Summer hikers are often drawn to water and the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Above 5000 feet, the summer temperatures are often 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in the lowlands. Here are some suggestions to get you out onto some of the Park’s shorter, easier trails:
1. The Oconaluftee River Trail starts near Oconaluftee Visitor Center, 2 miles north of Cherokee, NC on Newfound Gap Road (US 441). The two-mile (each way) trail follows the Oconaluftee River and features exhibits that highlight the history and culture of the Cherokee people. To reach the trailhead, walk behind the visitor center and head towards the Mountain Farm Museum. The Oconaluftee River Trail goes around the Museum on the right. You also have the option of walking though the Museum, as the trail can be picked-up at the far end of the Museum.
2. The Middle Prong Trail starts at the end of starts at the end of Tremont Road, which begins just west of the Townsend, TN “Y.” A walk on this old road will reward the hiker with flowers as well as waterfalls. In the first two miles you may see foamflower, toothwort, violets, wood sorrel, and trilliums.
3. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is accessible from Newfound Gap on Newfound Gap Road. From the parking area, cross the road and follow the famous trail for 1.7 miles to Indian Gap…now you can claim you’ve hike the Appalachian Trail…I won’t tell a soul. The AT straddles the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee for most of its length through the park. Visitors can enjoy a short stroll to stretch their legs or a multi-day backpacking excursion on the AT as it runs through the park. The AT actually runs approximately 2, 175 miles from Georgia to Maine. Andrew Thompson currently holds the time record for hiking the AT in 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes in 2005.
4. The Spruce-Fir Nature Trail starts off Clingman’s Dome Road (watch for the sign). This half-mile loop features an informative brochure keyed to numbered posts. The Spruce-Fir Trail isn’t on the official trail map, but is a maintained trail by the Park service. This is a short easy hike through a beautiful spruce-fir forest, as the name would imply. As you wind your way around the loop, you’ll notice several large quartz rocks on the ground, which, at first glance, look like blocks of leftover ice and snow.
5. The half-mile Trail to Clingman’s Dome starts at the end of Clingman’s Dome Road. This paved, but very steep trail leads to the highest point in the park.
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