will find many spring flowers. Springtime has abundance but they continue through the summer and fall of the year. Look for orchids of all types, especially the tiny downy rattlesnake plantain.

After 2.0 miles of hiking, you will have climbed 400′ to Little Brier Gap. Here the trail crosses the Little Brier Gap Trail. A left turn will take you out of the park and into a section of Wear Cove formerly known as Buckeye Springs. A right turn will take you to the Walkers Sisters Homesite, a small farm where five strong willed sisters lived until 1964. The short trip, 0.75-mile to the site, it is well worth the trip.

Continue straight to remain on the Little Greenbrier Trail. The character of the path remains the same, climbing steadily along the park border. You are now climbing Chinquapin Ridge. It is named for a relative of the American Chestnut tree. No Chinquapin trees exist according to the park officials.

The trail winds around the corner and opens into a spectacular view of the magnificent mountains. This is Wear Cove, a hole in the fabric of the mountains. Once this valley was covered by ridges like the one you stand upon.

Moving along the trail, the path continues. An interesting sight greets you at mile 3.5. Here a large vine has woven a basket. Using red maples as its starves, the vine has worked itself in and around these trees trunks. The large heart shaped leaves baskets however are not grape. These belong to the Dutchmen’s pipe vine. In June look for the little pipe-like flowers of this plant.

Just 0.5 miles ahead the forest opens a bit more as you cross the ridge and grasses invade the trailheads. Presently you reach the junction with the Laurel Falls Trail. Turn right and it’s downhill 1.8 miles to the most visited waterfall in the park. Turn left and you will climb another 0.9 miles to the top of Cove Mountain. The summit features a fire tower, which once provided spectacular views, but now is closed to the public. Only very limited views are available.

Little River Trail

Length: 6.1 miles, from the barricade on the side road upstream from Elkmont Campground to Campsite #30

Highlights: Easy, wide trail, beautiful river, and wildflowers including Jewel Weed, Bee Balm

Trailhead: Drive to Elkmont Campground 4.9 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Just before the campground entrance station, turn left. Little River trailhead is 0.6 mile up side road at the gate and trail sign.

Elevation: approximately 2,200′ to 3,000 feet

Little River is actually pretty big. It drains a large area of the Tennessee side of the Smokies, carries a lot of water, and has branches from the highest ridges. Over millions of years, Little River carved out a wide valley that leads right to the base of the Smokies crest, and it was easy access that attracted Little River Lumber Company.

Gold was discovered in the Little River in the early 1920’s, but the gold rush was short lived when someone calculated that you could only earn $1.27 in gold for each ton of rock crushed.

Little River starts at the locked gate and proceeds up a good gravel road along the river. For nearly a mile the road runs between unoccupied Elkmont cabins. These vacation homes were constructed prior to the park establishment, but their leases did not expire until 1992. The future of these buildings is the subject of debate. In mid-June, this area is famous for its synchronous fireflies. Beyond the cabins the trail enters the woods and reaches some house sized boulders. The wet rock on the right harbor and mosses, walking ferns and wildflowers grow at the base of the rocks. In the summer look for hummingbirds feeding on the nectar of crimson bee balm, also known as Oswego tea.

At 1.3 miles there is a bench and big, deep, green pool. A little farther is another bench with a view of rapids on a curve of Little River. The road swings away from the river, but soon they rejoin as Huskey Branch cascades in from the right and flows under a wide flat bridge. At 2.3 miles Cucumber Gap Trial merges with Little River Trail and is marked by a bench at the base of a big sycamore. Then the road crosses Little River on a bridge that, according to a sign, is damaged, repairs have been made strong enough for foot traffic. The Huskey Gap Trail veers left at mile 2.7 and leads up to Sugarland Mountain Trail and then down to Newfound Gap Road.

Little River is now on the right, lined with sycamore trees. At 3.7 miles right after a bridge over Lost Creek, the trail forks. Goshen Prong Trial goes right and reaches the Appalachian Trail after 7.7 miles and an elevation gain of 3,000′. Little River Trail goes left and then crosses a Rough Creek on the last bridge of this trail. Little River spreads out into several channels and the trail crosses two of these on a rocky island. At 4.5 miles, Campsite #24 appears on the right. This elevation is 2, 860. Just beyond the campsite the trail continues on to Sugarland Mountain Trail that can be combined with Huskey Gap Trial.

Meigs Creek Trail

Length: 3.5 miles from The Sinks parking area on Little River Road to Meigs Mountain and Lumber Ridge Trails.

Highlights: Pretty Creek, wildflowers including cardinal flower, dolls eye, plantain sedge, dog hobble, jack in the pulpit, and violets.

Cautions: 18-20 creek crossings

Trailhead: Drive to The Sinks parking area, 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center on Little River Road, or 6.0 miles east of the Townsend “Y” on the same road. The trail begins on the right of the parking area.

Elevations: 1,500 up to 2,400 feet in elevation.

Be prepared for a rock-hopping event. Meigs Creek Trail runs up the narrow, rocky valley of Meigs Creek, which flows into the Little River just below The Sinks.

The Meigs Creek watershed was logged by the Little River Lumber Company, which built railroads up the creeks and extended their reach with steam, powered skidders. The road you drive on to get to the sinks was once the company railroad. A branch railroad to Meigs Creek had an inclined suspension bridge, said to be the only such bridge in the world. The steel cables under the ties held it up, and the engine pulled cars back and forth with a steam powered winch. But by 1926 there were no trees left within reach, and the lumber company recycled cables, rails, and ties over to the Middle Prong of Little River.

The trail begins by climbing the high rocks over The Sinks pool. After the rocks, the trail rises over a small ridge on the rock and root steps and descends to a low swampy area, a former Little River channel.

