9 Hikes through The Big Smoky Mountains

Introducing an array of spectacular hiking routes through the Great Smoky Mountains. And there was us thinking Tennessee was all about whisky...
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Introducing an array of spectacular hiking routes through the Great Smoky Mountains. And there was us thinking Tennessee was all about whisky...

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The Smoky Mountain grotto. Better than Santa's..

Andrews Bald

Rating: Easy

From the Clingmans Dome parking lot, hike along the Forney Ridge Trail 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to see magnificent views. Sounds like a breeze? Well, not so fast - this is still a fairly rugged hike and without maintenance from the Park Service, Andrews Bald would soon be reclaimed by forest. The trail is littered with rain run-off, rocks and small boulders. But don’t let any of this deter you. Thanks to several acres of open grassy meadow (commonly referred to as balds in the Appalachians), spectacular views of the southern Smokies await you at the end of this hike. Andrews Bald is the perfect place to open up a blanket, relax, and enjoy a picnic.

Porters Creek Trail

Rating: Easy

The Porters Creek Trail just about has it all. Beginning out of Greenbrier, just east of Gatlinburg, stroll along a beautiful cascading stream, through a lush old-growth forest and remnants of the early settlers, to reach a secret waterfall. Hiking this trail in spring offers spectacular displays of wildflowers such as bloodroot, hepaticas, violets, white trilliums, fringed phacelia and rue anemone. After roughly two miles (3.2 km), Fern Branch Falls slides and tumbles nearly 50 feet (15 metres) off the ridge just off the side of the trail.

The Jump-off

Rating: Moderate

Head east from the Newfound Gap parking lot and after a long steep climb your effort will be rewarded with outstanding views on either side of the ridge. Swing onto the spur trail and head up to the Jump-Off for even better views. The Jump-Off sits atop a 1,000 foot (305 metres) cliff on the northeastern side of Mount Kephart with spectacular views of the central and eastern Smokies.

Alum Cave

Rating: Moderate

During the warmer months, water drips off ledges from the top of an 80 feet (20 metres) bluff. In the winter, these water droplets form into large icicles, up to 3 feet (one metre) in length. In order to enter and exit the bluff, hikers are sometimes forced to dodge these falling icicles. Needless to say, extreme caution is needed during such conditions. The views from the cave are beautiful however and worth the effort. Just before reaching the cave, look east, towards the Eye of the Needle where you’ll have a good chance of spotting peregrine falcons nesting.

Charlies Bunion

Rating: Moderate

A long steep climb from the Newfound Gap parking lot quickly leaves the crowds behind. Eventually you reach a long stretch of trail that traverses a ridge at around 6000 feet (1829 metres). At the highest point along this narrow ridge, with views on either side of the trail, you’ll feel like you’re walking along the spine of the Appalachians. Originally known as Fodderstack, Charlies Bunion is a precipitous rock out-cropping offering stunning views of the Tennessee side of the Smokies.

The commanding views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake and the eastern crest of the Smokies make this a year-round destination

Mount Cammerer

Rating: Strenuous

From the Low Gap Trailhead in Cosby, climb 2.5 miles (4.2 km) up the Low Gap Trail before hooking-up with the Appalachian Trail. Cross over a grassy ridge on the AT before turning onto the rugged spur trail that leads to the summit. Mount Cammere is on the edge of a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pigeon River Gorge. On a clear day, the views are simply awesome; some even say the best in the Park. For an even better vantage point, step up to the deck of the stone fire tower. This “western” style tower, which was fully restored in 1995, provides you with 360° views of smoky blue, mountains.

Gregory Bald

Rating: Strenuous

With stunning year-round views, Gregory Bald is most famous for the spectacular flame azaleas that bloom on the summit from mid to late June, drawing plant enthusiasts from all over the world. Experience a rainbow of colors from fire red, orange, salmon, yellow, white and pink. Even if you can’t make it in June, the commanding views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake and the eastern crest of the Smokies make this a year-round destination.

Mount LeConte

Rating: Strenuous

If ever there was a classic hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte is probably it. Unmatched in its combination of interesting geological features, history, high adventure and stunning views, to reach the summit, climb through Arch Rock, take your first breather at Inspiration Point, spot a peregrine falcon near the Eye of the Needle, marvel at the imposing Alum Cave, and hold-on tight to the cable hand rails as you pass over the rock ledges on the upper portions of the trail. From the summit, go to Cliff Top near the LeConte Lodge for amazing views of Clingmans Dome and the rolling mountains that lie towards the west.  Hikers can spend the night in one the rustic cabins which can accommodate about 50 guests a night (you'll need to make reservations first).

Rocky Top

Rating: Strenuous

Starting from the Anthony Creek trailhead in the Cades Cove Picnic area, you’ll huff and puff up the mountain for the first five miles (eight km) of this hike, but the hard work pays off once you reach Spence Field. If visibility is good the grassy meadows up here afford outstanding views of the North Carolina side of the Smokies. Hike the trail in late spring when Spence Field showcases the most spectacular display of white and pink mountain laurel you’ll see just about anywhere. But the views get even better after another stiff climb to Rocky Top. The first of three peaks on the summit of Thunderhead Mountain, the panoramic views from here could be the best in the Park. From good ole Rocky Top you can see Fontana Lake, Cades Cove, Townsend, Maryville, and beyond.

For more from GF Explorer head to the website atwww.glenfiddichexplorers.com, or to create and share your own lists visitwww.glenfiddich.com/explorers

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