|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – August 2008
Graze blueberry patches, explore swimming holes, and tag the South's high points on this sultry hike.
>> Clean up Arrow Creek Campground (865-430-7433; arrowcreekcamp.com), 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; cs.unca.edu/nfsnc)
Ace the SmokiesSwollen 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 nps.gov/grsm for dates and times.
Miles of trail 800+
2007 visitation 9.4 million (total), 70,215 (backcountry)