The trail turns sharp right and ascends the side of a ridge. The mossy banks support many wildflowers including dog hobble, jack in the pulpit, plantain leafed sedge, and violets. As you climb the ridge it extends west from Curry Mountain, and in spots, you will see and hear the Little River on the Right. As the trail switches back around the ridge, the soil becomes dry and sandy. Shortleaf pines, white pines, mountain laurels, huckleberries, oaks, and maples live here. You will have a soft spot to walk. As you walk scan the sunny spots of the trail for rattlesnakes throughout this section. This kind of dry south-facing ridge is an idea habitat for the timber rattlesnakes, and many have reported seeing these snakes in this area. Rattlesnake’s usually just rest in sunny spots and watch hikers go by.

At about 1 mile you meet Meigs Creek and begin the first of 18-20 stream crossings, depending on how you count. The crossings are easy in low water. Some are easy at moderate water levels, but all can be tricky if it has rained all week. Use a walking stick can save you from a fall.

After about the fourth crossing, the trail gets squeezed even closer to the creek by the rocky walls of the narrow valley. Look for a rock slab on the right with lampshade spider webs on the underside. The trail will get a little steeper and passes a beautiful cascade on the right. Start looking for the cardinal flower on the banks or on rocks in the creek. It blooms in August and September. Each plant has several 18″ stalks lined with deep red blooms.

Massive Hemlocks grow on both sides. On the left, in a rare flat area, look for a big American Beech tree with buttress roots, smooth gray bark, and no branches lower than 25′. Bloody Branch joins Meigs Creek from the right near here.

The trail hugs the creek through a rock slab area. A rock overhangs on the right offering shelter from rain. At the fifteenth crossing Meigs Creek is quite small and the trail moves higher in the valley. After a short climb, the trail comes to Buckhorn Gap and the junction with Lumber Ridge and Meigs Mountain.

Meigs Mountain Trail

Length: 6.0 miles from Jake’s Creek Trail to Meigs Creek Trail.

Highlights: Wildflowers including Jewelweed, Doll Eyes

Cautions: Many stream crossings, but all easy.

Trailhead: Drive toward Elkmont Campground from Little River Road and follow the signs for Jake’s Creek. On Jake’s Creek Trail, hike past the junction with Cucumber Gap Trail at 0.3 mile and continue 0.1 mile further. Meigs Mountain Trail turns right.

The Meigs Mountain Trail connects Elkmont and Tremont. The side of Meigs Mountain has the distinction of being one of the first parts of the Smokies to be logged by a company. The J.L. English Company went up Blanket Creek before 1900 and removed 3,000 board feet of cherry and basswood. The later lumber companies cut everything they could and then sold the land to the settlers in the 1920’s. Seventeen families lived along Jake’s Creek and many more lived here on the gently sloping side of Meigs Mountain.

The trail starts by descending to Jake’s Creek. You can rock hop across or find a camouflaged foot log downstream. The creek is lined with eastern hemlock and rosebay rhododendron.

After the creek, the trail skirts a raised house site with a stone wall, and a fine spring. It then forks left, Meigs Mountain Trail, and then right goes down to a grassy fenced area where horses are kept.

The trail descends from the creek through open woods of tulip trees mixed with a few small maples. Look for stone walls and a spring house foundation on the left and flat house sites on the right. The trail enters a sheltered cove, and then drops down to a creek valley. Campsite #20 sits at the confluence of several small creeks that make up River Branch of Blanket Creek. The campsite has room for 10 people and is in a broad, open hollow with plenty of flat sites.

After the campsite, you might get a glimpse of Meigs Mountain 4,004 feet elevation on the left. The trail here is a road that probably ran through fields and is now lined with sassafras and sourwood trees, which both turn scarlet early in the fall.

The Meigs Mountain Trail crosses two more creeks easily, but the crossings could be muddy. Just up the trail from the second crossing are some rusted iron pieces of an engine, perhaps a tractor.

At 4.1 mile the trail rises to a small gap and meets Curry Mountain Trail, which goes 3.3 miles down to Little River Road at Metcalf Bottoms.

Just past the junction, a spur trail heads right to a small-maintained cemetery. In 1934 the house barn and smokehouse of Andy Brackin stood here. The campsite is small, with room for two to three tents in a clearing.

About 1.0 mile from the junction, the trail enters a forest of large Eastern Hemlocks and a few Fraser Magnolias growing in clusters. Then you start a long decent through Eastern Hemlock to a dry sandy gap where Meigs Mountain Trail meets Meigs Creek Trail. Meigs Mountain Trail changes its name to Lumber Ridge Trail, which continues on to Tremont.

Middle Prong Trail

Length: 4.1 miles, from the end of the Tremont Road to junction. Lynn Camp Prong and Greenbrier Ridge trails.

Highlights: Cascades, wildflowers, Violets, Rhododendron, Foam Flower, Jack in The Pulpit, Toothwort, Anemones

Trailhead: Follow the signs from the Townsend “Y” toward Cades Cove. In 0.2 mile, turn left into the Tremont Road. At 2.3 miles, you will see the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont, an environmental education camp, on your left. Continue on the road, which quickly becomes a gravel road, and follow it for 3.1 miles to gate and parking circle. The last three miles of this road are closed in winter.

Middle Prong trail follows the railroad bed that carried the last logs out of the Smokies in 1939. Because of negotiations that made land purchase possible during the Depression, the Little River Lumber Company continued to log for five years after the establishment of the park in 1934. The company removed one billion board feet of lumber from this area between 1903 and 1930.

The trail starts on a high bridge just below where Lynn Camp Prong and Thunderhead Prong join to and from Middle Prong of Little River.

The flat area around the bridge used to be a lumber camp. The trail is a wide, graded roadbed with rock faces on the right and the Lynn Camp Prong down a bank to the left. Mosses and ferns grow from cracks in the rocks, and some trees perch on top with their roots snaking down. Toothwort, Jack in The Pulpits, Foamflower Anemones, Violets and other flowers bloom on the banks in the spring.

