Twentymile Loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Located in the far southern region of the Smokies, near Fontana Village and the Little Tennessee River, Twentymile is an area of the national park that is a little less traveled. Primarily used by backpackers as a means of accessing remote park highlights like Gregory Bald or Shuckstack Fire Tower on the Appalachian Trail, Twentymile can also be enjoyed by day hikers or...

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Cataloochee Divide Trail from Cove Creek Gap to Purchase Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

M eanderthals has hiked the middle section of the Cataloochee Divide Trail several times, so we thought we should check out the northern end of the Divide. And I’m delighted we did. The forest is beautiful. Starting at Cove Creek Gap, high above Cataloochee Valley, the Divide trail follows the ridge for 4.5 miles past occasional views of the Smokies and Blue Ridge...

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McKee Branch, Caldwell Fork, Hemphill Bald, Cataloochee Divide Loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Two of my favorite places on the North Carolina side of the Smokies are the Cataloochee Divide, high on the crest, and Cataloochee Valley far below. This four-trail loop enables you to explore the beautiful forest that lies between the two. Start at Purchase Knob, then take McKee Branch Trail down, and more down, to Caldwell Fork Trail which parallels the Divide and the...

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Hangin’ with the Elk at Cataloochee – A Photo Essay

Late September is an exciting time in Cataloochee Valley as the elk herd begins their annual mating dance ritual known as the rut. Cows, calves and yearlings live in loose herds or groups throughout most of the year, and are seen wandering the vast meadows of the valley all spring and summer. The bulls, however, live in bachelor groups or alone. It is rare to happen upon...

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A Day on the Cataloochee Divide – A Photo Essay

Two of my favorite places in the eastern section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are Purchase Knob and Hemphill Bald. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I volunteer every 10 days or so at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center on Purchase Knob. And Hemphill Bald simply has one of the most outstanding views in the eastern Smokies, overlooking Cataloochee...

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Road Prong Trail to Chimney Tops, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Chimney Tops is one of the more popular destinations in the Smokies because of its central location, rugged beauty, and challenging access. And challenging it is. While short in distance, the trails that lead to the summit of Chimney Tops are steep and strenuous. Accessible from two trails, one below that climbs from Hwy 441 to the top, and one above that drops down from...

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Clingmans Dome Area Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the state of Tennessee, and along the Appalachian Trail. Standing 6,643 feet, it is also the third highest peak in the East, only 41 feet lower than the tallest. Several hiking trails surround the summit of Clingmans Dome, including the Forney Ridge Trail that heads south to the picturesque...

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Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You know how some hikes can be kinda boring, then have a big reward like an outstanding overlook at the end? Or perhaps others will wind through a stunning forest only to peter out? Well, this hike located in the Greenbrier section of the Smokies has neither problem. The Porters Creek Trail is an exciting adventure from start to finish. I would describe it as a play with...

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Oconaluftee River Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are only two trails in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can ride your bike or walk your dog. The Oconaluftee River Trail near Cherokee, NC is one of them. Starting at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, this easy 3-mile round trip is a stroll along the river, and through history. You pass by the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of 19th century...

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Big Creek Trail to Mouse Creek Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Exactly what the name implies, Big Creek in the Smokies is larger than some rivers in the area. Add in a 70° day after a couple snow events and Big Creek will really roar. When Big Creek roars, that brings out the kayakers, so there was even more of a show than just the scenery. Big Creek Trail is an old logging road that follows the creek westward beneath the...

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False Gap Prong Manway to Grandfather Tree, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with old growth forest, and with lots and lots of creeks draining into the valley from the high mountains of the Smokies above. The path of one of those creeks, False Gap Prong, takes it from near Laurel Top to Greenbrier Cove. A non-supported trail — otherwise known as a manway — follows...

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Maddron Bald Trail to Albright Grove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Take a hike on the Maddron Bald Trail from the Cosby area of the Smokies, and you will be thrust into a different age and time. With a restored 19th century cabin and old family cemetery along the way, and mature forest as your destination, you might imagine yourself walking the trail in the days more than a century ago when settlers built their homesteads here. The...

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Big Fork Ridge, Caldwell Fork, & Rough Fork Loop at Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Start your morning with the elk rut in Cataloochee Valley. Then gear up for this enchanting deep forest hike that includes mountain creek crossings, giant old growth tulip poplar and hemlock, occasional views of the Smoky Mountains surrounding the valley, and a stroll down memory lane at historic settler homesteads. Enjoy this 10-mile loop in three segments, on three...

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Deep Creek Waterfalls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Deep Creek area in the Smokies, just north of Bryson City, NC, is a water wonderland. Creeks and branches descend through every nook down the surrounding mountains. The documentarian Ken Burns describes Deep Creek as one of his favorite places to visit in the national park. Three picturesque waterfalls are in close proximity to the campground, and hiking trails...

