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Best Hiking and backpacking trails in Great Smoky Mts

Hi All, I need your advise.  My husband and I are going on a combo car camping/backpacking trip in Great Smokies in August, looking for suggestions for day hikes to find our footing and also suggestions for 3-day backpacking trail.  Thoughts?  Thanks in advance!

4 Replies

cool! i was a resident in the smokies for a month a few summers back; there's plenty of hiking to be done there!

alum cave trail up to la conte and back is a great day-hike; the lodge is a nice place to take a break at the top, and there's a good variety of terrain it passes through. cucumber gap and jakes creek are both representative trails, too, and are close to elkmont if you're staging a car camp from there.

for a short multi-day loop, you could park up at clingman's dome and take forney creek (if you like creek crossings) or forney ridge (if you like rocky scrambles) all the way down to fontana lake, then loop back up norland creek trail.

all the overnight backpacking spots have bear cables for hanging your bags, so you don't need to bring bear barrels or anything like that. the bear activity is pretty serious, though, so when you check in with the backcountry permit office, they'll let you know what places to avoid (and what overnight spots are closed due to bear activity).

it gets really rainy that time of year, so make sure you've got a good rainfly and a waterproof bag to keep a dry change of clothes! if you're there for a whole week, you'll probably get torrential downpours at least once, so roll with it and enjoy the free shower and pick good spots for lightning safety 🙂

I've only hiked on the AT in the Smokies and it wasn't my favorite part. To many people and traffic.  Try some of the other trails, in the park.   

I absolutely love the "Black Mountain Crest Trail" which starts at the top (or bottom if you prefer) of Mt. Mitchell and hikes accross the crest of the next several mountains. Stays high the whole trail and the views are spectacular.
Strenuous trail so you will need to be in good shape.

Hi there @W1LDFLR 

I recently joined REI Conversations, so I am definitely late to the game, but for future reference, I love visiting Big Creek Campground.

You can do an out-and-back from the campgrounds or explore a 17 mile loop. Make it into an awesome 3-day adventure taking the 2-night Mt. Sterling Loop Trail. Just make sure to check-in with the Big Creek Campground for overnight parking and get permits for backcountry camping through NPS.



The first day will have the most activities and stops. Along the 5.6 mile Big Creek Trail you will find Midnight Hole, great for swimming, and Mouse Falls. The first backcountry campsites (37 & 36) are along the river and relatively flat & friendly.

The next day is mostly a wooded climb up to the Mt. Sterling fire Tower, 4.4 miles on a steady up. Before you head up, make sure you've got plenty of water... the water resource at this site is a bit further than campsite 38 (then a climb back up).

The last day is a 6.6 mile up & downhill as you make your way back to Big Creek Campground. Wooded and lush, just the perfect amount of leisurely hiking to end your trip!

Do the whole thing in reverse to end your day at the swimming hole!

Enjoy the Smokies!

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