As the trail rises higher over the river, bigger rock faces appear, broken into great chunks with deep cracks. Trees, ferns, and flowers have anchored in the cracks. The prong and the road turn left together, and there is a bench to rest and look at a rockslide and pool. Tall jewelweed and wild ginger crowd a wet spot and sycamores, tulip trees and yellow birches line the prong.

Above the curve, the whole prong is forced into a fast chute, and a smooth rock mound occupies the middle of the prong. Two overlooks on the left provide views of the top of that chute and of a strong, short waterfall just upstream. Above the falls, the prong is a jumble of rocks with water zigzagging and tumbling through. Then the trail becomes level and the prong becomes less violent, with some clear, deep pools.

There is a bench near a three-step waterfall composed of three solid ledges across the prong. This is the remains of a splash dam. Before the railroad was built, loggers built dams on creeks to get the big timber out.

The trail runs level with the prong for a while. Look for an old bridge foundation, you’ll see a log on the far side, and stone near the trail. The trail moves away from the prong after passing a house sized rock flanked by yellow birches. It ascends a bit and then levels out in a wide, flat area. At 2.0 miles look for a narrow trail to the right and follow it about 50 yards to an old car frame.

At 2.3 miles Panther Creek Trail goes left and crosses Lynn Camp Prong. Middle Prong Trail goes straight, narrows a bit and rises. On the left stands an old chimney, probably the remains of a cabin owned by William Walker, a farmer and patriarch who fathered 27 children.

The trail becomes rocky and a little steeper as it swings up around a switchback. Small hemlocks, a few black locusts and one white ash grow in the angle. In a few yards, there is another switch back and a good example of the erosion damage hikers can go when they make a shortcut across switchbacks. The trail is now quite high over the river. And both Fraser and umbrella magnolias grow here. Then it rises into drier woods. Soon you cross a side creek and drop down across Indian Flats Prong on a fine flatbed bridge. Look for old bridge timbers on the right bridge, there are some muddy spots, but the trail turns away from the creek and climbs steeply through grapevine and Dutchmen’s pipe vine. You turn around three switchbacks in quick succession.

At the junction of the three trails, the sign points right for Sams Gap via Greenbrier Ridge trail 4.2 miles. And Derrick Knob Shelter 4.4 miles.

Mt. Le Conte Trails

Nobody knows who or when of the first person to ever to look east from Le Conte’s Myrtle Point to watch the sun rise out of the mists and mountains, or who was the first to see the sunset from the Cliff Top. People have been climbing to the top just for the beauty of Mt. LeConte since the early twentieth century.

In a 1963 essay, John O Morrell, a Great Smoky Mountains National Park management assistant, wrote of his first hike to Mt. Le Conte in August 1913. The way he and his father and another Knoxville father-son pair did, it took seven days to reach the top of Le Conte.

In a 1964 letter, Paul Fink of Jonesbough recalled a week he and two friends spent atop Le Conte in June 1921. He said there were not many signs of previous visitors at all. The trail out to Myrtle Point was so obscure that we spent part of our time chopping it out.

By late 1921, enough hikers were going to Le Conte to give some unidentified person the idea of nailing a Prince Albert tobacco can to a post. Hikers were invited to leave their names on a piece of paper in the can. C.L Baum of Knoxville attached a copper can to a Le Conte tree in 1922, and in it he left a book for names to be recorded. He wrote: “This book was placed on top of Le Conte Mountain for records on June 6, 1922, by C.L. Baum, at this time said to be the oldest man to climb to the top, age 61.”

In 1926 Jack Huff took over from Adams and started Le Conte Lodge, which has been there ever since. Jack and Pauline Huff married at sunrise on Myrtle Point April 29, 1934. Pauline said the wedding party started up the Bearpen Hollow route at 10 P.M the night before.

The Huffs operated the lodge through 1959. Herrick and Myrtle Brown took it over in 1960. Le Conte Ltd. Partnership now operates the lodge as a National Park Service concession.

Le Conte’s crest has become such a popular hiking destination that it’s nearly impossible to get a weekend reservation at the lodge, unless you try a year in advance. The number to call for reservations is .

Failing in the effort to get reservations you can always hike up and down the mountain in a day. Many do that. In fact, 31 year old Bill Sharp of Andersonville, Tennessee on a June day in 1992 made four round trips to Le Conte in one day. He did it by way of Alum Cave trail. He figured that he walked 41.6 miles up and down the mountain.

Sharp’s friend, Paul Dinwiddie, of Knoxville had made 744 hikes to Le Conte by late July 1993. That’s probably the record for recreational hikes to the popular peak. But Dinwiddie says some of those who worked at the lodge-Jack Huff and Herrick Brown, for instance, probably made more trips.

And C.L Baum, who in 1922, at age 61 thought he was the oldest person to hike Le Conte, lost that distinction to thousands of older hikers. Rufus Morgan, the late long walking Episcopal minister from Franklin, North Carolina, made his 174th and last hike to Le Conte on his 93rd birthday. Margaret Stevenson of Maryville, Tennessee, who has hiked every trail in the Great Smokies and had recorded 607 Le Conte hikes by early August 1993.

Five trails lead up to the slopes of Mt. Le Conte: Alum Cave, Bull Head, Rainbow Falls, The Boulevard, and Trillium Gap. This section serves as an introduction to all five trails. Mt. LeConte Lodge is only accessible by hiking one of five trails. The shortest and steepest is 5 1/2 miles long. 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 walking distance on the trails, roundtrip to Mt. Le Conte are  as follows: Alum Caves Trail (11 miles), Rainbow Falls Trail (13 miles), Bullhead Trail (13 miles), Trillium Gap Trail (14 miles) and the Boulevard (16 miles). The Rainbow Falls – Bullhead combination makes one of the park’s best loops.