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Bradley Fork and Smokemont Loop Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Water. Forest. Mountains. History. For me, that is what Great Smoky Mountains National Park is all about. On the Smokemont Loop hike you will get all of them. For the first couple miles, stroll along one of those beautiful mountain streams the Smokies are known for, then prepare your legs and lungs for a tough climb 1,350 feet through the forest to the top of the ridge....

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Snake Den Ridge Trail and Appalachian Trail to Inadu Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cosby area in the Smokies offers quite a few long and rugged hikes from valley floor to mountain tops, including this leg-wrecker from the Cosby Campground to the Appalachian Trail on the Snake Den Ridge Trail. Even up top there are multiple potential destinations. We chose Inadu Knob and the old search & rescue helicopter pad at Deep Creek Gap for the views...

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Boogerman Loop Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Robert “Booger” Palmer may have a silly nickname, but there’s one thing we can always appreciate him for. He never would allow loggers onto his 220 acre homestead in Cataloochee Valley. As a result, still today there is old growth forest that includes poplar trees with trunks six feet in diameter. The massive hemlocks have unfortunately succumbed to the...

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Little Cataloochee Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Little Cataloochee developed as an expansion to Cataloochee Valley with many of the sons and daughters of the original founders spreading their wings, albeit just a few miles away. Travel these days is limited to hiking boots and horseback, but a sense of time and place is still available through the historic restorations made by the National Park Service. Little...

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Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Smaller than Cades Cove on the western end of the national park, but similar in many respects, Cataloochee was named “Gadalutsi” by the Cherokee for the row upon row of mountain peaks that surround this picturesque valley. Just as Cades Cove, Cataloochee is home to many old historic structures restored by the National Park Service, as well as a wealth of...

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Kephart Prong Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Kephart Prong is one of the many water drainages that give the Smokies its character and provide refreshing nourishment for all the flora and fauna. Named for Horace Kephart, an author who was very instrumental in helping the Great Smoky Mountains achieve national park status, this scenic mountain stream is especially inviting during the spring greening season....

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Cataloochee Divide Trail to Hemphill Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cataloochee Divide Trail follows the eastern national park boundary for 6.4 miles from Cove Creek Gap to a junction with Hemphill Bald Trail. It is then another half-mile climb to the 5,520′ summit of Hemphill Bald. We shaved 4+ miles off the round trip by starting at Purchase Knob rather than Cove Creek Gap. You will pass fabulous views to the east and south...

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Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Purchase Knob is found on the far eastern flank of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Cataloochee Divide, north of Maggie Valley, NC. Near the summit and located at 4,850 feet, the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center is part of a network of what will be 32 centers supporting research and education about science in our national parks. The Purchase Knob...

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Forney Creek Cascade and Andrews Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Most people who head out Clingmans Dome Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are there to climb the half mile to the summit of the 2nd highest mountain in the East. But here at Meanderthals, we aren’t most people. Below Clingmans Dome are trails that explore the ridges and drainage on the south face. Included among those are Forney Creek Cascade, a classic...

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Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Appalachian Trail straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina state line in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for more than 70 miles. A particularly scenic day hike on the AT is the four mile stretch from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion, a remote and rugged outcropping that sits on the ridge between the states. Along this sharp ridge you will pass magnificent views of...

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Mt. Sterling Trail and Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Crowning the Mount Sterling Ridge, 5842 foot Mount Sterling is another of the tall peaks that give the Great Smoky Mountains their character. Located in the far eastern area of the national park in North Carolina, the 7-mile Mount Sterling Ridge rims the scenic Cataloochee Valley to the southeast. There are trails to the summit of Mount Sterling from every direction, but...

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Ramsey Cascades, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A spectacular waterfall isn’t the only highlight of the Ramsey Cascades Trail in the Greenbrier area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail to the cascade gains more than 2,000 feet as it follows rushing rivers and streams filled with moss-covered boulders for its four-mile length. The last couple miles pass through old-growth hardwood forest with giant...

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Low Gap and Appalachian Trails to Mt. Cammerer, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You don’t have to climb to 6000 feet to get spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains. In fact, Mt. Cammerer has some of the best views in the national park, yet doesn’t even reach 5000 feet. You can see Snowbird Mountain and the Pigeon River Gorge to the east, and Mt. Sterling south, and the full expanse of the national park to the west. Mt. Cammerer was...

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Chestnut Branch and Big Creek Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sitting right along the Tennessee/North Carolina border in the far northeast corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an enjoyable section of forest and creek side trails that navigate the Big Creek area of the park. The Appalachian Trail goes through the area, as does the Benton MacKaye Trail, named for the planner of the AT. There are mountains in the region as...

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Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the enduring pleasures in the Tennessee portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is scaling the 6,593 feet of beauty that is Mt. LeConte. It isn’t quite the highest mountain in the park, but it is by far the tallest hike from its base. The summit is so popular, there are five distinct trails to the top, varying in distance and difficulty. My...

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