Appalachian Trail not just built for thru-hikers

The entirety of the AT in Great Smoky Mountains National Park goes from Fontana Dam in the south to Davenport Gap in the northeast. While it’s just a small section of the full Georgia-to-Maine trail, the part of the trail in the Smokies is 71 miles long. It usually takes about a week to complete. Backpackers need to get reservations and permits from the park service in order to camp along the Appalachian Trail in designated shelters and campgrounds.

But, for people with busier schedules, there are many ways to break the trail up into out-and-back day hikes, out-and-back overnights, or 3- to 4-day stays. Two day hikes on the Great Smoky Mountains AT are from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion (8 miles round-trip) and Clingmans Dome to Newfound Gap (7.5 miles one way).

One of the best-known and most easily accessible spots on the AT in the Smokies is Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies and on the AT. Visitors can reach it by car. “Be sure to bring a good jacket, even in summer,” says the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website with regard to Clingmans Dome.

“To climb for hours beneath the cool dark forest and emerge at last onto the liberating space of a sunny bald under a dome of blue sky is an experience not to be missed,” wrote author Bill Bryson.

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