This guide will include each trail.

Call it charisma, or mystique or magnetism. Mt. Le Conte has it in abundance, enough to lure thousands of hikers each year up its rocky trails to its lofty summit.

Mt. LeConte is situated about 4 miles north of the main Great Smoky Mountain range. The third highest peak in the National Park at 6,593 feet above sea level, it stands a full mile above Gatlinburg, Tennessee. As seen from the west along the Little River Road, Mt. LeConte has the steepest and tallest slope in the eastern United States. Mt. LeConte is probably the most impressive peak in the Smoky Mountain National Park. While Clingman’s 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.

Those wishing to experience it first hand have quite a few options for ascending this Queen of the Smokies. The shortest and probably easiest, is the Alum Cave Trail. This is five and a half miles with a vertical climb of around 2600 feet. Strangely, most climb the easiest is via Newfound Gap, an eight-mile trip, but only a vertical climb of 1200 feet. The eight mile jaunt is fairly populated and nothing but up and down the entire way. The Rainbow Falls trail is around 6.7 miles, climbing almost 4000 feet. The Bullhead trail starts and ends at the same spot as the Rainbow Falls trail, hence also gains about 4000 feet, but in about seven miles. It is slightly less scenic, but also less traveled that the Rainbow Falls route. The Trillium Gap, or Grotto Falls trail is similar in length and only slightly less difficult than the Rainbow Falls trail, gaining 3500 feet. Its trailhead is not far beyond the Rainbow Falls and Bullhead parking area. There is a little used, not particularly scenic two mile path connecting the two parking areas for those who wish to travel up one and down the other. Since this path adds two miles to the tiring trip, you may consider going up Rainbow Falls and down Grotto Falls. A benefit of this is that there is a sign at the Grotto Falls trailhead, but not at the Rainbow Falls end. Yet another way to reach Mount LeConte by Trillium Gap is from Porter’s Creek Campground, a 9.5 mile very scenic outing. Perhaps a couple of other routes could be contrived by joining up with the Appalachian Trail on the Boulevard at Icewater Springs shelter, three miles north of Newfound Gap. (Newfound Gap is where U.S. highway 441 crosses the Eastern Continental Divide, between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, N.C.)

Whether you are on a day hike or overnight, bring plenty of water with you. A half-gallon per person is not too much. Though water is abundant on the trail, it can bring various bacterial bummers to ruin your journey. A sack lunch is good, though luncheon meats in a hot pack may also breed intestinal tribulation. Trail mix type foods are recommended, as they supply salt and sugar, your next biggest needs (after water) on the trail.

Let’s talk about the weather. It has been said (at least now it has) that there is a devious spirit haunting the peaks of Mount LeConte. This mischief-making gremlin seems to invoke fog and showers at its capricious will on the fairest of days. When at lower altitudes the weather is hot, hazy and humid (look for cumulus clouds), expect about a 75% chance of scattered showers and fog on Mount LeConte. The scientific excuse for this goblin is as follows: The warm, moist valley air rushes up the 5000-foot tall slope, driven by west winds. The increase of altitude forces a drop in pressure, reducing the density and therefore cooling in the process. As the temperature drops below the dew point, the water begins to condense, forming water droplets, which coalesce, drenching the innocent and bewildered hiker with pinpoint accuracy. This will happen day or night summer, winter, springtime and fall. Many times, the clouds will hover just around High Top, bobbing above and then below the treetops. This makes sunsets and sunrises an unpredictable sight. The best attitude to have is this: regardless of the weather, you are in a wonderful place away from bosses, phone calls, bills and IRS agents: Enjoy the flora, rocks, fresh air and clean water (available at the camp). If you are staying the night, you can look forward to a warm, dry bed and plenty of hot food. If you see the sunset, great! If not, come back and try again! It really does happen once in a while.

One reason for LeConte’s popularity is the lodge at the summit. A rustic lodge with accommodations is available at the top of Mount LeConte, located at the top of Mt. LeConte (6593 feet) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. This rustic lodge, consisting of a collection of small cabins and a dining hall and office, is consistently booked well in advance, though cancellations do occur.

Do not expect to get reservations easily, though. The first week in October is normally the time to reserve for the following season. Even then, you are lucky to find a Friday or Saturday night to your liking. ATTENTION: you cannot just show up and get either room or board even if there are openings. 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!

There are both private cabins and two lodges available for groups. Either offers double width bunks covered with several thick woolen blankets. These are usually necessary all year round as temperatures at night seldom exceed 50. Heating is accomplished by portable kerosene heaters, which are a bit smelly. Bureaucrats and insurance companies banned the wonderful wood heaters and fireplaces originally installed. Lighting is provided by kerosene lamp, quite adequate and cozy. Mice are very common and necessitate storing all packed food in barrels provided at the ‘front desk.’ It is not uncommon to wake up to the pitter-patter of little feet in backpacks, even if there is no food in them. Bears also frequent the site mooching for morsels. Although less common than in years past, they still get inside the buildings on occasion. Rest rooms are outside, and actually have plumbing! Pit toilets are also available for those without reservations (or those who leave their key in their cabin). A collection of games is stacked in the main meeting room, along with books, pictures, guitars and other gizmos. No showers, phones or electricity will be found here (a benefit, by my standards!).

Two meals are provided with lodge reservations: supper at 6 p.m. and breakfast at 8 a.m. The menu doesn’t change, to my knowledge, and meals are served only when the dinner bell rings. Supper consists of soup and corn bread followed by a hearty beef and gravy stroganoff-ish dish with reconstituted potatoes, canned green beans, baked apples and finally, a cookie or two for desert. Hot chocolate and coffee are unlimited as long as they hold out. Wine is served if you make the request when you reserve the room. Breakfast will be pancakes and grits, biscuits, ham, scrambled eggs, instant orange drink, coffee, hot chocolate, along with honey, syrup, apple butter and the like. Meals are not fancy but substantial and ‘just what the doctor ordered’ after a long hike up a tall mountain.

