Great Smoky Mountains National Park Things to Do

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

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    Cataloochee Valley

    by jmpncsu Written Nov 7, 2012

    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.

    Elk Grazing in Cataloochee Valley Palmer House View from Cataloochee Overlook Foliage on Boogerman Trail Palmer Cemetery
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    Hike the Grapeyard Ridge Trail to the Steam Engine

    by TravellerMel Written Oct 11, 2012

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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.

    Grapeyard Ridge Trail Grapeyard Ridge Trail The Steam Engine at Grapeyard Ridge Trail The Steam Engine at Grapeyard Ridge Trail The Steam Engine at Grapeyard Ridge Trail
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    Hike the AT - Newfound Gap to Indian Gap

    by TravellerMel Updated Oct 11, 2012

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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 (5-7ยบ 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!

    Appalachian Trail - starting at Newfound Gap Watching the bird watcher Hurray!  I made it to Indian Gap! Info about Indian Gap Road The open field at Indian Gap
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    Ramsey Cascades

    by jmpncsu Updated Aug 16, 2012

    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.

    Ramsey Cascades Old Growth Tree Ramsey Prong Steps on Trail Ramsey Cascades
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    Rainbow Falls

    by jmpncsu Written Aug 15, 2012

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    Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot drop off the side of a cliff, is the highest single-drop waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From Gatlinburg, TN, turn into park at stoplight #8 off the parkway and follow Cherokee Orchard Road a couple miles to the Rainbow Falls trailhead parking area. From the parking lot, it is a moderately difficult 2.5 mile hike to the falls. The trail gains about 1500 feet of elevation, but none of it is terribly steep or difficult. Along the way, the trail follows LeConte Creek with a few smaller cascades along the way and a couple of footbridges across the creek. At the waterfall, there are many big rocks and boulders at the base to climb on to get nice views of the falls and take pictures. In the afternoon, if lighting conditions are right, the mist from the waterfall will create a rainbow, giving the falls its name. It is also possible to climb up to the cliff and walk behind the waterfall. As with other waterfalls, use extreme caution when walking around as wet rocks can be extremely slippery. Also look out for a friendly red squirrel who lives in the area. He is very tame and will greet visitors hoping for a snack. We named him Barry. The trail continues past the falls to the summit of Mount LeConte, or if you've had enough hiking for the day, head back the way you came to the parking lot.

    Rainbow Falls Rainbow Falls Looking Up Moss Growing at Base of Falls Barry the Squirrel Falls along Trail
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    Hike to Hen Wallow Falls

    by TravellerMel Written Jul 30, 2012

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    An easy-to-moderate 4.4 mile round trip hike to a lovely waterfall. The trail crosses a stream on a log foot bridge. After several more stream crossings and a more steep ascent, the trail descends towards another creek and crosses it on a stone bridge at about 1 mile into the hike. Soon after this point, the trail follows an old road trail to an opening and a trail sign. Keep following the Gabes Mountain trail as it ascends more steeply before leveling out at about 1.5 miles into the hike. This is short lived, however as the trail heads up more before the intersection with the Hen Wallow Falls spur trail over 2 miles into the hike. Take this spur trail the short distance down to the base of the 50' waterfall. The good thing is the trail back is mostly down hill.

    From Gatlinburg, take US 321 east towards I-40. Drive 15-18 mi until 321 intersects with TN 32 at a stop sign. Turn right on TN 32 east & drive 1.2 mi to the entrance for the Cosby area and campground. Turn right into the Cosby entrance & drive to the day hiker's / picnic area parking on the left. Just before turning left for the entrance to the parking lot, look on the right side of the road for the Gabes Mountain Trail. This is the trail to take for the waterfall.

    Gabes Mountain Trail to Hen Wallow Falls The log footbridge Hen Wallow Falls Shmoopy and me at Hen Wallow Falls View from Hen Wallow Falls
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    Ash Hopper

    by Basaic Written Jan 9, 2012

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    The farmer and his/her family would collect ashes from stoves and fireplaces and put them in this contraption which is called an ash hopper. When enough ashes were collected they would pour water through the ashes to form liquid lye which was then used to make soap or to make hominy out of corn.

    Ash Hopper
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    Apple House

    by Basaic Written Jan 9, 2012

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    The size and careful construction of the Apple House shows the importance of this crop to the farms. Apples were eaten raw or used to make cider, apple butter, applesauce, and pies. Hardier winter apples were stored on the ground-floor while summer apples were stored upstairs.

    Apple House
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    Meat House

    by Basaic Written Jan 9, 2012

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    One of the most important commodities on the farms was the meat supply. The most common meat used was pork. They hogs were slaughtered in the fall so the cold temperatures would help preserve the meat during the salting or smoking process.

    Meat House
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    Mountain Farm Museum

    by Basaic Written Jan 6, 2012

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    The Mountain Farm Museum is an open air museum with a variety of buildings depicting farm life in the Smoky Mountains in the past. The museum is located adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitors Center. If you hit the museum at the right times you can see rangers and volunteers in period costume demonstrating various aspects of life from this time period. You will find much more detail about this museum in the following tips (coming soon).

    Mountain Farm Museum Mountain Farm Museum Mountain Farm Museum
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    Mingus Mill

    by Basaic Written Jan 6, 2012

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    Mingus Mill is located a very short distance down the road from the Oconaluftee Visitors Center (the North Carolina Entrance to the park). The mill is a Turbine Mill, and was built in 1886. The mill ground corn into meal and wheat into flour for over 50 years. The mill still operates during the summer as an historical exhibit. Sometimes there are rangers or volunteers in period costume in the mill.

    Mingus Mill Mingus Mill Mingus Mill Inside Inside
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    Views From the Observation Tower

    by Basaic Written Jan 6, 2012

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    I remember from previous visits that the views along the trail and from the observation tower are spectacular. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative on this visit. There are signs on the observation tower to tell you what you are seeing and the distances to the other mountains so you can tell how far you can see.

    View en route to Tower View East View South View West
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    Trail to Clingman's Dome

    by Basaic Written Jan 6, 2012

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    The trail to Clingman's Dome is paved but parts of it is very steep. The trail is 1/2 mile long but rises 330 feet in that distance. Combine that with the elevation and the trail should only be attempted if you are in pretty good condition. If you feel faint or short of breath stop and rest or slow down. The views along the way, depending on the weather/cloud cover is spectacular.

    Trail to Clingman's Dome
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    Clingman's Dome

    by Basaic Written Jan 6, 2012

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    At 6643 feet, Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the park. The mountain straddles the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. Clingman's Dome has long been a sacred area for the Cherokee. According to their folklore the Great Spirit told them that if they loved Him, their brothers and sister and the animals and plants of the mountain when they got old and sick they could find the Magic Lake here and be healed. Clingman's Dome also provided a place to hide from the US Cavalry during the infamous "Trail of Tears". Note that the informative signs are written in English and Cherokee.

    Clingman's Dome Interpretive Sign
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    New-found Gap

    by Basaic Written Jan 6, 2012

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    Crossing the Smoky Mountains has always been a challenge, even after the new road using "New-found Gap" was constructed. The communities that sprung up in the valleys had to be as self sufficient as possible. They could not run out to WALMART like we can today. There were very few people that lived in the higher areas like New-found Gap because the land would not support them. The area along US Highway 441 traverses a variety of elevations supporting over 100 types of trees, 1500 types of flowering plants, 58 types of fish, 200 bird species and a variety of mammals.

    New-found Gap New-found Gap
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