Newfound Gap runs almost exactly through the center of the Park and offers gorgeous views at little pull-offs all along the way! If you don’t have much time or energy, but are eager to experience some great views of the Park, this may be the path for you!
Alum Cave Bluffs
The Alum Cave Bluffs are 100 feet high, and have been in the past, the source of alum, a compound sulfate used in munitions manufacturing, in medicines, and in setting cloth dyes. They were also supposedly a source of saltpeter for Civil War gunpowder. The Alum Cave Bluffs Trail begins at Newfound Gap Rd between the Newfound Gap and Chimney Tops overlooks, and is a popular destination for day hikers. The trail is pretty strenuous at the end. It is 2.5 miles to the Bluffs, and 5 miles to Mount Le Conte.
A bald is an open, unforested area on a mountain ridge. Naturalists can’s explain for sure how they happen, but it could be due to overgrazing or repeated fires set by humans. Andrews Bald is the easiest bald to reach in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is located 1.8 miles south of Clingman’s Dome, by hiking trail. It has beautiful view, and the open fields, containing mainly grass and flowering shrubs, make it a nice picnic spot!
This is one of my husband’s personal favorites! He loves the views and it is the perfect day hike for him. He does it in a morning usually. In 1925, a forest fire swept through this section of the Park and exposed the ridge now know as Charlies Bunion, opening up sweeping views of Mount LeConte and Greenbrier. This trail is 4 miles one way.
Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
These roads include historical sites such as homesteads, cabins and a cemetery from a village that was home to about 24 families about 150 years ago! This is often hailed as a mini-Cades Cove, closer to Gatlinburg, a smaller loop, and usually less crowded, but still great for viewing wildlife and historic buildings! The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed in the winter.
In addition to the actual Chimney Tops Trail, the Chimney Tops picnic area, nearby, is in my opinion a destination of its own. It spreads along a beautiful mountain creek with tons of rocks to play on, and plenty of shallow spots to wade in! There are, of course, numerous picnic tables at which you can enjoy a meal. I have spent the whole day there before, reading, playing in the creek, and just generally relaxing and enjoying the lovely atmosphere! If you are interested in a little more action, continue down the road to the Chimney Tops Trail, and hike up to the Chimneys themselves on a strenuous four-mile round trip trail. This amazing rock formation is sheer pinnacles, looking somewhat like a couple of chimneys sticking up into the air. They said that when that blue mist rolls through the mountains, some of it goes in a cavity at the bottom of the formation and then rises out the open tops, looking very much like a smoking chimney!
Clingman’s Dome is one of the most popular sites in the Smokies, and with good reason! It is the highest peak in the Smokies, at 6,643 feet, and though the top is covered with spruce and fir trees, there is an observation platform from which you can see a spectacular 360 degree view! The path to the observation platform is steep, but only a half-mile. Even the most out-of-shape person can make it! Just take frequent rests and bring plenty of water and a snack!
If you are interested in historical buildings, this is a great place to stop! One of two water-powered mills still in operation in the Park, from mid-April through October, a miller grinds corn and wheat to make cornmeal and flour. This attraction is wheelchair accessible.
Mount LeConte is considered one of the most beautiful mountain peaks to look at, and one of the most difficult to climb. It is a badge of honor to have climbed LeConte. I have a few friends who climb it at least a few times a year. My husband likes to go up there, and he usually ends up running most of the way down due to the steep grade! This is the third-highest peak in the Smokies, at 6,593 feet. Near the top, is LeConte Lodge, where some opt to stay the night and rest, and others stop for either a cool drink or a cup of hot cocoa or coffee, depending on the season. You will need to make reservations well in advance if you plan to stay at the Lodge overnight. There are no roads up to the Lodge, and all supplies are delivered by llama train! There are 5 different hiking trails on LeConte: Boulevard Trail via the Appalachian Trail starting at Newfound Gap. 16 miles round-trip; Alum Cave Trail at the Alum Cave parking lot on Newfound Gap Rd, 11 miles round-trip; Rainbow Falls Trail or Trillium Gap, each 13.4 miles round-trip; or Bull Head, 14.4 miles round-trip from Cherokee Orchard.
Mountain Farm Museum
Oconaluftee was settled around 1800, and is now home to Mountain Farm Museum, just a short walk from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The Museum replicates a 19th-century farm, including a house, barn, corncrib, sorghum molasses mill and blacksmith shop. From the spring through October, there are costumed interpretive demonstrations.