By Darryl Payne
Posted on January 12, 2016
Stunning vistas, abundant wildlife, and absolute tranquility make hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains an unforgettable experience. You can hike the Smokies year-round, with each season offering its own surprises, delights, and adventures. Whether you're looking for an easy, fun hike for the whole family or one that will challenge your skills and endurance, the Smokies have something for everyone.
Easy, Family-Friendly Hikes
You may be surprised to learn that some of the best hiking in the Smoky Mountains is easy and family-friendly. One of the most moderate trails, the Spruce-Fir Trail, isn't on any official map but is a clear trail that is maintained by the National Park Service. This flat trail only changes in elevation about 25 feet in less than half a mile. A beautiful but short hike takes you through fragrant evergreen spruce-fir forest, where you'll enjoy a diverse variety of trees, wildflowers, birds, and wildlife. You can pick up the trail at the parking area for the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail just past Clingman's Dome Road.
If you're hiking with kids, the Kephart Prong Trail is a wonderful walk through both nature and history. An old logging railway used to run through this area, and keen hikers can sometimes spot historical relics. Children love this two-mile hike because it crosses four log bridges, one over a creek, before ending at the trail shelter. Pack a picnic lunch and take the time to savor the solitude.
Porters Creek Trail is another popular, family-friendly hike within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trail is a quick drive from Gatlinburg and has restrooms on the way to the parking lot, so it's perfect for families with little ones. Porters Creek Trail is a flat two-mile round-trip walk through old hardwood forest. This is another trail where it pays to keep your eyes peeled; hikers often spot historical artifacts from an extinct 500-person European settlement circa 1700. While you're watching for wildlife, keep an eye out for the foundations of homesteads, old stone fences, and headstones.
A fun way to commemorate your hikes is with the park's Hike the Smokies program, which allows you to earn mileage stickers and pins when you keep track of the mileage for each trail you hike. You can pick up your family booklet at any of the park's visitor centers for just a dollar. When you've logged 10, 25, 40, or 50 miles, take your book back to the visitor center for your prize and to log your family into the record book.
Day Hikes in the Smokies
If you're eager to log miles and earn your pins, or just want a more challenging day hike, try the Alum Cave Trail. You'll cross log bridges, pastures, old-growth forest and the pass-through tunnel at Arch Rock, then climb Peregrine Peak and land at Inspiration Point. After this two-mile walk, catch your breath and continue to the summit of Mount Le Conte for majestic views from the cliffs. The trailhead is just a few miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
When thinking about your packing list for your Smoky Mountains hiking adventure, remember to be prepared for any weather, especially if your trail will take you to a high elevation. In most seasons, the best plan is to wear a thin base layer underneath a fleece jacket and carry a rain jacket, gloves and a hat in your backpack. Even if it's sunny and 90° when you start, weather can change quickly and temperatures fall at higher elevations. You'll also want sturdy footwear such as waterproof hiking shoes or boots, and extra socks.
What to Pack for Winter Hikes
If you are hiking in the winter, early spring or late fall, silk or thermal underwear will keep you warm. Make sure you have plenty of water and more high-energy food than you'll think you'll need. Also, stash a park map, compass, insect repellent, sunblock, and a whistle in case of emergency. If you're planning on hiking the backcountry, you'll need a reservation and a permit to stay overnight in the park. You'll also want to carry bear spray, a flashlight, and a first aid kit.
After a pleasantly tiring hike, there's nothing better than retreating to a cozy cabin to recharge and enjoy more mountain scenery. Luxurious cabin rentals abound in the Great Smoky Mountains, and Timber Tops Luxury Cabin Rentals is a great place to book your temporary dream home. Cabins range from quaint 1-bedroom to 15-bedroom chalets that can hold the whole extended family. Cabins are secluded and peaceful, but close to all of the attractions, restaurants, and park entrances. You'll also enjoy amenities such as game rooms, fire pits, rocking chairs on expansive front porches, sweeping mountain vistas, Jacuzzis and more. If you've resolved to spend more time in nature this year, get your hiking shoes on, and we'll see you on the trails.
About Darryl Payne
Darryl Payne is a native of East Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. He is a web developer with a passion for building great websites. As a local, he can offer a unique perspective on where to stay and things to do while on vacation in the Smokies. To read his latest recommendations, please click the Google+ follow button.