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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mountain Foliage
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The park is in Swain and Haywood Counties in North Carolina.  In Tennessee, the park is located in Sevier, Blount, and Cocke Counties.

The idea to create a national preserve in the area started in the late 19th century, either as a national park or national forest.  The push for a national park became successful in the 1920s by supporters in Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN.  A compromise was reached and the park was located in between the two cities.  In 1926, Congress passed a bill establishing the park, and fund-raising began to purchase the land.  The state legislatures of North Carolina and Tennessee appropriated funds, as well as individuals, private groups, and even school children.  The remaining money was donated by the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Fund.  Free admission to the park was a stipulation of the money, and to this day, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the only national parks with free admission.  The park was formally dedicated in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Contact Information:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Phone: (865) 436-1200

Directions:

As a large national park, there are numerous entrances each with its own directions.  The following are directions to specific areas within the park.

Big Creek Area:

From I-40 near the North Carolina/Tennessee state line, take exit 451 in Tennessee (Waterville Road).  Follow the road about two miles into the park.  The Ranger Station is located on the left and the campsites are further down the road.  The Big Creek Area is in Haywood County, North Carolina.

Cades Cove Area:

Cataloochee Area:

From I-40 in western North Carolina, take exit 20 on US-276 and turn right on Cove Creek Road within a quarter mile.  This is a fairly long road that is narrow, very windy, steep, and turns to gravel for a couple of miles.  The total distance on the road is only 11 miles, but plan for a good 30 minutes to make the drive, since its extremely slow.  And its a two-way road, so be careful for oncoming traffic.  After about ten miles, Cove Creek Road enters the park and a paved road to the left leads into Cataloochee Valley.  The Cataloochee Area is in Haywood County, North Carolina.

Cosby Area:

From I-40 in east Tennessee, take exit 447 towards Hartford Road.  Turn left on Hartford Road then the first right onto Trail Hallow Road.  Follow Trail Hallow Road for about 3 miles then turn right on TN-32 N.  In about 2 miles, turn left onto Cosby Park Road to enter the park.  Alternately from Gatlinburg, take US-321 N and turn right at the junction with TN-32.  After 1.2 miles, turn right onto Cosby Park Road.  The Cosby Area is in Cocke County, Tennessee.

Elkmont Area:

From Gatlinburg, go west on US-441 and turn onto Little River Road towards Cades Cove.  The entrance to the Elkmont Area is on the right after about 5 miles.  The Elkmont Area is in Sevier County, Tennessee.

Sugarlands Area:

Map:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Camping:

There are many campsites in the park for car camping, as well as backcountry campsites and shelters, mostly along the Appalachian Trail.

Big Creek Camping:

The Big Creek Area has a group campsite, individual campsites and a horse camp site.  The Big Creek and Baxter Creek Trails run through the camping area, and the Chestnut Branch Trail to the Appalachian Trail and Mount Cammerer starts at the Ranger Station.

Cataloochee Camping:

The Cataloochee Area has group and individual campsites.  The three group campsites are on the gravel road leading from Cataloochee to the Big Creek Area just past the Palmer House.  It is possible to rent all three group campsites, each of which can accommodate up to 25 people, for a very big group.  And since the campsite is away from other stuff, campers can expect reasonable privacy.  The group campgrounds do not have potable water, but there are vault bathrooms and a creek nearby to filter water.  The Boogerman Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in this area, but the main attraction in Cataloochee is the wildlife, especially the re-introduced elk.

Cosby Camping:

The campground in the Cosby Area includes individual sites and a group site.  Only about 25 of the individual sites are available for reservation, the rest being first-come first-served.  But with 165 sites in total, there is usually no issue getting a spot.  There are a couple trails that can be accessed from near the campground - the Low Gap Trail that leads to the Appalachian Trail, the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail, and the Gabes Mountain Trail that leads to Hen Wallow Falls. And just outside the campground is easy access to Cosby and Hartford, Tennessee.

Elkmont Camping:

The campground at Elkmont has both individual and group sites.  This campground actually has the largest number of campsites of any developed campgrounds in the park, 220.  The majority of sites may be reserved in advance, but are first-come first-served.  The campground is only for camping - there are no day-use facilities.  Little River runs through the campground and several trails are adjacent to the campground.

