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Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking the Gabes Mountain/Maddron Bald/Snake Den Ridge Trail loop is a lesson on the reasons the Smokies are preserved. Water is everywhere: underfoot, vaporous in the morning fog, crashing down Hen Wallow Falls. Sunlight gently filters through a canopy 80 feet overhead as you enter old-growth forests of ancient hemlock and tulip trees. Outside these groves, the summer sun beats down, but beneath the trees, it’s cool, serene, and alive with every imaginable shade of green.
Contact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200; www.nps.gov/grsm.
After 200 miles of climbs, descents, and endless emerald tree tunnels, the AT bids good-bye to Tennessee with a gift: rare high openings in the verdant canopy known as “balds.” In early summer, the views of row upon row of folded mountains are just backdrops for stunning orange and pink azalea and rhododendron blossoms.
Contact: Appalachian Trail Conference, (304) 535-6331; www.atconf.org.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
The scenery along the John Muir Trail will make you wonder why Muir bothered to go west after walking across Tennessee on his way to the Gulf of Mexico. The rolling, 50-mile section of the trail in Big South Fork passes massive sandstone bluffs, cascading streams, and precipice-edge views into the 500-foot-deep gorge, as well as remnants of long-abandoned settlements.
Contact: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, (423) 569-9778; www.nps.gov/biso.