Great Smoky Mountains National Park begins a phased reopening tomorrow. In celebration of this reopening, we wanted to share some of our favorite “Trails Less Traveled.” Some of these you will be able to reach easily tomorrow; some might require a more dedicated overnight trip. But hopefully this week’s “Staff Picks” inspires you to search out some of the hidden gems of Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
And remember, please always hike responsibly and safely and follow Leave No Trace principles. For more information about hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to download a trail map, visit the Park’s official website.
Ramsey Cascades and Porters Creek
Betty Dillon, Sales/Administrative Associate
My favorite (a little less traveled) trail is Ramsey Cascades or Porters Creek, or really anything in the Greenbrier area. However, since that area of the park is still closed, my suggestion is any of the Quiet Walkways located throughout the park. I’ve done several and have never met up with anyone else on the trails. They are nice and peaceful and you never know just what you’ll run across–wildlife or lady slippers.
Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field Programs and Collegiate Studies
Roundtop Trail because I hardly ever cross paths with other people. Besides, the wildflower display is still popping in the month of May, at least on the western end. That’s the section accessible only if you ford Little River, which is the main contributing factor as to why so few people hike this trail.
Foothills Parkway and Look Rock Tower
John DiDiego, Education Director
I live in Maryville, so one of my quick access areas of the park is actually the Foothills Parkway. Within minutes of my house, I can be up at a higher elevation to catch that magnificent sunset or sunrise at any time of the year. There are so many overlooks on both sides of the ridge, many of which have footpaths to get out of the parking area and immerse in the sounds and smells of the forest. The birding is great and the views spectacular.
Then of course, there’s the Look Rock Tower—a short walk even for those with more limited mobility (my 90 year old mom can still do it!!). Lots of cool rocks to climb around, under, and through for kids.
Goshen Prong Trail
Caleb Carlton, Development Manager
My favorite less-traveled trail in the park is Goshen Prong Trail. It’s one of those trails that you cannot drive to a trailhead at either end, which deters most day hikers. Goshen Prong Trail is a difficult hike, with a total elevation change of over 4,400 feet. But you are likely to have the entire trail just about to yourself, you won’t hear any vehicle noise, and there are some incredibly beautiful places along the trail to enjoy the cascading Goshen Prong, including a couple of nice waterfalls. Backcountry campsite 23 is on this trail, and it’s one of my favorite places to backpack camp in the park. Mid-to-late summer wildflowers are abundant and diverse. Fall colors along Goshen Prong are spectacular in mid-October. Enjoy!
Bote Mountain Trail
Emily Stein, Youth Programs Coordinator
My favorite trail less traveled is Bote Mountain Trail! Honestly, I hated it the first time I hiked it. It’s a pretty intense climb in some places and the trail is rocky, plus there are false tops around (seemingly) every corner. But my favorite place in the world, Spence Field, is a jaunt away from the end, so I found myself repeating sections of Bote Mountain when I visited. And you know what? That trail is pretty awesome. There are rhododendron tunnels, amazing views, big swaths of moss…and the tough hike makes the view at the top even sweeter!
Maddron Bald to Albright Loop
Lauren Anderson, Lead Teacher Naturalist
Maddron Bald to Albright Loop: I love this trail because in the first couple of miles you stumble upon an old cabin, stone walls, and other remnants of home sites. And then, 2.9 miles up you reach Albright Grove Loop, an old growth cove hardwood forest. This is a gorgeous stretch of trail with giant, impressive trees. Go give one a hug. After you’ve gone around the loop, you can head back down the trail or continue on for an extra challenge and hike up to Maddron Bald. Campsite 29 is along the way, so you could even turn it into an overnight backpacking trip!
Hemphill Bald Trail
David Reedy, Community Development Specialist
My recommendation is for the Hemphill Bald trail in North Carolina. When I last hiked this trail I rarely passed anyone. The trailhead is a bit more out of the way than many of the more popular trails; however, it is well worth the drive. Hemphill Bald itself offers stunning views of North Carolina out over farm fields. This makes Hemphill Bald feel a bit different than some of the more popular balds like Andrews and Gregory. In addition, the trailhead starts at high elevation and so the hike out to Hemphill Bald meanders along a ridgeline which I imagine would be covered in beautiful flowers this time of year. If you go a bit further as well you can even make it to Purchase Knob which is one of my absolute favorite places in the entire park.
Cove Hardwood Nature Trail
Luke Schutzman, Teacher Naturalist
This trailhead is located near the entrance to the Chimney Tops Picnic Area. Easily accessible for most hikers this quiet trail takes you into a hall of giants where one can start to get a sense of what the old growth forest may have looked like throughout the Park before the logging era. A Smoky Mountains Tree field guide and a pair of binoculars is nice to have with you on this hike as you try to identify some of the massive trees along this trail.
Photo by David Bryant