Hiking:

With more than 800 miles of trails in the park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place for hiking.  See the trails section below for information regarding specific trails.

Abrams Falls Trail:

Abrams Falls Trail starts at the Abrams Falls parking area off Cades Cove Loop Road and follows Abrams Creek downstream.  About 2.5 miles from the trailhead is Abrams Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in the park.

Foliage on Abrams Creek

Appalachian Trail:

The Appalachian Trail runs through Great Smoky Mountains National Park on its way from Georgia to Maine.

Big Creek Trail:

Boogerman Trail:

Length: (partial loop)
Difficulty: Moderate

The Boogerman Trail, perhaps the trail with the most unique name, forms a loop with the Caldwell Fork Trail.  The trail itself is about four miles long with the full loop being about seven miles long.  From the small parking area at the Caldwell Fork Trailhead, the Boogerman Trail starts about 0.8 miles down the Caldwell Fork Trail.  The trail initially goes up through a series of switchbacks and levels out on a ridge before heading back down and meeting back up with the Caldwell Fork Trail about 2.5 miles from the trailhead.  The Boogerman Trail takes in several groves of old-growth forest, including some very large tulip poplars that have been struck by lightning and have large cavities, big enough for at least two people to fit inside.

Caldwell Fork Trail:

Chestnut Branch Trail:

Length: 2.1 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate

Chestnut Branch Trail runs from the Big Creek Ranger Station up to the Appalachian Trail.  The trail follows the Chestnut Branch about half of the way up the trail, then turns to head up to the AT.

Chimney Tops Trail:

Length: 2.0 miles (one way)

Difficulty: Strenuous

Chimney Tops Trail leads from the parking area on Newfound Gap Road up to the Chimney Tops.  The trail immediately crosses West Prong of Little Pigeon River and then follows Road Prong upstream.  At 0.9 miles, there is an intersection with and the trail continues to the right, becoming extremely steep.  Shortly before reaching the end, the trail levels off as it follows a ridgeline to the Chimney Tops.  From here, you must climb up the steep rock face to the top for incredible views of the surrounding Smoky Mountains.  The picture below is of the view from Chimney Tops and the video below shows the hike, climb up to the top, and climb back down.

View from Chimney Tops

YouTube Video

Cove Mountain Trail:

Crooked Arm Ridge Trail:

Enloe Creek Trail:

Hyatt Ridge Trail:

Indian Grave Gap Trail:

Indian Grave Gap Trail

Laurel Falls Trail:

Laurel Falls trail is one of the only paved trails in the park.  The first 1.3 miles of the trail are paved from the parking area to Laurel Falls.

Foliage along Laurel Falls Trail

Mount Cammerer Trail:

Length: 0.6 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Easy

The Mount Cammerer Trail runs from the Appalachian Trail up to the summit and lookout tower on Mount Cammerer.

Mount Cammerer Lookout

Rainbow Falls Trail:

Length: 6.0 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Strenuous

The Rainbow Falls Trail runs from the parking area Cherokee Orchard Road (turn at light #8 off the parkway in Gatlinburg).  The trail runs about 2.5 miles from the trailhead along LeConte Creek up to Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot single-drop waterfall.  Along the way, there are several smaller falls on the creek that can be seen from the trail.  After the falls, the trail continues another 4 miles to Mount LeConte.

Falls along Rainbow Falls Trail

Ramsey Cascades Trail:

Length: 4.0 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Strenuous

The Ramsey Cascades Trail runs from the parking area at the furthest end of the Greenbrier area up to Ramsey Cascades.  The trail follows an old logging road for the first mile and a half with moderate elevation gain.  Then the trail becomes a more narrow foot trail and follows the Ramsey Prong of the Little Pigeon River as it makes its way up to the waterfall.  There are several foot bridges and a few easy stream crossings, but the elevation gain becomes more strenuous with the last section to the waterfall having steep rocks steps.  Total elevation gain for the trail is more than 2000 feet.  The trail also passes through old growth forests containing some of the largest trees in the park.

