Great Smoky Mountains National Park Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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    Indian Creek & Tom Branch Falls

    by jmpncsu Updated Apr 1, 2015

    Tom Branch and Indian Creek Falls are two easy-to-visit waterfalls in the Deep Creek area of the park just outside Bryson City, NC. To visit both falls is a 1.6-mile easy round trip hike. From the Deep Creek parking area just past the campground, follow the Deep Creek trail heading upstream. The trail is an old gravel road and relatively flat, so it's very easy to follow. In less than a quarter-mile, look for Tom Branch Falls across the creek. Tom Branch flows into Deep Creek from the opposite side as the trail. The waterfall is about 60 feet high and quite scenic. The watershed is small, however, so this waterfall looks best after a good rain. It is also partially obscured by foliage, so you might pass right by and not notice during the summer. This is a great waterfall for people who aren't into hiking as it's less than a half-mile round trip on a flat gravel road.

    Indian Creek Falls is a little further up the trail. From Tom Branch Falls, continue on Deep Creek Trail for another half-mile or so to the intersection with Indian Creek Trail. Turn right on Indian Creek Trail and there is a short spur trail leading down to the waterfall in a couple hundred feet. Indian Creek Falls is a nice 20-foot cascading waterfall. Round trip to Indian Creek Falls is 1.6 miles and easy enough that the hike is appropriate for most people in reasonably good shape. From here, you can head back the way you came or take Deep Creek Horse Trail to hit Juney Whank Falls on the way back. The horse trail is a little steeper and more challenging, but it makes a loop so you don't backtrack.

    Indian Creek Falls Tom Branch Falls
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    Juney Whank Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Apr 1, 2015

    Juney Whank Falls is a scenic 90-foot waterfall split into an upper and lower section in the Deep Creek area of the park just outside Bryson City, NC. The hike to the falls is a moderate 0.8-mile round trip. From the parking area, head to the left to pick up Juney Whank Falls Trail. The trail is moderately steep, but short, and leads to a footbridge over the waterfall in between the upper and lower sections. From here, you can get good views of the upper section or climb down a bit for views of the lower section. This is another easy-to-get waterfall in the Deep Creek area that's appropriate for most people in reasonably good shape. For the more adventurous, there are two other waterfalls in this area - Tom Branch and Indian Creek Falls. Take Deep Creek Horse Trail to make a 2.2 mile loop to see all three waterfalls or you can backtrack to the parking area and hike Deep Creek Trail to see the other two.

    Juney Whank Falls
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    Hike Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls

    by TravellerMel Updated Mar 17, 2015

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    Another beautiful hike in the Smoky Mountains - this one has it all: historic buildings! Cemetery! Wildflowers! River-side hiking! Waterfalls! It is approx. 4 miles round trip to Fern Branch Falls and back.

    This is an Easy-Moderate hike (really, the last .3 miles to the waterfall is the most difficult, and it was not THAT difficult - just steeper than the rest of the trail). The path is mostly wide and gravel, and there is a lot to see - there is the remains of an old homestead (really, only the rock steps, rock wall, and fireplace remain); the Ownby cemetery (which contains 23 graves, many of them for children. It really gives you perspective on the harsh lives lived by the folks here around the turn of the last century. I've included a photo of the gravesite of David Proffitt, who was a Civil War Veteran); a cantilevered barn built in 1875, the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin, built in the 1930s (and was in use until the 1980s); the skeleton of an old car, and then a gorgeous walk up to Fern Branch Falls.

    We went on a lovely early Spring day, and the wildflowers were blooming. It had also rained the weekend before, so the falls were full and quite spectacular. The rocks along the waterfall were green with moss - it looked like a Fairy Glen. :-)

    Porters Creek Trail Ownby Cemetery David Proffitt Grave Cantilevered Barn (1875) Fern Branch Falls
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    Hike Big Creek Trail to Mouse Creek Falls

    by TravellerMel Updated Feb 2, 2015

    I loved this hike! It is an easy 4-mile round trip hike, on a wide trail which mostly follows the creek (the trail is sometimes used by horses, so be sure to watch where you step) that has my favorite "payoff" - a lovely waterfall (which is actually much larger in person - the photo makes it look just slightly taller than my husband, but it is, in fact, quite tall). We were too busy looking for birds to see Midnight Hole on the way to the falls, but found it on the way back - absolutely gorgeous! The pond is about 80' across, and I imagine it is quite deep. We definitely want to go back in the summer to swim!

    Trail to Mouse Creek Falls Mouse Creek Falls Midnight Hole Midnight Hole
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    Hike the Clingman's Dome-AT Bypass Loop

    by TravellerMel Updated May 27, 2014

    Park in the lot for Clingman's Dome and walk toward the trailhead. The bypass will be to your left.

    This was a relatively strenuous hike, but short - moderately steep, with an uneven rocky trail. Still, the scenery is beautiful, and you get to walk some of the Appalachian Trail (AT). The bypass will take you to a second marker - go straight to continue along the AT to a double stream, or go right to take you to Clingman's Dome (this is the trail we did). The entire loop is 1.5 miles long, and the view from Clingman's dome is stunning, if it is a clear day.

