Great Smoky Mountains National Park Things to Do

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    by TravellerMel
  • Things to Do
    by TravellerMel
  • Clingman's Dome
    Clingman's Dome
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Most Recent Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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    Hike the Clingman's Dome-AT Bypass Loop

    by TravellerMel Updated May 27, 2014
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    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.

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    Hike the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail

    by TravellerMel Updated Jan 3, 2014
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    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
    View from Chimney Tops
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    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.

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    The Sinks

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 10, 2013
    The Sinks

    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.

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    Abrams Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 7, 2013
    Abrams Falls
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    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.

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    Laurel Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 2, 2013
    Laurel Falls - both sections
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    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.

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    Cataract Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 1, 2013
    Cataract Falls

    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.

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    Grotto Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 1, 2013
    Grotto Falls
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    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.

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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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    Cataloochee Valley

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 7, 2012
    Elk Grazing in Cataloochee Valley
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    Cataloochee is a beautiful valley nestled between 6000-foot peaks in the northeastern part of the park near Maggie Valley and Waynesville, North Carolina. Getting into the valley can be an adventure. The most direct way into the valley is on Cove Creek Road off US-276 near I-40. Cove Creek Road is about 11 miles to get into the valley and its a narrow, steep, and windy road that is gravel for a good portion. And its a two way road, so use caution and be on the lookout for oncoming traffic, particularly in the Fall when traffic is heaviest. Once in the valley, there is much to do. There are several historic buildings throughout the valley from before the park was established. Among them, the Caldwell House, Palmer Chapel, and Palmer House. The Palmer House has seasonal exhibits and more information and the barn and cemetery are nearby. For hiking, the Boogerman loop (yes, that's really the name of the trail) is a popular and relatively easy hike. Its about seven miles with about 1200 feet of elevation gain. Starting from Caldwell Fork Trail near the family campground, the trail follows Caldwell Creek, crossing some narrow footbridges before splitting off with Boogerman Trail. The Boogerman Trail heads up to the ridgeline and passes through groves of old-growth forest and the remnants of old homesteads before meeting back up with Caldwell Fork and finishing up the loop. But perhaps the biggest attraction in Cataloochee is the wildlife, specifically the re-introduced elk herd in the valley. The best time to see (and hear) the elk is the early morning or evening in the fall, during mating season. Just remember that these are powerful wild animals so don't get too close.

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    Hike the Grapeyard Ridge Trail to the Steam Engine

    by TravellerMel Written Oct 11, 2012

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    Grapeyard Ridge Trail
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    5.8 miles round trip (NOT a loop trail) if you go just to the steam engine - beyond that there is a backwoods campsite. We just hiked to the engine.

    This was a fairly easy hike - wide trails, mostly flat (no climbing), slight inclines, and several creek crossings (be careful - Boyd fell into the creek while trying to cross over by log. I took the lower, rock crossing and made it across without getting wet). We passed several rock piles and what appeared to be grave markers (there was no discernable writing or engraving), and Boyd's "Day Hikes of the Smokies" book mentioned an indian graveyard somewhere in the area.

    Beautiful - but then, EVERY place in the Smokies is beautiful! The "reward at the end" for me at this trail was a steam engine which fell into the creek in the 1920's. We had fun taking pictures there and just enjoying the solitude as we had the trail mostly to ourselves on the Saturday of a holiday weekend. We really enjoyed this hike.

    DIRECTIONS: From Gatlinburg, take Hwy 321 toward Cosby. Turn right at the Greenbriar entrance & go past the Ranger Station. About 1.5 miles up there will be a picnic area, with restrooms, and about .5 miles up from that you will see a bridge. Park off the road just before you get to the bridge - the trailhead is across the road on your right.

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    Hike the AT - Newfound Gap to Indian Gap

    by TravellerMel Updated Oct 11, 2012

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    Appalachian Trail - starting at Newfound Gap
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    3.4 round trip hiking trail - moderately difficult. Starting at Newfound Gap, it is moderately steep, but this higher elevation trail offers a cooler temperature (5-7º cooler than lower elevation trails) and a different spectrum of birds.

    The path is very narrow and, for the most part, does not allow side-by-side hiking. There is a section of the path where you have to walk up and down the steel ramp which is a wild boar deterrent (which appears to be effective, as we did not see any). The walk is beautiful and has dense foliage and ample birding opportunities.

    Personally, I prefer hiking trails which lead to waterfalls (the reward at the end!), but this was a really pretty trail, and now I get to say I hiked the AT - and it only took me 3 hours! LOL!

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    Ramsey Cascades

    by jmpncsu Updated Aug 16, 2012
    Ramsey Cascades
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    Ramsey Cascades is the tallest in the park and perhaps the most beautiful. The falls is a beautiful cascade over rocks into a shallow pool then continuing down the Ramsey Prong of the Little Pigeon River. As a warning, the hike to the falls is moderate to strenuous in difficulty - the four miles up the trail has an elevation gain of about 2,300 feet. Coming back from the falls, we met a few people on the trail who had decided to give up and head back. The trailhead is in the Greenbrier area of the park located of US-321, six miles east of Gatlinburg. The road in is about five miles, with the first mile or two being paved, then the rest gravel. The gravel part is narrow, windy, and involves crossing five one-lane bridges, but I made it in my Corolla, so almost any car should be able to make it. From the parking lot at the end of the road, the trail initially follows an old logging road. Don't be deceived - the first mile and half is quite easy with only a gradual slope, but it gets much harder soon. After 1.5 miles, there is a "traffic circle" and the trail departs from the logging road to a more traditional hiking trail with a lot more up. There are a few footbridges and the trail passes through old-growth forests with some of the largest trees in the park. The last half-mile or so is the most difficult. The trail is very steep and involves climbing steps. But when you reach the top, your efforts will be rewarded with an incredibly beautiful waterfall. During warmer months, you can cool off in the pool at the base of the falls. If you look closely, you may spot some salamanders in the pool as well. Just use extreme caution - the rocks around the waterfall are extremely slippery and a sign at the top says at least four people have died here. And the trip back is all downhill from here.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Things to Do

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