Sunday Hikes: The Laurel Falls Trail

Like many of the National Parks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a tremendous amount of great hiking trails to explore. On a late winter afternoon, I started up the Laurel Falls Trail. This is an easy day hike of only 2.5 miles round trip.

The trail goes up into the mountains on a steady ascent while passing through several different micro-climates. The trail is easy to navigate over a thin layer of asphalt. At one point, a small stream passes over the trail giving you the opportunity to get your feet wet.

Soon you reach an elevation allowing for majestic views of the surrounding mountains and you can see the Laurel Branch stream down below flowing towards the valley.

The trail ends right in the middle of the two stage 70 foot waterfall where you cross over a wooden bridge with views of the falls both up and down. This proved to be a popular place for hikers to stop and have an impromptu lunch or snack as they enjoyed the waterfall. After taking a few pictures, I turned back and headed towards the trailhead where I chatted with a couple about some of our favorite hikes out west.

This is a quick and enjoyable hike, I recommend it during your next visit to the Great Smoky Mountains. Thanks for reading. rk

Sunday Hikes: The Chimney Tops Trail

The Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It climbs 1400 feet of elevation in 1.75 miles to view up close the summit of Chimney Tops, a mountain with a distinctive chimney like rock features at the summit. There are also expansive views of nearby Mt Leconte.

I got there early and learned that this trail was affected greatly by the Chimney Tops 2 Fire of November 2016. Previously the trail was a 1/4 mile longer and brought you right up to the first Chimney Top after a rock scramble.

I was excited to get moving as it was early, overcast and damp. The trail began quickly by crossing 3 bridges over gorgeous sparkling streams running over and through the carefully strewn boulders present in all the streams in this area.

The trail picked up its intensity and begins to climb in elevation quickly from here on out. In this area there is a distinctive tree stump that I found fascinating.

After crossing a 4th bridge, the trail soon turns sharply right at the .9 mile mark. Continuing straight on the Road Prong Trail for 2.4 miles would connect you with the Appalachian Trail.

I took the right fork and began to ascend ever more steeply. It felt for a moment that the stairs would never end reminding me of the Perpendicular Trail in Acadia NP. However, soon enough I broke through the trees to an expansive view of the valley below with Mt Leconte visible in the distance.

Nearby to my left the Chimney Tops appeared to be even with me. You could easily see the charred trees and damage from the fire 15 months ago. After soaking in the rewards of my climb, I followed the trail a few more steps were the end of the trail is now blocked with a large door.

Heading back down I was rewarded by sunshine poking through the clouds, bringing out new colors in the rocks and plants around me. In half the time it took me to get to the summit, I quickly arrived back at the trailhead. Round trip, this trail is 3.5 miles with great views of the area. This is a must do trail when hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. rk

Spring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The first signs of spring in the Great Smoky Mountains NP are the jonquils blooming on the hillsides. I happened to see these flowers late this afternoon on a hillside near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Looks like spring is here!

Driving through Great Smoky Mountains National Park

About this time last spring, I took some of the kids and drove through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   I thought it would be a fun day trip in my jeep as it was a perfect spring day.   My plan was to enter the southern entrance on US 441 near Cherokee NC and come out the northern entrance near Gatlinburg TN.   This is only about a 35 mile distance, but takes about an hour normally because of all the switchbacks and overlooks.


Surprisingly, after entering the park we had to wait as trucks scraped ice and snow off of the roads.   We took advantage of the delay to do a quick hike right near the road barricade.   We were able to get going again after about an hour.

The Great Smoky Mountains are, of course, gorgeous with amazing overlook views of wooded valleys and mountain tops in every direction.   We stopped at several of these during the drive.   Once arriving in Gatlinburg, we visited the local Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and rode the Gatlinburg Sky Lift before heading back home.   Gatlinburg is a great place to base when visiting treat Smoky Mountains.   Think of it as the east coast version of Moab UT with an overabundance of tourist trap attractions and pancake houses thrown in for good measure.


The Great Smoky Mountains NP is a great park for enjoying beautiful scenery, seeing wildlife including black bears, and hiking.   There is a reason it is the most visited National Park.   I hope you can take advantage of this amazing National Park the next time you are in eastern TN or western NC.


Picture of the Day – Tennessee River and the Great Smoky Mountains

I took this picture last week from the top floor of the Knoxville Marriott.  You can see the shockingly pink and purple sunrise with the Tennessee River in the foreground and the Great Smoky Mountains off in the distance.


The Best Bargain in Travel

The best bargain in travel is the United States National Park Pass.   The cost is negligible really.   We purchased an annual family Interagency National Park Pass last June for $80.   If you are a senior, it is only $10 for a lifetime pass and the US Military get in free always.


Having the National Park Pass gets you into all National Parks, Monuments, and Federal Recreation sites at no additional cost with no limitations on visits.   Before I had the National Park Pass I had been to 6 National Parks in 43 years.   Since June, I have been to 9 National Parks with 7 of them new.   In addition, my adult children have used the pass to visit 3 other National Parks and between all of us have scheduled trips this winter and spring to at least 7 more.   The National Parks are spread all over the country so while some of our trips have been based around the Parks, others have been because we have been in the area.   Work trip to New Hampshire, then drive up to Acadia in Maine.   Weekend getaway to Seattle, lets squeeze in Mt Ranier etc.

The United States National Park system represents all that is great about America.   To quote writer and historian, Wallace Stegner, national parks are “the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”   The National Park system preserves the most beautiful, special, and culturally important places in our country.   To visit them widens your view of the world and fills you with awe to the beauty created by God.


Parks visited so far this year by our family include Acadia NP, Congaree NP, Cuyahoga NP, Zion NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Canyon NP, Saguaro NP, Mt Ranier NP, Olympic NP, Shenandoah NP, and the Great Smoky Mountains NP.    Scheduled trips over the next six months include Joshua Tree NP, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP, Badlands NP, Big Bend NP, Guadalupe NP, and Carlsbad Caverns NP.   I’m sure we will sneak in a few more as well!