    Clingman's Dome
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    Hike the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail

    by TravellerMel Updated Jan 3, 2014

    This was a beautiful, easy, SHORT hike (1 mile RT) with a payoff at the end - a small, multi-tiered waterfall! This path takes you parallel to a large, open field usually populated with deer. It certainly was the day we walked it. In fact, as you can see from the photos, we stood very still on the path and two deer walked from the field and across our path not 15 feet from where we stood. It was quite thrilling!

    The waterfall was active the day we were there, but it is not as impressive as other falls in the GSMNP. Still, it was a way to get a hike in for the day, and the walk was very pleasant.

    When you finish your walk, you can continue the drive throught the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop, or drive 2 miles to the cut-through.

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    What you can't do - Mountain bike

    by DSwede Written Dec 9, 2013

    In the hundreds of tips already written here, I feel that most things were all ready covered quite well. And honestly, most of those tidbits can be found in the tourist brochures at the welcome center for ~$1/ea.

    But one thing that I had be researching before my trip was that mountain biking is not allowed at all within the park. I find this rather hard to swallow and know through many internet forums that many in the local community are not pleased with this.

    Having been an avid biker for my entire life, I know the arguments about trail erosion and impact to the ecosystems. If done properly, biking trails can be even less detrimental than hiking trails. Yet they are banned completely. There are some select roads (Cades Cove for example) that you can bike around, but there are no trails.

    Geographically, the nearest mountain bike trails are south of the park, about an hour from Gatlinburg. The "Tsali Recreation Area" can be found at the web link below.

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    Chimney Tops

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 15, 2013

    The Chimney Tops are a rock outcrop near Newfound Gap on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hike and climb to the top is strenuous, but the views are fantastic and the climb up is fun if you're not afraid of heights. The trail starts from the parking lot on Newfound Gap Road (US-441), immediately crossing a bridge over West Prong of Little Pigeon River and then begins heading up along Road Prong. There are a couple of footbridges across the creek with views of some nice cascades along the creek. The trail is all uphill with many stairs, but after about a mile, it gets really steep, gaining 1400 feet in 2 miles, much of that in the second mile. Finally the trail levels off a bit as it heads along a ridgeline to the Chimney Tops. The trail ends at the base of Chimney Tops, but for the best views, you'll have to climb to the top. This is definitely not hiking; you'll be going almost straight up. Luckily, there are plenty of ridges and grooves in the rock face to act as footholds and handholds. I would not recommend this climb to people who aren't in good shape or who have a fear of heights. Looking over the side of the rock face, it's a long way down. But the views at the top are fantastic and the climb is a lot of fun if you like rock climbing (without the ropes and belay). Going down was actually easier than I expected with a combination of butt-sliding and stepping down between the ridges. Be sure to always have at least one foot and one hand secured before taking steps up or down. I made a video of the hike and climb; you can watch it to get an idea of the climb here.

    View from Chimney Tops View from Chimney Tops Cascade along Road Prong Cascades along Road Prong View from Chimney Tops
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    The Sinks

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 10, 2013

    The Sinks is a roadside waterfall between Sugarlands and Cades Cove. It might be possible to see it from the car, but there's a small parking area with an overlook for a better view. The Sinks is located on Little River Road, about 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center. The parking lot is right before the bridge that goes over the waterfall. From the parking area, there is short paved trail that leads to a viewing platform for the falls. For the best views, though, climb down to the rocks just below the overlook where you can see the Sinks without tree branches and leaves in the way. In the summer, some people swim here. The park discourages swimming as several people have died here. If you choose to swim, do so at your own risk.

    The Sinks
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    Abrams Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 7, 2013

    Abrams Falls is a beautiful waterfall in the Cades Cove area of the park. It's a popular attraction in perhaps the most popular part of the park so come early if you want to beat the crowds. We started hiking to the falls before 9 and had the waterfall to ourselves for a half-hour or so, but saw lots of people heading to the falls on the hike back. The hike to the falls is 5 miles round trip and moderate in difficulty. The trail begins at the parking lot off Abrams Falls Road, just off the Cades Cove Loop Road before reaching the visitor center. It immediately crosses Abrams Creek and then follows the creek downstream for about 2.5 miles to the falls. The trail is easy to follow, but its a natural-surface trail, so expect roots, rocks, and a few moderately steep section. It's mostly downhill going to the falls, so uphill going back, although it's never particularly steep. The waterfall itself is only about 20 feet high, but has heavy water flow even during dry times and makes for good photo opportunities. It's possible to walk all around and get shots from different angles, although that will require some rock hopping and climbing on wet rocks. You can even walk right up to the side of the waterfall to get up close, but the rocks are perpetually wet from spray so extremely slippery. Always use extreme caution when walking and climbing on rocks near waterfalls. Although it looks inviting and I've seen people do it, avoid swimming in the pool below the falls - the park service warns that people have drowned here due to strong currents and an undertow.

