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Choosing A Hike In The National Park

Posted by Leif Palmer in Hiking

Hiking inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is probably one of the most popular outdoor activities among the park's nearly 10 million annual guests. And it's one of the easiest things to do, considering that there are more than 800 miles of maintained trails within the park's borders, covering portions of both Tennessee and North Carolina.

So if hiking is on your agenda next time you visit the Smokies, the real challenge is deciding exactly which of those trails you want to take on. One good way to start is to ask yourself some questions, including what you want most out of the experience. For example, is hiking to a waterfall one of your priorities? That's one of the most common destinations among visitors, but even at that, you still have nearly a dozen trails to choose from, including Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, Grotto Falls, Laurel Falls, Rainbow Falls and Ramsey Cascades.

Waterfall in the Smokies

Some hikers don't need that glamorous of a destination and are content to immerse themselves in old-growth forests, while others definitely seek out hikes that will allow them to take in spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Along those lines, places like Chimney Tops, Rocky Top and Charlies Bunion never disappoint with their wide-open panoramic vistas.

Of course, distance needs to be factored into your decision as well. You might just be interested in a short nature stroll or a hike that's no more than two miles round-trip. On the other hand, perhaps you're a little more adventurous and up for taking on a round-trip trek to the top of Mt. LeConte and back. Such a journey will usually be 11 miles or so altogether, but you'll still have to decide which trail to take, because five different trails will get you to the top. It all depends on how steep, how long and how scenic a route you're interested in.

If you have younger children going with you, you might consider taking on something more suited to their needs. Laurel Falls is a fairly short hike on a paved trail that pays off with a cool waterfall at the end. And there's plenty of parking near the trailhead. Other kid-friendly hikes include the Kephart Prong Trail and the Porters Creek Trail.

If you go to the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the national park, they have a bookstore that offers any number of resources devoted exclusively to hiking trails. Or you could order such a book online before visiting the Smokies and take a little more time to make your trail selections. Whichever way you go, there's plenty of information in print and online at www.nps.gov/grsm to help you get ready to hit the trail.

If you're staying a Gatlinburg cabin, we can also offer you a few recommendations about hikes that are fairly close to our Smoky Mountain cabins. Be sure to ask us when you make your reservation or even after you check in.

Leif Palmer - Smokies blogger

About Leif Palmer

Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.


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