Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 50 Must-Do Hikes for Everyone

Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 50 Must-Do Hikes for Everyone

by Johnny Molloy

Paperback(Second Edition)

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Hike, backpack, bring the kids—there’s a trail for you.

With its secluded mountain waterways, awe-inspiring views from grassy balds, diverse plant and animal life, and impressive stands of old-growth forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an overwhelming number of outdoor adventures. Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park describes both the park’s classic destinations and lesser-known jewels in 50 must-do hikes. The trails range from an easy family stroll to a 7-mile trek through spruce forest atop a peaceful ridge to a panoramic 22-mile overnighter. Each entry in the book includes clear and concise directions, a detailed route map and elevation profile, “don’t get lost” milestones, and expert trail commentary.

Johnny Molloy, who has spent more than 800 nights backpacking in the Smokies, has updated this classic guide. The revised edition includes the new backcountry reservation system implemented in the park, as well as some excellent new hikes. Johnny—who considers the Smokies his home stomping ground—makes sure that all the necessary information to help you execute a hike (from directions to maps) is correct. So this guide helps you leave the roads to explore the heart of the park. Whether you’re looking for a scenic stroll to stretch your legs, a full-day adventure, or a rewarding backpacking trip, you’ll find it here.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780899978765
Publisher: Wilderness Press
Publication date: 05/30/2017
Series: Top Trails
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 486,949
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Johnny Molloy is an outdoors writer who averages more than 100 nights in the wild per year, backpacking throughout the U.S. He has written more than 30 outdoors guidebooks and articles for magazines and websites. He lives in Johnson City, TN.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Abrams Creek and Cades Cove Area
Trail 1: Pine Mountain Loop
Trail Use: Day Hiking, Backpacking, Horses
Length: 8.1 miles, 4-5½ hours
Vertical Feet: ±1000
Difficulty: Level 2-3
Trail Type: Loop
Features: Summit, Ridgeline, Stream, Autumn Colors, Wildflowers, Great Views, Backcountry Camping, Swimming
Facilities (Seasonal): Campground, Restrooms, Water

From the lowest trailhead in the park, follow lovely Abrams Creek on a watery hike past numerous shoals and huge pools, eventually fording the big stream. A low ridge offers views of Look Rock. Wander through oak woods to Scott Gap, and then reach a high point on the shoulder of Pine Mountain. Finally, descend to Abrams Creek, this time spanning it by bridge.

Best Time

This hike requires making what is the biggest ford in the park: across lower Abrams Creek. With that in mind, midsummer through late fall offers the lowest water for fording. Outside that, winter offers great solitude, and the low elevations make this hike doable when the high country is frigid. In May, the mountain laurel blooms in the Abrams Creek watershed can be spectacular.

Finding the Trail

From the intersection of US 411/TN 33 and US 129/ TN 115 in Maryville, Tennessee, take US 129/Alcoa Highway south for 7 miles. At the four-way intersection, bear right to continue south on US 129. In 3.6 miles, bear left at the T to keep south on US 129, and continue 7.1 miles to Chilhowee Lake. Just past the intersection with the Foothills Parkway, turn left (north) on Happy Valley Road, following it 5.9 miles to Abrams Creek Road. Turn right on Abrams Creek Road and drive 0.7 mile, passing the ranger station. The parking area is on the right just after the ranger station. The Cooper Road Trail starts at the rear of Abrams Creek Campground.

Park your car in the designated area near the ranger station. Do not park in the campground, which is gated during the cold season.

Trail Description

This hike would be rated less difficult if it weren’t for the ford of Abrams Creek, widely regarded as the most troublesome in the park. But don’t let the ford discourage you from taking this scenic loop hike. A drive-up campground and three backcountry campsites along the route make trailside overnighting easy. First you’ll leave Abrams Creek Ranger Station, tracing a gravel park road to Abrams Creek Campground. Join Cooper Road Trail, rambling along Abrams Creek to meet small Kingfisher Creek. Surmount a ridge with views to enter the rugged Abrams Creek gorge, passing Little Bottoms campsite #17.

Wander through a past burn on an open rocky mountainside before reaching that potentially troublesome ford. Beyond here, it’s uphill through quiet pine–oak woods to make Scott Gap. Join an old jeep road to skirt the western shoulder of Pine Mountain. Descend via switchbacks on the thickly wooded north side of Pine Mountain to reach Abrams Creek yet again, this time near old homesites. A footlog avails a safe ending to the hike.

Leave the parking area, [1] walking the gravel road upstream along Abrams Creek. Reach quaint 16-site Abrams Creek Campground at 0.4 mile. Pass around a pole gate, joining Cooper Road Trail [2] as it traverses a streamside flat over which tower tall white pines. Beech, maple, and holly are scattered in the understory. Surmount a small bluff, then come to Kingfisher Branch at 0.9 mile. The trail and stream become one for a short distance, then divide.

Reach a trail junction at 1.3 miles. [3] Cooper Road backcountry campsite #1 is just a short ways farther on Cooper Road Trail, but this hike turns right on Little Bottoms Trail, crossing Kingfisher Branch a final time. Pass the cool waters of small Herndon Spring, located at the base of a dead hemlock, just before climbing a ridge. The 200-foot ascent leads through scrubby woodlands, recovering from fire. Look left for northwesterly views of Chilhowee Mountain and the tower at Look Rock.

Descend from a gap in the ridge. The rumbles of Abrams Creek return. The slender singletrack path winds along the gorge slope, finding Abrams Creek at 2.0 miles. Here, Buck Shank Branch—one of the Smokies’ all-time great names—flows into Abrams Creek. Now you hike directly along the rock-strewn waterway, bordered by alder. Mountain laurel flanks the path.