Old Growth Tree on Ramsey Cascades Trail

Trillium Gap Trail:

Waterfalls:

There are many waterfalls in the park.  The following is a list of the ones that I've visited along with a brief description and how to get there.

Abrams Falls:

Abrams Falls is a very nice 20-foot waterfall in the Cades Cove area of the Park in Blount County, Tennessee.  The hike to the falls is a moderate 5 mile round trip.  The trailhead is just off the Cades Cove Loop Road, about half-way through the loop, before the visitor center.  Follow the short gravel Abrams Falls Road to the parking at the end.  Since the loop is one way, if you reach the visitor center, you've gone too far and have to go through the entire loop again.  It would probably be easier to just park at the visitor center and hike back to the trailhead.  From the trailhead, hike 2.5 miles down Abrams Falls Trail following Abrams Creek downstream to the waterfall.  It's possible to walk around and view the falls from different angles.  Despite not being particularly high, the high water flow makes this an impressive waterfall, even during dry times.

Abrams Falls

Cataract Falls:

Cataract Fall is a small 15-foot waterfall in the Sugarlands area of the park, near Gatlinburg in Sevier County, Tennessee.  The hike to the falls is an easy quarter-mile round trip and suitable for all ages and hiking levels.  To visit the falls, drive to the park headquarters by the Sugarlands Visitor Center and hike about 0.1 miles down Cove Mountain Trail to the waterfall.

Cataract Falls

Enloe Creek Falls:

Enloe Creek Falls is a 25-foot waterfall on its namesake creek upstream from the confluence with Raven Fork in Swain County, NC.  From Cherokee, head north on US-441 towards the park, and just before the Blue Ridge Parkway, turn right on BIA-441 and then left on Big Cove Road.  Go about 9 miles and turn right on Straight Fork Road.  Drive 3.6 miles to a parking area on the right that is the trailhead for Hyatt Ridge Trail.  Hike Hyatt Ridge Trail for 1.9 miles to the intersection with Enloe Creek Trail and turn right.  In about a mile and a half, you'll cross a footbridge over Raven Fork just upstream of where Enloe Creek flows into it.  Stay on Enloe Creek Trail for about a quarter-mile past the bridge, then bushwhack into the woods to the left.  You'll hear the waterfall before you see it.

Grotto Falls:

Grotto Falls is a 25-foot waterfall in the Sugarlands area of the park, near Gatlinburg in Sevier County, Tennessee.  From Gatlinburg, turn at stoplight #8 to enter the park and get on the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  Park at stop #5 along the road and take the spur trail to Trillium Gap Trail.  Follow the trail about 1.5 miles to the waterfall.  Grotto Falls is named for a natural grotto in the rock wall that the water flows over and the trail actually runs behind the waterfall.  The Trillium Gap Trail is the one used to bring supplies up to the LeConte Lodge by llamas.  If you're lucky enough to visit at the right time, you can watch the llamas go behind waterfall.

Grotto Falls

Indian Creek Falls:

Indian Creek Falls is a 25-foot cascading waterfall in the Deep Creek area of the park.  From Bryson City, NC, follow Deep Creek Road into the park.  Go past the campground to parking lot at the end of the road.  Hike Deep Creek Trail, which is a continuation of the road for 0.7 miles, passing Tom Branch Falls on the right.  Turn right onto Indian Creek Trail and the waterfall will be almost immediately on the left.  Follow a short scramble path down to creek level for the best views of the waterfall.

Juney Whank Falls:

Juney Whank Falls is a 90-foot waterfall in two sections in the Deep Creek area of the park.  From Bryson City, NC, follow Deep Creek Road into the park.  Go past the campground to parking lot at the end of the road.  Juney Whank Trail starts at the end of the parking lot heading to the left.  Follow the short trail less than a half-mile to a footbridge across the waterfall in between the two sections.

