Apr 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm #1289223
I'm looking to go on a 2 night/3 day trip in the Smoky Mountains in early June. This will be my girlfriend's first backpacking trip so I'm trying not to make it too difficult (20-30 miles) while still capturing the best scenery/trails. We will be driving from Indianapolis so would prefer a loop, but am open to other suggestions if there is a shuttle to get us back to our car. Any suggestions would be appreciated as I usually go out west and haven't been to the Smokies before.
Thanks!Apr 26, 2012 at 6:38 pm #1871703
Richard RiniBPL Member
My wife and I have done several 2/3 day trips in the smokies. Is there an are of the park that you are planning on visiting? Most of the loop routes I have planned are between 18 and 25 miles so fits mileage criteria.
If you are going to be I the Cade's cove area I have a pretty nice loop (I believe about 22mi) that will have you on a bald 4800ft on night two which will give you expanse views. It does require a river crossing which at that time of the year should not be so bad. It starts at Abrams falls tr to Hannah Mountain tr (river crossing from Abrams) to campsite 14at 2000ft. Next day continue on Hannah MTN Trl to campsite 13 ( this is a reserve site) at 4700ft. You will be on Gregory Bald trial. On day three you will proceed to Gregory Ridge Trl then to Forge Creek road and back to your car.
I can provide more specifics and some other loops in other areas of the park of you are interested. I have also used a shuttle service that has been very reliable.
Just PM me and i'll provide you more information if you are interested.
Ric.Apr 26, 2012 at 7:56 pm #1871738
It's been about 3 years since I've been there, but I've always had much better luck starting from Big Creek trailhead (way up in the northeast corner of the park). Much fewer people, and you can basically piece together a loop of your choosing, or work a shuttle to Cosby trailhead. Because of the light traffic, much more likely to get a spot at a campsite.
Some stretches of significant elevation, but if you're conservative on mileage, there are usually campsites on either end of the "bad" stretches.Apr 27, 2012 at 6:27 am #1871804
Hey, Erick. I'm over in Terre Haute.
GSMNP was my first major trip 3 years ago. They are long but you may find my videos of the loops I did useful.
GSMNP Trail Map. The shelters and campsites in red require reservations, which can be made up to a month in advance.
As for suggestions, does your GF have any hiking experience? What kind of scenery does she enjoy? Does she enjoy history? I did buy a copy of the "brown bible" trail guide, which has lots of good info.Apr 27, 2012 at 7:13 am #1871821
I prefer to start out of Big Creek or Cosby. The traffic going through Gatlinburg or Cades Cove can really be bad, especially Fri-Sun.
Out of Big Creek, you can go up the AT (do not skip Mt. Cammerer). You can then loop back through either Big Creek or Mt Sterling(if you want more mileage). I think Gunter Falls is worth seeing. You should know that there is a warning of trail closure on Gunter Fork trail because of landslides, but we were able to cross the landslide easily.
From Cosby, you can go to Hen Wallow Falls and on the Albright Grove, which is virgin forest of massive poplars. You can go up to a bald from there and down Snake Den. If you are feeling a bit more ambitious, there is a longer route that briely hits the AT. I have done this loop a couple times and it is definitely spouse-friendly.
If you want to do some higher ground, you can do a nice loop from Clingman's Dome into the NC side. I forget the trail name, but it will be pretty obvious on the map.
Hope this is usefulApr 27, 2012 at 8:05 am #1871829
Thanks for the responses everyone; this should definitely give me a good starting point. As for my GF's background, she has limited hiking experience but has done several day hikes in the Colorado Rockies of 5-10 miles. She is in excellent shape but just doesn't have too much outdoors experience; not much of a history person though. Sounds like the east side of the park is a good starting point if we want to avoid the crowds.
Any other advice would be greatly appreciated!Apr 27, 2012 at 10:54 am #1871878
My only other advice would be to get your GF a thick cushy sleeping pad…if you want her to go with you again.Apr 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm #1871900
That is actually great advice; a little extra weight to carry is definitely worth it so she has a good time.Apr 27, 2012 at 2:39 pm #1871947
A BIG second to what Ben said about avoiding Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge. Looking at the map, if you're coming from Indy, stay on I-40 until you get to the exit closest to Big Creek. (If I remember right, it'll be the first one after you cross into N.C. Maybe someone else can confirm this?)