At 2.5 miles, step over Mill Branch (a common Smokies name) and enter Little Bottoms, a now-wooded flat, once a settlers’ home and farm. The hiking is easy here. Pass the official spur trail to Little Bottoms backcountry campsite #17, at 2.9 miles. [4]

The scenery changes as the gorge closes and the path rises to a steep slope, scarred by past fires and storms. Open onto a rocky, treeless incline with Abrams Creek crashing below. Westerly views of Chilhowee Mountain open here, too. The slender path meets Hatcher Mountain Trail at 3.6 miles. [5] Stay right and downhill, now on Hatcher Mountain Trail, to reach another trail junction in a streamside rhododendron thicket at 3.8 miles. [6] Stay right with the Hannah Mountain Trail, immediately fording Abrams Creek. Use your trekking poles or grab a stick to aid your crossing of the irregular depths. Avoid the ultraslippery flat rock slabs. In late summer or fall, the crossing will be a minor nuisance, but in winter or early spring use good judgment as to whether or not to ford.

Climb from Abrams Creek, turning up a dark rhododendron hollow. Other greenery includes galax, white pine, and holly. At 4.4 miles, split a gap. Cruise piney south-facing slopes on a nearly level, needle-carpeted track. Reach clear Scott Gap Branch at 5.1 miles. Make Scott Gap and a five-way trail junction at 5.4 miles. [7] Backcountry campsite #16 is down the least-used path and has a small spring.

Our loop turns right on the wide, rocky double-track Rabbit Creek Trail, heading away from Rabbit Creek and up the shoulder of Pine Mountain, where views of the ridges and hollows of the lower Abrams Creek valley open. Dogwood, sourwood, sassafras, and pine provide colorful fall displays.

Reach the loop’s high point, 2,050 feet, at 6.0 miles. [8] The ensuing descent off the mountain’s north slope is mostly gentle. Here is where a tornado back in 2011 downed an amazing number of trees. The forest is now regenerating on its own schedule. Make hard switchbacks at 6.4 and 6.8 miles, as the wide wooded trail winds downhill. Another switchback at 7.5 miles opens a view of Abrams Creek. Soon you reach the stream bottoms, passing a pair of homesites.

At 7.8 miles, bridge Abrams Creek on an ingenious footlog. [9] The side you are on is set on a concrete footing designed to let the footlog slide off in flood. The other side is chained to a big boulder, allowing it to turn downstream in high water yet not float away. After floods, the unchained side of the log is restored. Turn upstream beyond the crossing. Soon reach Abrams Creek Ranger Station, completing your hike at 8.1 miles. [10]

1. 0.0 Abrams Creek parking area
2. 0.4 Cooper Road Trail at Abrams Creek Campground
3. 1.3 Little Bottoms Trails
4. 2.9 Campsite #17 spur
5. 3.6 Hatcher Mountain Trail
6. 3.8 Hannah Mountain Trail and Abrams Creek ford
7. 5.4 Scott Gap
8. 6.0 Pine Mountain high point
9. 7.8 Abrams Creek
10. 8.1 Abrams Creek parking area

Table of Contents

The Top Trails Series
Overview Map
Trail Features Table
Map Legend
Using Top Trails

Organization of Top Trails
Choosing a Trail
Introduction to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
On the Trail

Chapter 1: Abrams Creek and Cades Cove Area

1. Pine Mountain Loop
2. Abrams Falls via Abrams Creek Ranger Station
3. Cane Creek Hike
4. Abrams Falls via Cades Cove
5. Gregory Bald via Gregory Ridge
6. John Oliver Cabin via Rich Mountain Loop Trail
7. Spence Field and Russell Field Loop
8. Rocky Top via Lead Cove

Chapter 2: Tremont and Elkmont Area
9. Lynn Camp Prong Cascades
10. Buckhorn Gap via Meigs Creek
11. Walker Sisters Place via Little Greenbrier Trail
12. Cucumber Gap Loop
13. Laurel Falls
14. The Chimney Tops
15. Silers Bald via Clingmans Dome

Chapter 3: Mount Le Conte, Greenbrier, and Cosby Area
16. Charlies Bunion
17. Alum Cave Bluffs
18. Rainbow Falls
19. Baskins Falls
20. Brushy Mountain via Grotto Falls
21. Injun Creek from Greenbrier
22. Ramsey Cascades
23. Albright Grove
24. Maddron Bald Loop
25. Mount Cammerer via Low Gap

Chapter 4: Twentymile and Fontana Lake Area
26. Twentymile Loop
27. Gregory Bald Loop
28. Shuckstack from Twentymile Ranger Station
29. Lost Cove Loop
30. Fontana Lake Hike
31. Ruins of Proctor

Chapter 5: Deep, Forney, and Noland Creeks Area
32. Goldmine Loop
33. Indian Creek and Sunkota Ridge Loop
34. Falls Loop of Deep Creek
35. Newton Bald Loop
36. Fork Ridge Loop
37. Forney Creek Loop
38. Andrews Bald

Chapter 6: Smokemont, Cataloochee, and Big Creek Area
39. Smokemont Loop
40. Cabin Flats Loop
41. Kephart Prong Shelter
42. Flat Creek Falls and Vista
43. Hemphill Bald Hike
44. Big Fork Ridge Loop
45. Pretty Hollow Gap Loop
46. Boogerman Loop
47. Little Cataloochee Church
48. Mount Sterling via Mount Sterling Gap
49. Low Gap Loop
50. Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls

Appendix 1: Local Resources
Appendix 2: Useful Sources
About the Author
Series Creator

Customer Reviews