“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” -Mary Davis
With July and warm summer weather here, I hope all of you will find ways to get out into the healing wonder of nature. After many of us have been cooped up for so long with the corona virus going on and quarantines in many places, I think our inner being literally hungers to get outside again—to take a walk, look up at green trees and into the blue sky, stick our toes into a cool mountain stream or lake, and see some of the beauty of nature again. There is something healing to our souls, uplifting to our minds, and definitely good for our physical well being in getting outside in the natural world. The smile on my face in this photo at right, which appeared on the back of my first published book, shows how happy and peaceful taking a walk in nature always makes me feel. I never fail to come back happier and more refreshed, less stressed or worried than when I left.
To encourage everyone to get outdoors more, I thought I’d talk about some of the special state parks and hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that we especially like. All are discussed in detail in our two area guidebooks, Discovering Tennessee State Parks and The Afternoon Hiker. If you have not picked up your own copies yet, you’ll find them filled with details about walks and hikes you can take in the Smoky Mountains or Tennessee’s parks, along with directions to each, discussions of things to do and see, and hundreds of color photos. With social distancing still important, do your research and find places to visit for your walks and hikes that are in less populated areas, rather than joining the “madding” crowds where so many congregate. To be more careful and safe, take a picnic to enjoy before or after your walk versus seeking out a crowded restaurant, and always take home, or safely dispose of, your trash when you leave. Remember the motto: “Leave no trace.”
For my first hike discussion … If you’ve read my latest novel HAPPY VALLEY, you may remember Juliette and Walker hiking trails around the Abrams Creek Campground in the Smoky Mountains, not far from their homes in the Happy Valley. This is a quieter part of the mountains where you can take a walk or hike and avoid big crowds. A favorite trail of ours that begins directly behind the Abrams Creek Campground is the Cooper Road Trail. It’s an easy, wide roadbed trail suitable for most anyone, and you can walk as far as you’d like—even all the way to the trail’s end in Cades Cove! You’ll find picnic tables and a nice restroom in the campground, and there are several other fine trails here you might enjoy walking, too, like the Rabbit Creek Trail, Cane Creek or Beard Cane trails and the Little Bottoms Trail that climbs over Hatcher Mountain and down to Abrams Falls by a back route. But the Cooper Road Trail is the easiest and it’s always a beautiful walk.
If you don’t know the Smoky Mountains well and are staying near downtown Gatlinburg, you will find a wonderful little trail winding right out at the end of town, nor far from Nantahala called The Gatlinburg Trail. You may remember it from my book LOST INHERITANCE as Cooper and Emily often walked their dogs, Brinkley and Mercedes, there—and this is one of the rare Smoky Mountain trails that welcomes dogs. The trail winds along the stream and over a low ridge, passing the rocky remains of old homesteads. It’s a great short trail, good for all ages. There are free parking spaces near the trail entrance, and if these are full there is a reasonable pay lot by the winery. Nearby you will also find other trails, not packed with tourist traffic, like the Sugarlands Trail. There are also several wonderful walking trails off the Roaring Fork Nature Trail like the Twin Creeks Trail that Delia and Tanner hiked in my novel DELIA’S PLACE or the walk to Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail.
In the summer season, I’d advise avoiding the more popular trails—where you will find heavy tourism, crowded parking lots and facilities, and many more people on the trails than you might like. Although these trails are beautiful, you might want to avoid: Laurel Falls, the Chimneys, Alum Cave Bluff, the start of the AT at Newfound Gap, the paved hike to Clingman’s Dome, and anything on the Cades Cove Loop.
Instead, choose trails in less “touristy” areas, which are equally picturesque. On the Townsend-Cades Cove side of the mountains, try one of the trails off the Tremont Road like the West Prong or Lumber Ridge trails, the trail to Spruce Flat Falls out of the Tremont Center, or the Middle Prong Trail at the end of the Tremont Road. The latter is one of our favorites, a broad trail following the stream past waterfalls and cascades. If you want to see a bit of Cades Cove without getting into the heavy traffic there, park right before the road begins and hike the Rich Mountain Loop Trail to the John Oliver cabin. This will give you a chance to see a lovely part of the cove and a historic home without getting into the crowds. You might remember Jenna and Boyce hiking this trail in my book TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW.
Another less crowded area of the Smokies where we just hiked last week is in the Cosby area of the Smokies. From Gatlinburg follow Hwy 321 east to the right turn leading into the Cosby Campground. Along the road you’ll pass the trailhead for Gabes Mountain Trail leading to Hen Wallow Falls. Rhea, Carter, and Carter’s son Taylor hiked to this falls in my book SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS. On our last visit to Cosby, J.L. and I hiked parts of two trails not far from the picnic and campground area—the Low Gap Trail and the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail. The latter is a lengthy trail, eventually connecting to the AT, but you can hike as far as you feel led through the woods, along and across the streams. Low Gap is a steeper trail, but it parallels the creek for much of its journey with many pretty cascades. Not far away from Cosby is a lovely stretch of the Foothills Parkway, too, which you can drive a portion of for some stunning mountain views.
A final area in the Smokies where you can walk and picnic and enjoy a quiet day is in Greenbrier. This area is also off Hwy 321, passed along the route to Cosby. Turn down the Greenbrier Road to find wonderful pull-offs along the Little Pigeon River and many fine trails you’ll enjoy. One hike you’ll discover is the Old Settlers Trail, that Alice and Harrison rode their horses along in my book FOR SIX GOOD REASONS. The Grapeyard Ridge Trail also winds off the Greenbrier Road to reach Injun Creek Campsite in 3.2 miles. Two of our favorites trails in this area are the Ramsay Cascades and the Porters Creek trails. The Ramsay Cascades is a challenging trail, walking to a stunning waterfall and back. You might remember taking that hike with Mallory and Lucas in my book THE INTERLUDE. You’ll find the Porters Creek Trail at the very end of the Greenbrier Road. The parking lot at this beautiful trail is sometimes busy, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom, but once you head up the trail, things grow quieter. We love the diversity of this pretty trail. Much of the pathway hikes along the stream with many scenic spots along the way. After a mile up the trail, a side path leads over to a preserved mountain cabin, cantilever barn, and springhouse. You can sit on the porch of the old cabin to eat your lunch and imagine what it might have been like to live there deep in the mountains. Remnants of rock walls and a little cemetery can be found along the route and further up the way is Fern Falls, which trickles down the hillsides for about forty feet. In the spring sweeps of phacelia cover the upper trail and on the lower trail are many glorious wildflowers.
Even though it’s summer, it is often cooler along the Smoky Mountain trails, which wander under deep shade trees and along cool rushing mountain streams. Wear comfortable clothes, good athletic shoes or hiking boots, carry water with you—and perhaps spritz yourself with bug spray—and I guarantee you’ll leave your worries behind while walking one of the mountain’s quiet and memorable trails.
[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]