Hiking in the Smokies
We have hundreds of attractions in East Tennessee – from Sevier County and Knox County to Cocke County and Blount County, it would take years to see all there is to see and do here – but for all the many awesome things we have to do, nothing in the Smoky Mountains are more exhilarating to experience than Hiking in the Smoky Mountains themselves. It’s not news that the National Park and its sprawling area is the major reason people, and probably you yourself, have come here for almost a full century of tourism, but it might be news to you that the Smoky Mountains are THE most visited national park in the country with millions that visit and revisit each year just to see the wonders our forests, ridges and glens at their most untouched; practically the same as they have looked and operated since way before our European ancestors came here to settle.
And what is the best way to experience the Smokies at their very finest? With the dozens of hiking trails we have, of course! There’s so many places to walk, climb and gaze out at from a very high point of the mountain that some former visitors actually move here JUST so they can get all the hiking they want out of it. To make Sevier County your permanent residence is the closest you can get to getting your fill of the National Park, the waterfalls, the wildlife and special events we have for it and we recommend everyone who visits our area take some time to experience it before leaving.
In this article, we’d like to list out our best tips for those interested in going to any of the hiking trails we have here. This information will be highly valuable and virtually required reading before starting any hiking venture in the Smokies. Let’s begin:
- Purchase a Hiking Guide
At several welcome centers, hiking stores and even gift shops in town are a plethora of hiking books that are easily available. These books come with necessary hard information about the trails – such as length, difficulty, and even warnings about certain areas inexperienced hikers will have trouble with – but also fun information on sights, landmarks and historical anecdotes. Many come with maps of and to trails and many other pictoral references so you can get a visual on what to expect. Very much recommended.
- Visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center
From the Spur in Gatlinburg (as going to Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge), you can turn onto Newfound Gap road and drive for a little while until you reach a large complex up in the mountains. This is the National Park Headquarters for the Tennessee Smokies and, next to it, is the Sugarlands Visitor Center where folks can learn all about the Smokies with onsite maps, information, museum exhibits, learning tools, video and a giant bookstore among other worthwhile items. The Visitor Center also has its own famous hiking trail and another nature walking trail right there, making Sugarlands anything from a hiking pitstop to a full day’s worth of nature fun in the mountains. See more on Sugarlands at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm
- For Simplicity, Stick to Highway 441
On the subject of Newfound Gap (which is also known as Highway 441), those of you who are looking to have a bunch of trail options available in the most efficient way possible should plan to stick to this one road as it contains quite a few awesome trails that don’t require complicated directions once you get on. From just one-hour’s drive on this highway, you can find:
* Sugarlands Visitor Center
* Mingus Mill
* Bradely Fork Trail
* Clingman’s Dome
* Newfound Gap
* Collins Creek
* Chimney Tops Trail
* Oconaluftee Visitor Center (Cherokee, North Carolina)
And more along the trails once you get there! If you prefer to keep the driving simple, 441 is about as efficient as you can get for a good section of hiking activities.
- Take The Right Precautions
As much fun as the Smokies are to hike, those who are not fully prepared for hiking in Appalachia may run risks that can easily be avoided. These risks go from inconvenience and lack of comfort to possible dangers with regards to staying hydrated, having the right footwear for climbing miles of mountain trails that are slick from the climate, having light sources as the trails are often covered and can get dark quickly, and finally a first aid kit for the low but still real chance injuries could be incurred while on the trail. Have hiking boots or very sturdy shoes on your feet that are slip resistant, pack a light jacket in case the weather turns or the temperature change becomes uncomfortable, keep your bag organized with first aid kits, water, snacks and a guide at least. KEEP HYDRATED! We can’t emphasize that enough.
- Take Pictures, Leave Footprints
The Smoky Mountains are a delicate ecosystem that exist as it does thanks to the concerned efforts of visitors and committees. As freely available as the National Park is made for all, you are not to take, mark or molest anything; not the wildlife, not the plants, not the tiny little ants. If you see a bear, do NOT approach it and DO NOT FEED IT. Same with the other animals. Use the bathroom at designated restrooms and do not litter the trails. Consideration on your part means another group will thoroughly enjoy their hike. That is the cycle of life in our parts and we mean to keep it that way!