advertisement

Hiking -- With over 800 miles of hiking trails (www.allthesmokies.com/hiking_trails.html), the park offers visitors of all fitness levels a chance to experience the great outdoors firsthand. Before setting out, make sure to check the weather forecast for the duration of your trip, be it a few hours or a few days. If you find yourself caught in a thunderstorm, make sure to avoid all open areas to lessen your chance of being struck by lightning. Carry rain gear because sudden storms are normal for this area, and leave a copy of your itinerary at one of the ranger stations or visitor centers in case you become lost or injured.

Following are a few of the most popular trails that the park offers:

Indian Creek Falls Trail has an elevation gain of 100 feet and begins at Deep Creek Road near the Deep Creek Campground. The 1.5-mile flat trail leads to the 60-foot-high Indian Creek Falls. Physical level: moderate.

Laurel Falls Trail is the most popular waterfall trail in the park, with an elevation gain of 200 feet. You travel 1.25 miles to the falls from the Laurel Falls parking area, a few miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It's paved and relatively flat. Physical level: easy.

Abrams Falls Trail has an elevation gain of 340 feet. You travel 2.5 miles from the Abrams Falls parking lot at the west end of Cades Cove Loop Road to a 20-foot-high waterfall. The trail follows a clear stream and is relatively flat. Physical level: moderate.

Alum Cave Bluffs Trail is deceiving because it starts off easy and grows more difficult. The elevation gain is 2,800 feet, and the distance is 10 miles round-trip. The first 1.5 miles take you to Arch Rock, which contains a tunnel created by erosion. Then the trail becomes steeper and takes you to the 100-foot-high Alum Cave Bluffs. The last leg of the trail is quite steep, and many hikers find it necessary to use trailside cables to maneuver the cliffs. The journey ends at Mount LeConte, which offers one of the park's best views. Begin at Newfound Gap Road at the Alum Cave Bluffs parking lot, 9 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Physical level: moderate.

Charlies Bunion Trail is a 4-mile trek to a 1,000-foot-high cliff where the forest was destroyed by fire in 1925. Part of the Appalachian Trail, it offers an elevation gain of 980 feet and begins at the Newfound Gap Overlook parking lot. Physical level: strenuous.

Although the Boulevard Trail is the easiest and most popular trail to Mount LeConte, the 16-mile round-trip categorizes it as strenuous for a lot of people. The elevation gain is 1,545 feet. You must travel the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to reach this trail. Physical level: strenuous.

Ramsay Cascades Trail has a total elevation gain of 2,375 feet and is 8 miles long round-trip. This trail also leads to Ramsay Cascades, a 100-foot-high waterfall, the park's highest. From Greenbrier Cove, follow the signs to the trail head. Physical level: strenuous.

The Appalachian Trail is the most famous trail, stretching from Maine to Georgia, and has 68 of its 2,100 miles situated in the park, following the Smokies ridgeline from east to west almost the entire length of the park. Access points are Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome, the end of Tenn. 32 just north of the Big Creek Campground, and the Fontana Dam. The most popular section is from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion. Elevation gain is 980 feet. Physical level: strenuous.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.