The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the highest ranges in Eastern America and easily the most visited. The range includes 25 peaks over 6000’, 12 of which are included on the South Beyond 6000 list. Dozens more top out above 5000’. The range is aligned in a general east-to-west direction, rising from the Pigeon River gorge and extending over 70 miles to the Little Tennessee River. The Appalachian Trail follows the spine of the range, crossing peaks such as Thunderhead Mt.(5527’) , Silers Bald(5607’), Clingmans Dome(6643’) , Mt. Collins(6188’) , Mt. Kephart(6217’) , Charlies Bunion(5376’) , Tri-Corner Knob(6120’) , Mt. Guyot(6621’) , Old Black(6370’) , and Mt. Cammerer(4928’) along the way. The AT logs 71.4 miles traversing the range and spends almost half (34 miles) of that distance above 5000’. This page has been created to give you an idea of what this range offers.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in 1934 and now includes around 522,000 acres of some of the most rugged high mountain wilderness in eastern America. Around 9,000,000 people visit the park in a given year. That may be enough to keep most demo phobic backpackers away but consider the following facts…
In a recent survey conducted by the park service only 44% stated their purpose for visiting the Smokies was for a day hike, only 12% stated they were there to camp, and only 2% said they intended to use backcountry campsites or shelters. This means less than half the people who visit the park even intend to get out of their vehicles and 98% would wander no farther than their next meal away from a trailhead!!! To put this in perspective, out of the 24,000-ish daily visitors to the park, only about 450 are in the backcountry! Needless to say, the 400,000 or so acres in the park away from the roads combined with 600+ miles of trails should provide those 450 people plenty of alone time.
The Nature of the Smokies...
Books could, and have been written about the rich natural diversity of the Smoky Mountains. Their mid-latitude location combined with elevations that range from 840' at Abrams Creek to 6643' at the summit of Clingmans Dome creates one of the most complex ecosystems in America. In fact, the park has been recognized as as an International Biosphere Preserve.
The Great Smoky Mountains are home to 65 species of mammal, the most widely advertised is the Black Bear. There are around 600 bear in the park so proper food storage is always a must. Another popular resident of the Smokies, just recently re-introduced, is the Elk. Elk once roamed all over the Southern Appalachians but were killed off by the mid 19th Century. In 2001 the Park Service released 24 Elk in the Cataloochee Valley with more transported in the following years. From what I have heard it has been a stunning success. Other animals that are common include, but are not limited to, deer, beaver, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, skunks, snakes, fox, otter, rabbits, and even wild hogs!
The Great Smoky Mountains most incredible feature is its plant-life. According to the Park Service website the mountians are home to over 5500 known species of plant! There are more types of plant life in the 815-ish square miles of the park than on the entire continent of Europe!!! Taking a walk from one of the lower campgrounds to the ridgetop is the ecological equivalent of traveling from Georgia to Maine! On top of it all the Smokies are home to the greatest concentration of old-growth forest in the east. About 25% of the existing forest is original growth. One of the best places experience this is in the eastern part of the park at Half Acre Ridge , listed below.
Unfortunately, this wealth of biodiversity is very fragile. Numerous diseases and pests(i.e. bugs and humans) have and still do take their toll. Two of the greatest concerns right now are air pollution and the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, whose work you can see in the immense "ghost forests" atop the Smokies highest peaks. To learn more about these issues you can visit here.
Also, another of the Smoky Mountains most beautiful natural features is its cascades and waterfalls. The mountains are home to around 70 named falls and countless other small cascades. A couple of my personal favorites are "The Place of a Thousand Drips" and the "Ramsay Cascades." You can find a wealth of knowledge by visiting NCWaterfalls.com's Great Smoky Mountains page.
There are just too many peaks in the Smoky Mountains to give descriptions on each. What I will try to do is list those included on the South Beyond 6000 list and a few others of the lesser but more well-known in the park as they are added to Summitpost. Also, surprisingly, many of these peaks do not have trails accessing the summits. For more info on how to reach them visit the Carolina Mountain Club’s SB6K - Smoky Mountain page here.
