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Backpacker Magazine – November/December 2005

Weekend Adventures: Big Tree Hikes

Get ready to feel puny--and profoundly grateful--on three hikes through ancient forests.

by: Kelly Bastone

Like a good bottle of Barolo, Howlin' Wolf on vinyl, and '70s Scorsese films, trees just get better with time. The elders you'll encounter on these three memorable national-park hikes have done a heap more living than you'll ever do, and even fat and old, they look fabulous.

Ramsay Cascades, TN
Trek past giant Smokies poplars

The Hike

Loggers mowed down much of Appalachia's hardwoods, so most trees there are relatively young. But the Ramsay Prong's rugged terrain discouraged saws, creating a pocket of virgin forest--a place where chestnut oaks, poplars, hemlocks, and black-cherry trees are so big even Bunyan wouldn't mess with them. The 4-mile Ramsay Cascades Trail's first 1.5 miles follow the easy grade of a former logging road. But then it climbs fast--2,375 vertical feet--squeezing through rhododendron tunnels and over massive root formations. At mile 3, you pass the Sentinels, twin tulip poplars each 8 feet in diameter. The final, boulder-studded mile visits 200-foot basswoods that predate Paul Revere's ride and tops out at a stream that tumbles 90 feet over a series of ledges.

Branch off

Chase the chill with shepherd's pie at the Fox and Parrot Tavern outside Gatlinburg. (865) 436-0677

The way

From US 321, turn on Greenbrier Rd.; drive 3.1 miles and turn left on Ramsay Prong Rd.; continue 1.5 miles to the trailhead.

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