You might end up driving a little more in mileage than if you drove through Knoxville/Sevierville, but at least you won't be stuck in traffic for 3-5 hours.
If your GF really wants to see Gatlinburg, do it at the end of your trip. Sunday afternoon traffic is noticeably less than Friday evening.May 17, 2012 at 5:25 am #1878530
+1 to avoiding PF/Gat. Should be Exit 451 off I-40.
If you wanted to see the western side, go in via Maryville and 321. Cades Cove loop road is typically busy so I wouldn't go there.
Have a good time. I might take my 5 year old there for a couple nights this summer so I might try a similar loop.May 17, 2012 at 5:54 am #1878537
Thanks for the advice guys; I'm all for avoiding 4 hours of traffic. I called earlier this week and booked two campsites on a loop starting at Big Creek including Mt. Sterling. Should be great times!May 17, 2012 at 7:09 am #1878563
Your loop may go through Gunter Fork trail. Its a nice trail but closed when I went through in March. You might want to call ahead and see if its open if you plan on going, especially if its wet. The trail is closed due to a landslide that is passable if dry but might be dicey if wet. Its a nicer trail than Swallow Fork, I think.
Mt. Sterling is pretty nice. Make sure you climb the rickety tower for some great views.
You should not miss Mt Cammerer if your plans allow. Its an old stone and timber tower built on a rock outcropping by the CCC. Its just off the AT. It may be the prettiest high ridge viewpoint in the park.May 17, 2012 at 8:41 am #1878593
Thanks Ben; I think we're going to take the Swallow Fork Trail. Since this is the GF's first backpacking trip I wanted to keep the mileage lower so I could be positive she would enjoy the trip. We will definitely take time to check out Mt. Cammerer though. Any idea if there are a lot of bears in that area? My dad made the mistake of telling my girlfriend that he got charged by a bear in the Smokies back in the '70s so she's a little worried. I have bear spray that I bought for a trip out to Glacier National Park later this summer so I'm not too worried but I was just curious.
Thanks again guys you have all been a huge help.May 17, 2012 at 9:00 am #1878601
The 5-6 or so I ran across all took off as soon as they saw/heard me. Standard common sense applies of course.May 17, 2012 at 9:19 am #1878607
alan yorkBPL Member
@alanyork9Locale: PIEDMONT N.C.
Great area! Gunther Fork is still closed.Mount Sterling Ridge is almost flat as is Balsam Mt. trail.Good views.Never done Swallow Fork but I'm sure it is a steep climb.Big Creek trail is pretty,flat, and a nice change from all the ridge walks.May 17, 2012 at 10:01 am #1878621
In the upcoming weeks a few of my friends, and I will be heading down to GSMNP to start ahike from the cosby campground. It was recommended to me by "Stick" over at sticksblog.com. The fist days are short we are staying friday night at CS 37, the next next at Aurel Gap and the final night at Tricorner Knob. I realize that you said you wanted 2 nights, nad this is 3, but if you put in a longer day either of the first two days im sure this could work. The only reason we are doing it over 3 nights is because two of our group members haven't been backpacking before.
Nick CMay 17, 2012 at 10:16 am #1878628
There are bears in the area. Big Creek campground is known to have bears. You are most likely to see them there than anywhere else. You can see them other places too. There are hanging cables at Mt. Sterling and Walnut Bottom (I assume that is your other camp site) as well. Most people will tell you bear spray is not needed. Every bear I have seen in the area has run away from me quickly.May 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm #1878679
The NPS is very good about shutting down sites for a while that have had excessive bear visits. 28 had been closed just before my trip that year so I went to 26 instead. Currently 113 is closed for that reason and 61 has an advisory.
AFAIK every site has cables or poles to hand your food though I'd read a rumor they were going to remove those. That would seem pretty stupid so I assume it's not true.
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