Porters Creek

Length: 3.7 miles from Greenbrier Road to Campsite #31.

Highlights: Fern Fall, wildflowers including Volets, Spring Beauties, Trillium, Anemone, Bloodroot, Hepatica, Foamflower, and Phacalia.

Trailhead: Take US 321 5.9 miles east of Gatlinburg, TN and turn right onto the Greenbrier Road at the park entrance sign. Pass the ranger station and two picnic areas. At mile 4.1 park on a traffic loop and look for the gate and trail sign.

Greenbrier Cove was heavily settled, and the established farmers and selective logging saved this area from big logging companies. In the early 1800’s the Whaley family is thought to have migrated from North Carolina through Dry Slice Gap and found this sheltered, fertile valley.

This trail is famous for its wildflower displays in early April and May. If you like to keep lists of what you see in bloom, you might see as many as 30-40 different species here. The trail gets a lot of use.

After the gate, the trail rises gently, look for mosses, ferns and lots of wildflowers on the right bank. At mile 0.4 the foundation of the Cantwell house stands on the right and the John Whaley house and farm sites, stone walls, and springhouse foundations can be seen along the trail.

The trail crosses Long Branch on a bridge. Up the hill from the bridge, look for a large patch of crested dwarf iris, the Tennessee State Flower, on the left. They bloom in April and the leaves stay green the rest of the spring and summer.

The old road ends at Porters Flat, the open area where the Whaleys first settled. The Brush Mountain Trail and the historic farm site is to the right and the Porters Creek Trail goes to the left.

The trail narrows but is an easy walking trail. It descends through a forest of large Hemlock trees and Fraser magnolias to the creek. Painted trillium blooms here in late April. The creek itself is deep and rushing, tumbling over great boulders. You will cross on a very long paved foot log that is ingeniously perched on two boulders with little cement platforms to make it level.

Shortly after the foot log, you step into a different world, a moist sheltered cove with massive yellow buckeye trees and flowers carpeting the ground between them. In early to mid April, the fringed Phacalia look like a blanket of snow. Toothwort, trillium, spring beauty, hepatica, bloodroot, phlox, geraniums, trout lily, and foamflower are just the beginning of the flower list for Porters Creek. The trail turns right and ascends evenly, and as you go up, new flowers in each section brush against your ankles.

Soon the trail is high above the creek on your right, and you pass rock faces on the left. At this level you can find Dutchmen’s Pipe vine, wild ginger, speckled wood lily and Indian pink, all blooming in May and June. As the trail levels at 1.9 miles, a tiny creek crosses it after plunging and sliding over a 40′ waterfall called Fern Falls.

The trail runs along a bench high above the creek. You can get a glimpse of cascades and crystal pools. At mile 3.7 the trail turns right toward the creek and comes to the campsite #31 signpost. A small spring just left of the signpost supplies water, and the campsite is just ahead. Beyond the spring an unmaintained path continues up to the Appalachian Trail at Dry Sluice Gap. Not only is it unmaintained but it rises 2,000 feet in just over a mile.

If you’re looking for wildflowers – Porters Creek is the trail for you.

Ramsey Cascades

Length: 4.0 miles, beginning at Ramsay Cascades parking area, and ending at Ramsey Cascade, 8 miles round trip

Highlights: Cascades, virgin forest

Cautions: Rocky trail in segments, slippery rocks, {DO NOT CLIMB}

Trailhead: Drive 5.9 miles from Gatlinburg on US 321 and enter the park on the Greenbrier Road to the right. The paved road ends and narrows just past the ranger station. At 3.2 miles turn left at a sign for Ramsay Cascade on to a bridge that crosses the Middle Prong. Drive 1.5 miles to the parking area at the end of the road.

Ramsey Cascades is the most beautiful falls of water in the park. It is also the highest at 105 feet in height.

Ramsey Cascades Trail provides two kinds of hiking, easy road hiking along the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River and then a much harder hike, narrow trail hiking along Ramsey Prong.

Not long after the trailhead, the first stream crossing is on a long bouncy footbridge where Middle Prong plunges over a huge boulder into green swimming pools. From there you will climb gradually along the old road through cove hardwood forest. The presence of black locust trees just across the footbridge and many small, straight tulip trees throughout the woods indicates that this area was cut over and probably farmed.

At mile 1.5 you come to the old traffic circle and get the first view of Ramsey prong as it meets Middle Prong. The old Greenbrier Pinnacle trail used to start here, but since the park no longer maintains it, it may be difficult to follow.

To the right of the Ramsey Cascades trail sign is a three-trunked witch hazel tree at the stream edge, behind it a black cherry leans precariously out over the water. To the left of the sign a tunnel of rhododendron and mountain laurel signal where you start the serious climb to Ramsey Cascades. The Ramsey Cascades Trail narrows and steep in some places but in excellent condition.

About a mile up the trail, you walk between two huge, straight tulip trees, as majestic as Roman columns. Even the selective loggers didn’t come up this far. Just around the bend on the left side of the trail is the real giant, another tulip trees with roots like elephant toes. Ahead on the right are several large silverbell trees. They are small compared to the tulip trees,  but they are near record size for their species. Another large tree along the trail is the basswood, or linden, which can be identified by clusters of shoots growing up around the base of the tree.

