- Places to Explore
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- Fodor's Choice
Elkmont Nature Trail. This 1-mi loop is good for families, especially if you're camping at Elkmont. Pick up a self-guided brochure (50¢) at the start of the trail. Near Elkmont campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738.
Gatlinburg Trail. This is one of only two trails in the park (the other one is Oconaluftee River Trail on the North Carolina side) where dogs and bicycles are permitted. Dogs must be on leashes. The trail, which starts at Sugarlands Visitor Center, follows the Little Pigeon River. The first 0.3 mi of the 1.9-mi trail (one-way) is through the park headquarters and on a service road. Trailhead at Sugarlands Visitor Center, Off US Hwy. 441, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738.
Laurel Falls. Mostly paved, this trail is failry easy. It takes you past a series of cascades to a 60-foot waterfall and a stand of old-growth forest. The trail is extremely popular in summer and on weekends almost anytime (trolleys from Gatlingburg stop here), so don't expect solitude. The 1.3-mi paved trail to the falls is wheelchair accessible. Wooden posts mark every one-tenth of a mile, and the total round-trip hike is 2.6 mi. Trailhead is on the west side of Little River Rd. between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont campground, about 3.9 mi west of Sugarlands., Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738.
Little River. This 5.1-mi loop (if Cucumber Gap and Jakes Creek trails are included) offers a little of everything—historical buildings, fly-fishing, a waterfall, and wildflowers. The first part of the trail wanders past remnants of old logging operations and dilapidated cottages that were once the summer homes of wealthy Tennesseans (currently closed to the public). Huskey Branch Falls appears at about 2 mi. The Little River Trail passes the junction with three other trails, offering the possibility for even longer hikes—Cucumber Gap at 2.3 mi, Huskey Gap at 2.7 mi, and Goshen Prong Trail at 3.7 mi. The trail is normally open even in winter. At any point you can try your hand at fly-fishing for trout in the Little River, one of the best trout streams in the park. Parking at the trailhead has been improved and expanded. This is the habitat of the synchronous fireflies, which put on their light show on June evenings. Trailhead is near Elkmont campground. Turn left just before entrance to campground and go 0.6 mi to a fork in the road. The trail is a continuation of the left fork., Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738.
Noah "Bud" Ogle Nature Trail. Settlers Noah "Bud" Ogle and his wife, Cindy, built a cabin and started farming here in 1879. Although this is more of a nature walk than a hike, it offers a lot in a 0.75-mi loop. You'll see the Ogle Tub Mill on LeConte Creek, lots of wildflowers, and the Ogle cabin and barn, which you can explore. It's a fine trail for families with kids. Cherokee Orchard Rd., just before entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738.
Sugarlands Valley Trail. The easiest trail in the park, it's only 0.25-mi one-way, virtually level, and paved, so it's suitable for young children, strollers, and wheelchairs. A brochure available at the start (50¢) explains the numbered exhibits and features of the trail. Trailhead is 0.3 mi south of Sugarlands Visitor Center, U.S. Hwy. 441 (Newfound Gap Rd.), Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738.
Abrams Falls. This 5-mi round-trip trail is one of the most popular in the Smokies, in part due to the trailhead location near stop #10 on the loop road in Cades Cove, which gets more than 2 million visitors a year. Beginning at the wooden bridge over Abrams Creek, the trail first goes along a pleasant course through rhododendron. It becomes somewhat steep at a couple of points, especially near Arbutus Ridge. The path then leads above Abrams Falls and down to Wilson Creek. Though only about 20 feet high, the falls are beautiful, with a good volume of water and a broad pool below. Cades Cove Loop Rd., park in the large parking lot on an unpaved side road between signposts 10 and 11, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37882.
Appalachian Trail at Newfound Gap. For those who want to say they hiked part of the AT (www.nps.gov/appa), which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012, this section is a great place to start; it's easy to get to and not too steep. Park in the Newfound Gap parking lot and cross the road to the trail. From Newfound Gap to Indian Gap the trail goes 1.7 mi through spruce-fir high-elevation forest, and in late spring and summer there are quite a few wildflowers. The total round-trip distance is 3.4 mi. U.S. Hwy. 441 (Newfound Gap Rd.), park at Newfound Gap parking lot, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC.
Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls. Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in the park that you can walk behind. The Trillium Gap Trail, off of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which leads to Grotto Falls, is primarily through a hemlock forest (many of the hemlocks have been killed by the hemlock woolly adelgid). Only 1.3 mi long, with an easy slope, this trail is suitable for novice hikers and is one of the most popular in the park. The total round-trip distance to Grotto Falls is 2.6 mi. Trillium Gap Trail continues on to LeConte Lodge, a total one-way distance of about 8 mi. It is a horse trail, and llamas resupplying the lodge also use it. The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed in winter. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Tr., Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738. Take Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to stop # 5 on the auto tour, then look for trailhead for Trillium Gap Trail.
Chimney Tops. Pant, wheeze, and gasp. This is a steep trail that will take a lot out of you, but it gives back a lot, too. The payoff for the difficult climb is one of the best views in the Smokies, from the top of Chimney Tops. In places the trail has loose rock, and the elevation gain is 1,350 feet. This trail is not recommended for small children. The total distance round-trip is 4 mi. The trail had severe storm damage and was closed for much of summer 2012, but has been rehabilitated. Trailhead is about halfway between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Newfound Gap, 6.7 mi south of Sugarlands, U.S. Hwy. 441 (Newfound Gap Rd.), Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, 37738.
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