Wildflower meadows, oak forests, snorting boars, and curious bruins (the Smokies have the highest concentration of black bears in the Lower 48): This 18.6-mile out-and-back claims them all. From the shores of Fontana Lake, climb 1,900 feet in three miles to the west shoulder of Shuckstack Peak. The route undulates over two gaps (Sassafras and Red Ridge) to a campsite at Birch Spring Gap (mile 5.2). Hike two miles from camp to Gregory Bald, drop into fern-filled Ekaneetlee Gap, and finish the hike on Mollies Ridge, where you can spend a second night in a 12-bunk hut. The shelter is allegedly haunted by the ghost of a Cherokee woman who froze to death there—or was eaten by a bear called Spider Foot, depending on who you ask.
PERMIT: Overnight camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a backcountry permit. Check out the latest fees and more details at www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm.
MORE PARK INFO: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200; nps.gov/grsm/.
-Mapped by Jeff Chow