Laurel Falls:

Laurel Falls is a beautiful 80-foot waterfall in the Sugarlands area of the park, near Gatlinburg in Sevier County, Tennessee. From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, go about 3.5 miles down Little River Road towards Cades Cove.  Parking areas are on both sides of the road.  Follow the paved Laurel Falls Trail for 1.3 miles to the waterfall.  The trail crosses the waterfall on a bridge in between the lower and upper sections.  The upper section is viewable from the trail (first picture below).  To see the lower section and the entire waterfall (second picture below), climb down the steep unofficial trail to the base of the lower section.  This trail is steep and rocky so use caution if you choose to climb down.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

Midnight Hole:

Midnight Hole is a small double waterfall over a boulder along Big Creek.  From the Big Creek camping area, follow Big Creek Trail 1.5 miles and Midnight Hole will be on the left.  Although it's not much of a waterfall, the area below the cascades makes for a popular swimming hole when the weather is warmer.  Mouse Creek Falls is about 0.5 miles further up the Big Creek Trail.

Mouse Creek Falls:

Mouse Creek Falls is just off Big Creek Trail, where Mouse Creek runs into Big Creek.  From the Big Creek camping area, follow Big Creek Trail 2 miles and Mouse Creek Falls is on the left, about a half mile past Midnight Hole.  The falls is about 45 feet.

Place of a Thousand Drips:

Place of a Thousand Drips is a roadside waterfall in the Sugarlands area of the park, near Gatlinburg in Sevier County, Tennessee.  From Gatlinburg, turn at stoplight #8 to enter the park and get on the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  Continue almost to the end, and park at stop #15 for a view of the waterfall.  During wetter conditions, I believe that this is a pretty impressive waterfall; unfortunately, I visited during dry times when there wasn't much water flowing down the cliff face.

Place of a Thousand Drips

Rainbow Falls:

Rainbow Falls is located along the Rainbow Falls Trail between the trailhead on Cherokee Orchard Road and Mount LeConte.  At 80 feet, Rainbow Falls is the largest single drop waterfall in the park.  Mist generated by the falling water can create a rainbow, hence the name, on a sunny afternoon.

Rainbow Falls

Ramsey Cascades:

Ramsey Cascades is located at the end of the Ramsey Cascades Trail, four miles from the trailhead.  This is the highest waterfall in the park at over 100 feet and one of the most beautiful.  Several deaths have occurred here, so use extreme caution when visiting.

Ramsey Cascades

The Sinks:

The Sinks is a roadside waterfall between Sugarlands and Cades Cove. It might be possible to see it from the car, but there's a small parking area with an overlook for a better view. The Sinks is located on Little River Road, about 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center. The parking lot is right before the bridge that goes over the waterfall. From the parking area, there is short paved trail that leads to a viewing platform for the falls. For the best views, though, climb down to the rocks just below the overlook where you can see the Sinks without tree branches and leaves in the way. In the summer, some people swim here. The park discourages swimming as several people have died here. If you choose to swim, do so at your own risk.

The Sinks

Tom Branch Falls:

Tom Branch Falls is a 60-foot waterfall in the Deep Creek area of the park.  From Bryson City, NC, follow Deep Creek Road into the park.  Go past the campground to parking lot at the end of the road.  Hike Deep Creek Trail, which is a continuation of the road.  In less than a quarter-mile, Tom Branch Falls will be visible on the right where Tom Branch flows into Deep Creek.

Wildlife:

Viewing wildlife in their natural habitats is one of greatest experiences of visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  However, wildlife can be very dangerous, so please abide by all park rules and regulations regarding keeping a safe distance, never feeding any wildlife, and proper storage of food.

Black Bears:

American black bears (Ursus americanus) are iconic of the park (i.e., Smokey the Bear).  If you are lucky enough to spot one, be sure to follow all regulations and maintain a safe distance.  Here's a picture of some cute bear cubs in Cades Cove (these pictures were taken with a telephoto lens from inside a car driving the loop road).

The mama bear was up in a tree watching her cubs.  Once they got their fill of acorns, they headed into the woods and the mother climbed down the tree and followed them.  Here's a video of her climbing down:

Blog Entries:

21-23Oct2016: Fall Foliage 2016 - Cosby

24-25Oct2015: Fall Foliage 2015 - Cades Cove

18-20Oct2013: 2013 Fall Foliage Camping Trip at Elkmont

External Links:

US National Park Service website: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

Reservations for camping: http://www.recreation.gov

Photos:


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