The following is by a guest author:
When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the first things to hit you, apart from the incredible beauty, is how immense it is. Over 800 square miles, it’s home to over 17,000 species of flora and fauna. So what are the best ways to experience what the park has to offer?
With over 800 miles of trails, hiking is an excellent way to enjoy the forest and its wildlife. Deciding which trail is dependent on what you’d like to see: waterfalls, open views, deserted homes, ancient forest, etc. For those who wish to start gently, the Laurel Falls trail should only take about an hour, although it can get busy on the weekends. Apart from the falls, there are nice views of the hills and rock formations. If you’d like a more substantial hike, the Sugarland Mountain Trail will take a full day but the vast array of wildlife (including black bears) makes it a worthwhile trek. You may wish to check out these hiking safety tips.
While cycling does restrict where you can go in the park, the permitted paved routes offer an excellent way to experience the views and wildlife. The Cades Coop Loop Road is a relatively easy ride, and is closed to motor vehicles on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from May to September. The eleven mile, one-way lane skirts the bottoms of the forested mountains and is great for viewing wildlife and 19th century homesteads. If you’re training for the Tour de France, however, you may prefer to tackle the Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap route, which has an average grade of 5.2% over the thirteen miles. There are tunnels on this road, so make sure you’ve got a flashing strobe fitted to alert motorists of your presence. Helmets are an absolute must.
Unlike cycling, about 550 miles of the park’s hiking trails allow horses. The park has four concession riding stables, which offer guided rides (walking pace) varying in length from 45 minutes to several hours. You can climb mountain trails, cross rivers and view waterfalls, while enjoying the tranquillity of your surroundings and hopefully catching a glimpse of wildlife such as wild turkey, woodchucks, white-tailed deer and if you’re lucky, a bear or two. You may also ride your own horse in the park and camp at designated sites.
The Great Smoky Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in the world and are home to an incredible array of plants and animals, set in a backdrop of outstanding natural beauty. However you traverse the park, you will be utterly captivated.
Hiking in the Smokies