The trail crosses Ramsey Prong and loops away from it for a while. Suddenly when you’re beginning to wonder just how long 2.5 miles can be and you don’t think you can go another step, you’ll come out on the right of Ramsey Cascades and forget how hard the hike to the top was. When water splashes more than 90′ from ledge to ledge, and the cool spray feels wonderful on a summer day. You might have to take your shoes off to wade across to the flat rock at the base, but heed the warning signs and do not climb on the falls. The temptation to climb the rocks and boulders at the base and sides of the cascades is strong. This is VERY DANGEROUS! Ramsey Cascades is the highest waterfall accessible by trail in the park. Most of the water comes from Mt. Guyot, two thousand feet higher.

Hiking time is 2-4 hours going up and 1 1/2- 2 1/2 hours coming down. During the spring Ramsay Cascades is beautiful to photograph when the rhododendron is in full bloom. Be sure to take your camera on this one.

Rainbow Falls Trail

Length: 6.6 miles, from Rainbow Falls Parking Area on the Cherokee Orchard Road to the summit of Mt. Le Conte. Rainbow Falls is 2.7 miles from Trailhead

Highlights: Rainbow Falls, panoramic views, spring and summer wildflowers

Cautions: Trail may be icy in winter

Trailhead: Take Airport Road {traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg} into the park. At 3.4 miles just after the road becomes one-way, turn right into the Rainbow Falls Parking Area. The trail is a few yards south of the woods, opposite the paved road.

This trail goes up to Mt. Le Conte. It starts close to the same spot where a group started walking to Le Conte in 1924 to ascertain whether the Great Smokies was a fit place to establish a national park. The park was established in the early 1930’s.

After a mile or more, the trail temporarily switches left from the creek and goes through an area where rosebay rhododendron, galax, trailing arbutus, teaberry and mountain pepper bush grow. Look in this area for pink lady’s slippers.

The trail switches to the right again and you travel in the general direction of the creek, which you reach and cross on a footbridge about 2.0 miles from where you started walking. Within a quarter hour or less, you’ll cross, without help of a bridge, a small tributary of Le Conte Creek.

Then will come the second and third bridges across Le Conte Creek. The third is just below the falls. In mid summer look for the blooms of pink turtlehead. It’s a pretty, high altitude wildflower. If you’re here in mid winter during a period of prolonged extreme cold, look for the falls to be frozen into an hour glass shape. This is one of the most spectacular sights of the Great Smokies.

The trail follows a reasonable grade to the right, up and around the bluff. Along this section in July and August look for the blooms of crimson bee balm and yellow hydrangea of cornflower. You will also see the white blooms of wild hydrangea and white snakeroot.

At one point you can stand on a natural stone lookout and see surprisingly close the Space Needle and the Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg. The trail crosses the Rocky Spur crest at about 4,880′ elevation and swings abruptly eastward along the North Slope of the ridge.

The trail climbs gradually 5,000-5,200. At about 5,400′ it curves south and then west and soon crosses the crest to the south side near the 5,450 elevation. Moving across the upper valley of Le Conte, a very shallow valley at this point. It is so high that in dry weather you may find no water at the crossing.

Soon after, you will reach the point where the Rainbow Falls and Bull Head Trails meet, just under West Point. After the two trails intersect at 6.1 miles, the single trail continuing up hill to the left, toward the Lodge still carries the Rainbow Falls name. You still have more than a half mile of walking before you reach the Lodge, and the first part of it is pretty steep.

About a half mile beyond the Bull Head trail intersection you will see another trail coming in from the right. This is Alum Cave Trail, continue on the rainbow Falls trail a little more than 0.1 mile and you will reach the LeConte Lodge. You will also reach the intersection of Trillium Gap Trail coming up from the north. At that point the name of the trail you’ve been walking changes from Rainbow Falls to the Boulevard Trail.

Russell Field

Length: 3.5 miles from Anthony Creek Trail to Appalachian Trail at Russell Field.

Highlights: Russell Field, big trees, and wildflowers.

Cautions: Muddy areas, stream crossings, and a strenuous hike.

Trailhead: Junction of Anthony Creek Trail, 1.6 miles above Cades Cove Picnic Area.

The Russell Field Trail begins at its junction with Anthony Creek Trail 1.6 miles from the Cades Cove Picnic Area. The trailhead is in a large stand of tall, stately tulip trees. They each measure 20-24 diameter.

The trail turns right here and follows along the left Prong of Anthony Creek. You will begin climbing moderately with a small jump over a spring branch after 100 yards. Another 100 yards will bring you to a second easy crossing of a spring branch. But at 0.25 mile, the trail’s character changes. You will have to rock hop a small branch of Anthony Creek and begin a steeper climb through a cool rhododendron and hemlock stand.

As you approach campsite #10 at 0.75 mile you will have to cross the left prong twice. The first crossing is along a footlog with handrail, but requires a bit of a rock hop to reach the log at high water.

After crossing, you will climb past a massive 46″ diameter hemlock on the left. Campsite #10 just ahead. The campsite is nicely placed between a small spring branch and the left prong. It is a small site.

For hikers pushing on the trail continues to climb but now the path becomes much more difficult. The combination of heavy horse use and rain can quickly turn the trail into a quagmire of mud. You will begin climbing a set of switchbacks, which will take you steeply to the top of Leadbetter Ridge.

The next mile is steep and difficult, plan on frequent stops to catch your breath and admire the surrounding forest. At an elevation of 3,700 feet you finally reach the ridgeline. The trail now levels out for about a half mile.

The more moderate climb of the ridgeline takes you through dry stands of oak and pine. Ultimately the trail will leave the moderate climb of Leadbetter Ridge and climb steeply to Russell Field. Along this half-mile climb, the quagmires return, making travel through rhododendrons  real hard even on the path. In the winter and late fall you will get great views of Cades Cove and Maryville. At last you reach Russell Field.

Russell Field is part grassy bald and part forest. The trail does not end here. It pushes on for another 1.2 miles to the Russell Field Shelter and The Appalachian Trail. The AT can take you to the east to Spence Field or west toward Gregory’s Bald.

