Hiking Adventures in the Smokies

hiking.jpgThe great thing about hiking is most anyone can do it and there’s always something special to see. Hiking in Gatlinburg in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding areas offers so many variations, each of which can become a highlight of your trip. In this blog we’ll discover hikes of different distances and degrees of difficulty. People of all ages and abilities can find a hike they’ll enjoy. Don’t forget your camera! Here are a few hiking preparation tips to get you started:

Bring water. Depending on how long you’ll be out, water is always great to have with you. Bring at least a quart for each person; more if you’ll be out several hours. Having too much is better than not having enough.

Wear suitable shoes. This may seem obvious but some people forget that some of the trails they’ll be walking won’t be suitable for lightweight shoes, which may be more appropriate for hanging around by the pool or inside. Flip flops and sandals aren’t the best choices for hiking.

Carry food if you’ll be out for several hours or all day. Bring along some food that’s easy to carry and easy to eat. The need for dishes and complicated packaging should be avoided. Opt for apples, sandwiches, nuts and energy bars. Read this article ’10 Ultralight Backpacking Foods’ for more ideas. It’ll really depend on how long you plan to be out; some foods like pouches of tuna are best if you plan a long hike; others like candy bars might be a good choice if you’ll be gone just a few hours.

Bear safety. This is really important as the Gatlinburg area (especially in the National Park) is home to hundreds of black bears. Many people love seeing the bears, which is great as long as you don’t interact with them. Viewing from a distance of several hundred yards should be safe, but avoiding bears is optimal. Keep all food tightly closed and pick up any wrappers or packaging that you bring along. (This is a good practice that also contributes to a Leave No Trace approach to hiking in the park.) Definitely read this bear safety information so you’ll know what to do should you encounter a bear. Your actions (following all park regulations) can actually help protect bears from losing their natural fear of humans, which can put them in danger.

Now that you are prepared, let’s take a look at several different hiking opportunities:

Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. This is an easy half mile (each way) trail that’s paved. It is perfect for people who wish to push kids in a stroller, or for people who would like a smooth, easy to navigate trail. There is abundant wildlife to view on this trail and you will enjoy seeing birds, deer and more creatures that live in the nearby woods and streams.

Visit this site for more information and directions: http://www.tennesseerivervalleygeotourism.org/content/sugarlands-visitor-center/ten2C37671FC4C00A413

Grotto Falls.  This is a real favorite as you can walk behind the falls. The trail is relatively easy, although not paved. It is around 3 miles round trip, which is a good distance for most people. The falls is such a beautiful place; people even enjoy it as the perfect backdrop for their wedding! Kids of all ages (3 and 4 on up) usually can make this hike without problems.

Here’s how to get to Grotto Falls:

Take the Trillium Gap Trail on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s website gives you specific directions and some hiking tips and highlights.

Tip #1: Once you hike in to the falls area, you might wish to change your shoes. It’s a good idea to bring some water shoes to change into if you want to walk around the rocks there as the rocks can get slippery.

Tip #2: Due to this hike’s popularity, the falls area can get crowded. You could try your hike early or later in the day to avoid mid-day crowds.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  If you are going to see Grotto Falls that is located on this trail, you may as well make a day of it and see the other awe-inspiring sights this trail has to offer. Roaring Fork offers the best of both worlds; you can drive through and then get out at various points to take in the amazing Smokies scenery.

You’ll traverse some of the most beautiful country in Gatlinburg on this six mile long (one way) loop road, highlighted by Roaring Fork mountain stream. Get close to old homesteads (like the Jim Ogle place, a classic later 19th century home and tubmill), Rainbow Falls, wildflowers, old growth forests, and lots of wildlife.

You may want to travel this trail at different times of day to experience sunsets, sunrises and dusk as you take in the gorgeous Smoky Mountain vistas.

Here are directions and more details from the National Park’s website: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/roaringfork.htm 

Charlies Bunion. This is a challenging hike that once you do it, you’ll want to come back every year to hike back up again. It’s an 8 mile round trip hike that can get somewhat difficult in spots (you’ll ascend 1600 ft. over the course of the hike to a total height of 5500 ft.).  There are steep drop offs so there is an element of risk as well.

Here’s how to get there:

Take the Newfound Gap Road to the Newfound Gap parking lot (located 13 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center). The trail starts at the end of the parking lot, near the restrooms.

If you’re looking for a good place to see wildlife, this hike offers multiple opportunities. Bear, deer, dozens of types of birds and a diverse selection of wildflowers can be seen on the way to the rock outcropping known as Charlies Bunion. The outcropping was named for Charles Connor, a guide who had a swollen foot. He stopped there to rest and his hiking companion named the site after him.

This is a hike where wearing good hiking shoes is important. It takes approximately four hours to complete the hike. When you get near the bunion outcropping you can take a left trail to go below it, or a right trail to go up to it.

Visitors report that to make this hike extra special you need to continue to the Jump Off, which is about another mile from Charlies Bunion. The astounding views will be your reward for the extra hike. Charlies Bunion is a fun hike any time of year, but lots of people like to hike it in the fall so they can enjoy the views of Gatlinburg’s amazing fall colors. You’ll find at the elevation of Charlies Bunion that it will feel fairly cool, even in summer. The skies on a clear day are crystal blue up there, making it one of the most popular hikes in Gatlinburg.

Cool fact: Did you know that Charlies Bunion is part of the Appalachian Trail? It’s true! Find out more about that by watching this really informative video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association. It shows you actual footage of a hike to Charlies Bunion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeH5NvUZmE4

Ready to go hiking?

This blog has outlined but a few of the hiking challenges you can enjoy when you visit Gatlinburg.

To get the most from your trip, you’ll need a comfortable and conveniently located base of operations from which to launch your hiking adventures. Diamond Mountain Rentals has cabins in all sizes and styles to make your vacation memorable. Reserve yours now.

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