    Abrams Falls Abrams Falls from the Side Fall Foliage along Abrams Creek
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    Laurel Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 2, 2013

    Laurel Falls is a very nice 80-foot waterfall in two sections that is named for the mountain laurel that's present in the area. It's pretty easy to get to and so very popular - expect a crowd here. From the parking lot, the trail is paved and 1.6 miles to the falls (and 1.6 back). The trail is paved, but it's pretty eroded in some places. And the walk to the falls is mostly uphill, so this may be to challenging for some people. I'd rate it as moderate. The waterfall has two sections, upper and lower. The trail splits the waterfall on a footbridge that crosses at the base of the upper section. If you want to get down to the lower section, there is a steep unofficial trail just before the footbridge that leads down to the base of the lower section. Use extreme caution going down this way as it's steep and wet rocks can be very slippery. From down here it's possible to see both the upper and lower sections.

    Laurel Falls - both sections Upper Section of Laurel Falls Water Cascading under a Rock below Laurel Falls Laurel Falls Trail View of Colorful Foliage from Laurel Falls Trail
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    Cataract Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 1, 2013

    Cataract Falls is a small waterfall, but very easy to visit. The hike to the falls is only about 0.1 miles and is suitable for all ages and hiking skill, although it's not handicapped accessible. From the parking lot for the parking headquarters near Sugarlands Visitor Center, hike along the Cove Mountain Trail for about 500 feet to the falls. The waterfall is not large or very impressive, but certainly worth the 10 minute round-trip walk to the falls.

    Cataract Falls
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    Grotto Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 1, 2013

    Grotto Falls is a pretty cool waterfall that you can walk behind and its pretty easy to get to. From the trailhead at stop #5 on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, follow the signs to Trillium Gap Trail and to the falls. It's about a mile and a half to the falls, so three miles round trip. The trail is pretty easy, but it's natural surface, so roots and rocks and a couple easy stream crossings. There's not much elevation gain and the trail runs through a very nice old-growth hemlock forest. Once at the falls, the trail goes behind the waterfall through a natural grotto and continues on up to Mount LeConte. At 25 feet, it's not the highest waterfall in the park, but the grotto behind the falls makes for good photo opportunities. You might have to wait your turn. Since it's easy to get to, this waterfall is very popular and usually crowded. One other interesting thing - the Trillium Gap Trail is used by llamas going to LeConte Lodge. Since there are no roads leading up the mountain, all supplies are brought to the lodge by llamas. If you have great timing, you could watch them go under waterfall. I've never been so lucky, but hope to see them one day.

    Grotto Falls Grotto Falls Cascade below Grotto Falls Mushrooms Growing on a Tree along Trail Llama Truck
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    Hike to Andrew's Bald

    by TravellerMel Written Jul 18, 2013

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    Andrew's Bald was listed as "easy" in the Hiking in the Smokies trailbook, but it has a steep decline/incline, and I think it would lean more toward a "moderate" hike. It is the highest Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains NP. The trails are well established, with wood boxes to contain the dirt to prevent mudslides, and wood-paved areas. The hike has some beautiful areas, and we even saw a deer (briefly). In June, when we were there, everything was blooming, so we couldn't quite see the vista for which the Balds are known. If you look at the very last photo I uploaded for this tip, you will see the view from the parking area was more impressive...

    Andrew's Bald is also the premiere location for viewing the famous "synchronized fireflies". If you want to see a true “wonder of nature”, a beauty that can only be seen in a two known places in the whole world (the other being Southeast Asia), then you need to see these fireflies. They are a rare species of firefly that coordinate their blinking (all they need is some music!) around mid-June (the 6th through the 13th) each year. The NPS issues parking passes for this event through www.recreation.gov - be sure to get them early!

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    Hike the Cucumber Gap Trail

    by TravellerMel Written Jul 18, 2013

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    The hike of Cucumber Gap loop trail is a relatively easy 2.3 miles, along the Little River and provides lots of opportunity to see spring wildflowers, butterflies, and birds as well as several small-to-medium sized waterfalls, which were absolutely beautiful. The path is mostly flat, with a very minor and gradual elevation, and a nice, wide trail, so a couple could walk side-by-side most of the time. The Hiking in the Smokies trail book mentions three benches - the second bench is where the turn is for Cucumber Gap - if you get to the bridge across the Little River, you missed it. Just turn around and add 1/2 mile to your hiking logbook. :-)

    At the very end of the trail, you will encounter a bunch of abandonded cabins. It was kind of creepy - like the set from "Dirty Dancing", but overgrown and some falling down. These were once part of the Appalachian Club vacation community. They're off limits to the public, and look kind of dangerous. Snakes, anyone??

    I liked this trail - it was pretty, had waterfalls (my favorite!), and as a loop trail, you don't have to see the same scenery twice.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Things to Do

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