School House Gap

Length: 2.2 miles from Laurel Creek Road to Scott Mt. Trail.

Highlights: White Oak Sinks, Wildflowers.

Trailhead: From the Townsend “Y” proceed toward Cades Cove on the Laurel Creek Road for 3.9 miles. The trailhead is a large, paved parking area on the right.

The trail looks like a road. From the trailhead you will gradually climb up Spence Branch, a small, tranquil mountain stream, to Dosey Gap at mile 1.1. Here the trail intersects Turkeypen Ridge Trail, which leads off to the west towards Cades Cove. Spectacular patches of cardinal flower can be found in late summer and early fall.

After passing Dorsey Gap, a narrow manway leads off to the west, dropping into an area known as White Oak Sinks. This small sunken valley was once home to as many as 10 families. It is now home to many non-native wild hogs, several rare plants, and an assortment of caves.

The trail continues uphill for 1.1 miles to Schoolhouse Gap and the park boundary. Along the way you will pass through fields of Japanese witch grass and exotic plant species.

The Chestnut Top Trail meets this trail just a quarter mile before Schoolhouse Gap. At the top of the Gap you reach the park boundary. The Scott Mountain Trail arrives from the west. Chestnut Top Trials leads east 4.3 miles to the Townsend “Y” while Scott Mountain meanders 3.6 miles west into Cades Cove area.

Spruce Falls

Length: 2 miles round trip.

Highlights: Waterfall

Trailhead: From Townsend take US 73, turn right toward Cades Cove. Go two tenths of mile and turn left on Tremont Road. At two miles, turn left into Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Park in the parking lot and walk along the paved road until it ends. The trail marked Falls Trail is to the left.

Spruce Falls has been called an “undiscovered jewel” of the Smokies. The hike to the base of the falls is only a mile in length, it is fairly difficult, steep, and narrow in places, traversing some fairly large boulders.

From the paved road, the trail takes steep switchbacks beneath an evergreen canopy past the institute’s water tank, to a crest where you can catch your breath, and listen to the roar of the Middle Prong of Little River and great views of the Smokies and the valley below.

Then there is a series of ups and downs through a variety of vegetation along the side of steep slopes. There are two stream crossings, both are fairly easy to cross, just a little rock hopping. At the second crossing you’ll pause and try to figure out where the trail goes. Just follow it directly across and you will see where the trail picks back up.

At a plateau, you will again hear the roar of the river and see it and  Tremont Road below. You will head down a laurel bowered trail, and soon you’ll be making the final steep descent to the base of the falls.

Spruce Flats Falls is also known as Three Step Falls. It is described as a four cascade, 125-foot drop/320 foot run. However there are upper falls which can be seen only from above a exceedingly steep trail that crosses Spruce Falls Creek at the base of the falls.

Most hikers are content with the beauty of the lower falls, where large rocks circling the picturesque pool fed by the cascades make a pleasant place to sit and soak in the beauty of this beautiful fall.

Trillium Gap Trail

Length: 8.7 miles, from Rainbow Falls Parking Area to the summit of Mt. Le Conte

Highlights: Grotto Falls, views, wildflowers

Trailhead: Take Airport Road traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg 441. Drive to the park boundary, past the Twin Creeks Resource Center Road and Ogle home site, and into Cherokee Orchard. At 3.4 miles just after the road becomes one-way, turn right into the Rainbow Falls Parking Area, park on the left and look for a trail sign on the right near the entrance to the parking area.

Just a few yards into the woods of the Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap goes left and Rainbow Falls Trail continues straight. From here 3.5 miles to Grotto Falls and 5.2 mile to Trillium Gap. The trail runs parallel to Cherokee Orchard Road through a tangled Forest of grapevines, greenbrier, locust maples, and tulip trees. As the trail turns away from the road, a large building site appears on the left.

This trail rises and then crosses in a tiny creek. The one-way Roaring Fork Motor Trail is just below and you will see it from time to time for the next 2 miles. Several spur trails lead to the road.

The trial drops across a pretty creek and swings around a dry hillside with galax, trailing arbutus, and pine trees. It then crosses a moist slope with silverbells, yellow buckeyes, and flowering dogwoods.

After the next two crossings you move into an old-growth forest with large trees. The trail steadily rises, following a typical Smokies hiking pattern, in toward a creek, cross, out around a ridge, and in again. All of the crossings are easy, but some might be muddy because of horse or llama traffic. From the trail high above a creek valley, you can look down into the treetops of Eastern Hemlocks, basswoods and Fraser Magnolias. After a little more than 1.0 mile from the Trailhead, the trail rounds one more ridge and you can hear a louder, more insistent creek. This is Roaring Fork, which roars and tumbles from near the top of Mt. Le Conte down to Gatlinburg, where it joins West Prong of the Little Pigeon. As you approach Grotto Falls, look down to the left and watch the white water. A straight downhill section of trail takes you to Grotto Falls, with a little sign in case there’s any doubt.

Trillium Gap Trail after the falls is narrower and rockier, but still a good trail, climbing through mature forest. About 1 mile beyond the falls, a boulder field starts great fractured rocks with polypody ferns and fabulous mosses. Trees and shrubs growing on these rocks have developed wild designs as their roots searched for soil.

A creek running through part of the boulder field is easy to cross but could be slippery. After the creek the trail continues to rise and passes a wonderful rock face on the right decorated with white, yellow, and green lichens. Soon you might see a few red spruce cones on the trail. Ahead you see Trillium Gap sign and trail junction.

To the left is a short climb to Brushy Mountain, a heath bald with great views. Straight ahead, Brushy Mountain Trail leads down to Porters Flat and Greenbrier Cove. Trillium Gap turns right and starts the 3.6-mile climb to Le Conte.

