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Insider’s Guide: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

From secret spots to the perfect campsites, this insider's guide has the goods on the Smokies.

TOP TRAILS

DAYHIKE
Porters Creek Trail

This 7.4-mile out-and-back is a great place to look for some of the 30 salamander species that live in the park. (Peek in small pools to find them.) From the Brushy Mountain Trail, hike 1.6 miles through yellow trillium to a wooden footbridge, looking to your left for mayapple, with leaves like green umbrellas. Wild geranium carpets the hardwood slopes, and the tiny blue petals of wild stonecrop cover mossy boulders. At 3.2 miles, find wildflower nirvana in a blanket of white trillium. The trail ends at backcountry campsite 31, a spacious plot with a fire ring and stream.

WEEKEND
Clingmans Dome to Elkmont

Heavenly views, wildflowers, waterfalls, and a storied past–the trails on this 13.3-mile point-to-point (plan a shuttle) include everything that makes the Smokies famous. Begin at the Clingman’s Dome observation tower, and take the Clingman’s Dome Bypass Trail to the Appalachian Trail, heading west. At 2.2 miles, turn onto Goshen Prong Trail and call out to alert black bears of your presence while descending to cascading falls that collect in small pools. Overnight at campsite 23, then drop 600 feet in 3.1 miles, passing meadows of Solomon’s seal and jack-in-the-pulpit on an old railroad bed used by loggers in the 1900s. Take the Little River Trail for 3.4 miles, descending along Little River, which is actually a sizable stream that drains much of the eastern part of the park.

WEEKLONG
Meigs Creek Trail to Appalachian Trail

Watch for timber rattlers on this 38-mile lollipop loop that provides relatively easy access to the heart of the Smokies high country. Begin on the Meigs Creek Trail, about 12 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Climb an old logging road into a wild, narrow creek valley; rhododendron tunnels open upon mossy slopes covered in Christmas ferns, foamflower, and violets. Connect to the Meigs Mountain Trail and hike through large hemlocks to campsite 20, a wide plot where several creeks converge. Jakes Creek Trail skirts a roaring stream, then ascends through Fraser magnolias, where yellow-bellied sapsuckers like to congregate. Join the Miry Ridge Trail at mile 14.9, following it to the AT, and peer down from narrow ridges on wide, forested valleys that shift from gray to purple.

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