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The Top 10 Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park & How To Hike Them Safely

Family Hike in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a gem amongst American national parks. This southeastern mountain range is a subrange of the highly-glorified Appalachian mountains. The Great Smoky Mountains were famously home to the Cherokee tribe for centuries before European explorations began in the mid 1500’s. The first non-native newcomers settled in Cade’s Cove around 1818, and by 1838, most of the original Cherokee inhabitants of Great Smoky Mountains National Park were moved to Oklahoma along the “Trail of Tears”.

These mountains are not only filled with breathtaking beauties of nature’s inevitable timestamps: they contain proof of America’s developmental realities. Logging camps, early schoolhouses, and traces of The Civil War are only a few to name, and many more exist to enrich your average walk-in-the-woods experiences. Black bears, fireflies, wildflowers, forests, wetlands, marshes, swamps, and caves are all a part of a classic experience in The Smokies. Before you grab your pack and head out, take a moment to scan a few safety recommendations for basic hiking in the Appalachian mountain terrain below.

Before You Hit the Trail

Before you hit the trails with your friends or family, prepare everyone to understand that they are responsible for their own safety and the unpredictability of outdoor adventuring. Check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park web page for current alerts in the mountain range: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm.

Familiarize yourself with the group you are adventuring with by:

  • Asking the group if they have allergies that could induce anaphylaxis, and if they own or carry an epi-pen
  • Asking the group if they have a history of: diabetes, strokes, heart issues, seizures, or mental health, and if they carry prescribed medications.
  • Asking the group if they have had any abnormal symptoms, like: headaches, nausea, or abnormal bowel movements before you leave.
  • Knowing the personalities you are venturing with: Are you venturing with leaders, beginners, complainers, etc. It’s important to know one another’s strengths in the backcountry for an enjoyable time and optimal cooperation.

NOLS- Recommended Patient Assessment for Backcountry Injuries

If you are hiking and come upon a potential backcountry patient, or someone in your group becomes seriously injured, it’s important to approach the harmed individual professionally, and with caution. The following method to approaching a patient in the backcountry was taken from the National Outdoor Leadership School’s book, Wilderness Outdoor Medicine.

Before you approach a potential backcountry patient, NOLS recommends that you recite the following rhyme:

  1. “I’m #1” Make sure there are no threats to your personal being before you approach an injured or unconscious patient.
  2. “What happened to you?”  Look for evidence of a cause of injury, like sprawled bikes, or other clues to what harmed the individual
  3. “None on Me” If the patient appears to be bleeding, put on gloves or find a way to remain uncontaminated in the backcountry
  4. “Any More?” Sometimes the patient who is conscious and complaining is not the most seriously injured. Check the scene for others who may be unconscious, or in need of serious help.
  5. “What’s the Vibe?” Is the situation very serious? Is it minor? What do you think?

Checking for Life-Threatening Injuries

According to NOLS, the most basic form of patient assessment includes assessing the patient for immediate potential life threats. To remember how to assess for potential life threats, familiarize yourself with the ABCDE section of NOLS’s patient assessment system:

NOLS offers courses in Wilderness Outdoor Medicine to prepare for accidents in the backcountry with the best possible evacuation methods. If you are interested in a NOLS course, simply search for the National Outdoor Leadership School online

Smoky Mountain Hike

The Top 10 Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

  1. Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

This is roughly an 11-mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 3,008 feet. Hike this trail anywhere between March-November. This hike won’t be a cakewalk, but it will definitely get your heart pumping. AllTrails.com rates Alum Cave to Mount LeConte as difficult, but it’s also #1 on the most popular hikes in the area. If you’re feeling ambitious, give it a try. You can always hike part of the way and turn back when your legs have had it. It also features a beautiful waterfall.

 

  1. Chimney Tops Trail

Chimney Tops Trail is roughly a 3.5-mile out-and-back hike with 1,289 feet of elevation gain. Hike this trail anywhere between March-November. It may be short, but it will pack a leg-pumpin’ punch! Ranked as #2 on the AllTrails hiking list for the area, Chimney Tops is certainly a muster-up to must-do hike. You’re sure to see others on the trail.

 

  1. Rainbow Falls Trail

As suggested by the name, Rainbow Falls Trail leads to hikers to a waterfall! Hike this trail anytime, year-round. It only takes a 5.5 mile-long investment out-and back, with a total of 1,653 feet of elevation gain. This trail is ranked by AllTrails.com as moderate, and highly trafficked.

 

  1. Grotto Falls Trail

This hike is 2.6 miles, with a 534 feet of elevation gain. Hike it anywhere between April-November. Alltrails.com ranks Grotto Falls Trail as moderate, and highly trafficked. Hike this trail to see a beautiful waterfall, and meet some locals and other national park visitors. This hike is proudly ranked as the fourth-best hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is sure to satisfy.

 

  1. Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail

Charlies Bunion via the Appalachian Trail is roughly an 8.5-mile long out-and-back hike with 1,981 feet of elevation gain. It is best hiked anywhere between March-November, and is most notably remembered by its expanse of wildflowers. This trail is ranked as moderate by AllTrails.com, and is also highly trafficked, so be prepared to run into others along the way.

 

  1. Laurel Falls Trail

Laurel Falls Trail is roughly a 2.5-mile long out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 396 feet. Visitors can enjoy this breezy hike at anytime during the year. This trail is popular for birding, and is ranked as easy by AllTrails.com. Many folks venture out onto this trail daily, so be prepared to run into other hikers along the way, and practice your leave-no-trace principles.

 

  1. Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls Trail is roughly 5 miles long, with an elevation gain of 629 feet. It’s an out-and-back trail that features a 25-foot tall waterfall, and can be hiked year-round. AllTrails.com ranks this hike as moderate and highly trafficked.

 

  1. Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail is a heavily trafficked 1.2-mile long trail with a total elevation gain of 331 feet. Hike this trail anywhere between April-November for a hike with mild elevation gain and beautiful wildflowers. This hike takes you to the highest point of the Great Smoky Mountain range: 6,684 feet. If you truly would like to be at the top of the mountain, this is the hike for you.

 

  1. Ramsey Cascades Trail

The Ramsey Cascades Trail is a stout 8-mile hike with a total elevation gain of 2,224 feet. This trail can be hiked year-round, and features fly-fishing and waterfalls. Most of the elevation is gained in the last few miles of the hike, so save your legs for the final grind to the finish!

 

  1. Deep Creek Loop Trail

The Deep Creek Loop Trail is a 5-mile loop-trail with an elevation gain of 895 feet. It is a moderately trafficked horse-trail that is accessible all year round. AllTrails.com ranks this hike as easy, and great for beginners or pleasant day-hiking. Hike in the springtime for the best wildflower views, and be sure to review basic hiking safety before setting out!

Always remember: when packing for a day-trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure to pack for a potentially-unexpected night-trip. Rain ponchos, a change of clothes, and wool-socks for overnight warmth go a long way in terms of being comfortable while staying in the wilderness for longer than you had planned.

 

The main web page for Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the National Outdoor Leadership School both provide excellent resources for staying safe in the back country, and if you run across a ranger, use some investigative skills and ask about any conditions you should be aware of before venturing out. If you venture out frequently, consider becoming a Wilderness Outdoor First Responder through NOLS, and help to keep yourself and others safe in your wilderness expeditions. Have fun, be safe, and happy hiking!

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