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Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Graze blueberry patches, explore swimming holes, and tag the South's high points on this sultry hike.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

6,595-foot Mt. Leconte (Steven McBride)
6,595-foot Mt. Leconte (Steven McBride)
Rainbow Falls (Kirkendall-Spring)
Rainbow Falls (Kirkendall-Spring)
Forney Green (Kevin Adams)
Forney Green (Kevin Adams)

Exit Strategy

>> Clean up Arrow Creek Campground (865-430-7433;, on your way to Cosby on US 321, has $3 showers.

>> Pig out The Front Porch (423-487-2875), on US 321 in Cosby, serves Mexican cuisine with a backwoods Appalachian twist–Cokes come in Mason jars, the band plays bluegrass, and, if you're lucky, one of the locals will slip you a flask of moonshine (a must-sip in the South) under the table. (If you're North Carolina-bound, stop at Nick & Nate's in Sylva for the classic post-hike pizza-and-beer combo.)

>> Best dayhike: Mt. Cammerer The views from atop the stone firetower on Mt. Cammerer–the lush Cosby Valley, Big Creek, and row upon row of rolling peaks (including, no joke, Rich Butt Mountain)–are simply the best in the park, says ranger Pam Rogers. The prettiest, least crowded route is the 12-mile roundtrip from Big Creek campground. Climb sharply on the Chestnut Branch Trail, then pass under black oak, birch, and red maple heading south on the AT. Look for young American chestnut trees–which were almost wiped out by a devastating blight in the 1920s–as you switchback up to the Mt. Cammerer Trail and the 4,928-foot peak. The octagonal, CCC-era tower on its rocky outcropping is one of only a handful of that style in the country.

>> Try something new The mountain biking in the Tsali Recreation Area, just southwest of the park, is some of the best in the East. Forty-two miles of hardpack wind through pine and hardwood forest, passing deer-filled meadows and winding up and down steep, rugged ridges. Splash across creeks and zoom past old homesites as you trace the edges of hilly peninsulas, all the while gazing at the Smokies' rolling peaks reflected in Fontana Lake. (828-479-6431;

Ace the Smokies

Swollen streams and aggressive rodents are your biggest threats here. Avoid them–and nab the perfect shelter–with these tips.

>> Big water Don't get stranded behind a swollen creek. Check both the forecast and the last few days' weather–streams can stay impassably high for up to three days after heavy rains. Always check conditions with the backcountry office a day before your trip.

>> Hang it all Fact: The park's plentiful mice, raccoons, and bears are drooling over your trail mix. Thwart them like the rangers do by hanging your entire pack–not just your food bag–from your campsite's cable system. Stash the pack in a garbage bag to protect it from storms (most common on summer afternoons).

>> Gimme shelter Appalachian Trail shelters within 8 miles of Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome Roads fill fast. Reserve ones that require a longer approach, like Mollies Ridge or Pecks Corner, for the best shot at a solo night.

You're A Tourist, Now Act like One
In mid-June, the Smokies' synchronous fireflies–the only species in the country that flash in unison–are at the peak of their group-blinking frenzy for a two-week window. Park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and catch the park's $2 shuttle to Elkmont Campground for a front-row seat; check for dates and times.

The Stats
Acres 521,086
Miles of trail 800+
Phone 865-436-1220
2007 visitation 9.4 million (total), 70,215 (backcountry)

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Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 06, 2014

We just completed a 70 mile thru-hike of the AT traversing the Smoky Mts from Davenport Gap to Fontana Dam in 6 days. Keep your eyes open for bears-a-plenty. In fact, be sure to check ahead of time because quite a few shelters and primitive campgrounds were closed due to bear activity (bears entering the shelters). We saw four bears (two cubs) in one day and another two sniffing around at nighttime. The Smoky Mountains have a great food cable system for hanging your food, however other hikers we met mentioned that the mice still got into their food bags that were hanging. Happy Trails!

Star Star Star Star Star
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Ric Brooks
Apr 27, 2012

This year the park service has started a reservation system for viewing the synchronous fireflies. $1.50 registration view gets you a parking spot at the visitors center and $1.00 gets you a round trip shuttle pass.

Apr 26, 2012

Hiked extensively in this area, the creek crossings become deadly fast and deep with the slightest rainfall. Especially Eagle Creek and Forney Creek Trails. Lost Cove Trail to AT is another good alternate route if the water is high.

Jan 23, 2011

The happy hiker is now closed due to multiple roof leaks but the nantahala great outpost is right around the block...has everything and more that happy hiker had, including guided rafting and hiking trips.

Jan 20, 2011

Hey mike sure take it with you I had 3G on my IPhone near the peaks top in a few areas on trails near Grand Father Mt. As for else where I am not sure. Just take it and see is the best bet

Jan 20, 2011

RE; Mike...

Yes, WASS will be helpful in the Smokies. There is a lot of tree cover there.

Jul 21, 2009

I will be visiting the Smokies in a couple of weeks and I just wanted to know if there is any value in turning on waas on my garmin handheld?


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