As you start up this last section of Trillium Gap Trail, note that mosses gradually replace the grasses on the trail edge. Look for a boulder on the right about 0.5 mile from the gap with a crop of polypody fern on top. This fern looks a little like Christmas fern with shorter fronds, and it almost never grows on the ground.

After a swing west, the trail runs south to run along the 5,200 contour line and the switchback to make a steep climb. The trail is rock, and during rain, water stands in the trail. In some spots the trail slopes down the steep hillside, and you have to be careful about footing. In the next mile you gain 600′ to another switchback. By this point the Eastern Hemlocks are all below you and the dominant evergreen is red spruce.

Finally after a particularly rocky trial sections, the lower buildings of LeConte will loom, probably out of the fog, before you. With just another 50-yard climb, you reach the lodge and junction with the other Le Conte trails.

Turkeypen Ridge Trail

Length: 3.6 miles from Schoolhouse Gap Trail to Laurel Creek Road

Highlights: The level in and out weaving of the trail along the eastern face of Turkey Ridge.

Trailhead: Junction with Schoolhouse Gap Trial 1.1 miles from Laurel Creek Road or Laurel Creek Road 5.5 miles west of the Townsend Y.

There are two likely starting points for this path. One is across from the trailhead of the Lead Cove and Finely Cane trails, 5.5 miles west of the Townsend Y on the Laurel Creek Road. The nearer one is at the start of the Schoolhouse Gap trail 3.5 miles west of the Townsend Y on the Laurel Creek Road. This description is form the Schoolhouse Gap Trial Junction.

After walking northwest 1.1 mile on the gentle grade of Schoolhouse Gap Trail, the Turkeypen Ridge Trail appears on the left at Dorsey Gap. This gap has no marker but was named for Anderson Dorsey, a Civil War veteran who farmed some of the old fields beyond the gap to the west of the trail.

This popular path is convenient to get to and easy to walk. After the gap, the trail passes through a thicket of rhododendron, then ascends on occasion.

Before reaching the top of the ridge, if you’re lucky enough to pass when azaleas are in bloom, there are several, quite small, flame azaleas with blood red blooms. Among other flowers along this trail are galax, wood-vetch, trillium and big patches of crested dwarf iris in the moist hollows.

The trail runs briefly along the top of a level ridge, northwest of which lies a large and unusual depression, know as Whiteoak Sink. No graded or officially maintained trail enters that area.

The path swings left and runs level, in and out around each descending spoke of the eastern face of Turkeypen Ridge. The path moves out and around the dry flank of each bulge then back into the cool, moist havens next to the heart of the mountain.

At the last crossing of Pinkroot Branch is a picturesque ledge, or outcropping of layered rock. It’s a moist and cool place to pause and relax and enjoy the quiet seclusion and enchantment.

The trail leaves the level area, passes through a small gap, and gradually descends and drops into the old fields of Big Spring Cove. Several small piles of rock can be seen from the path. Toward the bottom of the descent another branch of Laurel Creek is heard, then seen, to the right. Just before crossing the branch an old home site is to the right.

Two tenths of a mile before reaching the trail’s end at Laurel Creek Road, the Crib Gap Trail crosses and the sound of traffic soon creeps in to dissolve the quiet comfort of Turkeypen Ridge Trail.

West Prong Trail

Length: 2.7 miles from Tremont Road to Bote Mountain Trail.

Highlights: Walker Valley Cemetery, hardwood forest, and pretty creek

Trailhead: From the Townsend Y turn toward Cades Cove. In 0.2 mile, turn left toward the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont. At 2.0 mile, look for the West Prong Trail on the right, just before the entrance to the Institute. Turn right and park in a gravel lot. From here you can see a pump house uphill to the left at the end of a gravel drive. The trail starts behind the pump.

West Prong Trail provides a hiking connection between the Tremont Elkmont trails and Cades Cove trails and begins along the banks of the Middle Prong. To the old timers, a fork of a river was called a prong. Both the West and Middle Prong are parts of the Little River, which drains most of the western end of the park from Elkmont to Cades Cove. These prongs join just west of the park from Elkmont to Cades Cove. These prongs join just west of the Townsend Y at the road intersection leading to Tremont.

After a good rain the beginning of the trail may be a bit muddy, but don’t let that turn you back. The trail will climb along the flanks of Fodderstack Mountain and remains dry. Immediately you will come to an intersection. One choice is to follow the trail, which swings left. Another is to go right from the trail, and visit the maintained cemetery.

A rough but fairly clear trail goes up from the cemetery to meet the West Prong trail in progress, or you can go back to the trail sign and pick up West prong Trail at the beginning. The trail is in three roughly one-mile segments, one up, one down and then another up. It is wide and level, ascending first through a cut over forest of small tulip trees.

At mile 0.3 the trail forks. Take a left fork to continue the right fork leads you back to the cemetery. West Prong Trail climbs the side of Fodderstack Mountain to about 2,550 to about 2,000 elevation. The trail ascends steadily to dry woods with pines, sourwoods, and chestnut. You can hear the West Prong below. Then you start a mile long decent to the prong through open woods alternating with thick patches of rosebay rhododendron.

The Trail crosses a side creek, an easy rock hop, and then passes a beautiful rock face on the left. Rosebay rhododendron, ferns, and yellow birch grow out of rock cracks. Just around a bend from the creek, the trail reaches Campsite #18 at 1,700 elevation. There are two tent sites close to the river.

The West Prong Trail turns sharply right, and you have to follow it across some rocky seeps to get to a foot log across West Prong. After the footlog turns left, back track up the other side of West Prong and look for the trail starting up on the right. The trail goes uphill a half mile. It is never steep, but never relenting either. Eastern Hemlock and mountain laurel tunnels alternate and pine trees grow on the drier more exposed sections. At mile 2.7 down to Laurel Creek Road 1.2 mile up to Spence Field 6.0 miles, or back to your car.