| Clingmans Dome |
|Highest peak in the Smokies and probably the most crowded. Can be reached by road and short summit trail. On the AT 7.7 miles south of Newfound Gap.|
| Mt. Guyot |
|2nd highest peak in the Smokies. The AT passes the summit ¼ mile to the west and a tough bushwhack is required to reach the summit. Guyot is about 16.6 miles from both Newfound Gap and Big Creek . It can also be reached by ascending via the Snake Den Ridge and Appalachian Trails from Cosby Campground .|
| Mt. LeConte |
|Third highest peak in the Smokies. Numerous trails access the summit area which houses the LeConte Lodge. The summit is comprised of four peaks the highest of which is called, appropriately, High Top.|
| Mt. Chapman |
|The AT passes the summit just to the east, requiring a short bushwhack. It is located 14.5 miles from Newfound Gap.|
| Old Black |
|As with many of the 6000-footers the AT does not travel over the summit, passing it to the west. A short bushwhack is required. The summit is 14.5 miles from the Big Creek area via the AT.|
| Luftee Knob |
|One of only three 6000-footers not along the AT, it is most easily accessed from Balsam Mountain Gap Road and then a 7.1 mile hike via the Balsam Mountain Trail. Unfortunately no trail accesses the summit and it is a tough bushwhack. Also, make sure you head for the correct peak; the south summit is the highest.|
| Mt. Kephart |
|Kephart is reached by heading north on the AT 2.8 miles to The Boulevard, turning onto The Boulevard briefly, then taking a right onto the unnamed summit spur. The summit is tree-covered and viewless but a short distance further is a place called the Jumpoff with spectacular views to the north and west.|
| Mt. Collins |
|Located along perhaps the busiest section of the AT in the park, Collins is only 4.7 miles south of Newfound Gap or 3 miles north of Clingmans Dome.|
| Marks Knob |
|A hard one to get to. You have your choice of hiking 16.5 miles from Newfound Gap via the AT and Balsam Mountain Trail or 9.3 miles up the Balsam Mountain Trail from Balsam Mountain Gap Rd . Either way from the trail it is another 1.5 mile bushwhack to reach the summit.|
| Big Cataloochee |
|One of only three 6000’ peaks not along the AT. It is reached by ascending 4.3 miles via the Balsam Mountain Trail from Balsam Mountain Gap Road . Then, it’s about a 1 mile bushwhack to the summit.|
| Tri-Corner Knob |
|A vertical twin of neighboring Mt. Yonaguska, you must hike one or the other to claim an ascent on the SB6K list. A short bushwhack from the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter , 15.6 miles from Newfound Gap via the AT, is required.|
| Mt. Seqouyah |
|Barely making the list, Sequoyah is thankfully easy to get to…if you don’t mind a long hike. The AT crosses the summit 13.1 miles from Newfound Gap.|
The peaks listed here are those currently with pages at Summitpost. I will try to keep this updated if more are added.
| Inadu Knob |
|A beautiful peak located just north of higher Old Black (see above). It can be most easily reached via a 5.3 mile hike up the Snake Den Ridge Trail from Cosby Campground.|
| Andrews Bald |
|Located 1.8 miles south of the Clingmans Dome Parking Area. A beautiful “bald” with amazing views. Because of these reasons it can be busy.|
| Mt. Sterling |
|Not a 6000-footer but still has one of the finest views in the Smokies. Located at the easternmost end of the park. It is most easily climbed from Mt. Sterling Gap, following its namesake trail 1.8 miles to the summit.|
| Silers Bald |
|A nice peak about 5 miles west of Clingmans Dome via the AT. Don't hike here for the views, though there are some nice ones. Hike Silers to appreciate the solitude and the simple things the Smokies have to offer. As far as avoiding the tourists at the Clingmans Dome Parking Lot...forget the deoderant at home and they'll leave you all alone:)|
| Charlies Bunion |
|Easily one of the most beautiful spots in the Smoky Mountains. Its close enough to Newfound Gap(4.4 miles) to do as a day hike but far enough to loose most(note I said most) of the crowds. Just GO TO THIS ONE!|
| Thunderhead Mountain |
|Located on the AT this is the highest peak in the west end of the park. Thunderhead is a heath bald with no views from the summit but there are many stunning overlooks nearby. Makes for a great day-hike from Cades Cove via Anthony Creek/Bote Mountain Trails and then a short bit north on the AT.|
| Cosby, Ross, & Camel Hump Knobs |
|These three knobs are located along the AT about halfway between Mt. Cammerer and Tricorner Knob. Though unremarkable on their own these peaks still offer some great views along a quieter section of the Appalachian Trail. Combined with nearby Inadu Knob, a trip over them makes for a nice dayhike loop from Cosby Campground .|
| Nettle Creek Bald |
|Relatively unknown (I hadn't heard of it) due to the fact that the beauty here is more subtle. A short day hike off US-441, what the peak lacks in sweeping views it more than makes up for in botanical variety. A good hike for the true nature-lover|
| Maddron Bald |
|Main access is from Cosby Campground . Beautiful views from the top but the highlight of this peak is the virgin forest of Albright Grove. Located just off the Maddron Bald Trail, here you can wander through impressive stands of giant Poplars, Maples, and Hemlocks, among others.|
| Gregory Bald |
|A traditional southern bald near the western end of the Smokies. It is less visited than most peaks in the Smokies and has beautiful views.|
| Mt. Cammerer |
|Proves the adage, “Bigger isn’t always better.” Its 65-year old lookout tower offers amazing views. You can reach it from three directions. From Cosby Campground , to the west, it’s 5.2 miles via the Low Gap Trail and the AT. From the Big Creek area , to the east, it’s a 4.4 mile ascent via the Chestnut Branch Trail and the AT. The distances aren’t great but from either way you’ll climb almost 3000’.|
| Dripping Spring Mt. |
|A peak to "get away from it all." The views from this forested, trailless peak are non-existent but, more importantly perhaps, so are the crowds. There are some limited views to be had but mostly this is just a great place to go for a nice walk in the woods. A good day hike from the Elkmont area.|
| Chimney Tops |
|A contender for busiest peak in the Smokies. Only a 2-mile hike from US-441 via the Chimney Tops Trail. Views are incredible but be prepared to share them with a dozen or more people.|
| Cove Mountain |
|Located along the northwest border of the park, one of the most popular routes to this peak is past beautiful Laurel Falls. During summer the crowds at Laurel Falls can be nearly unbearable but push on past the falls and things should quiet down considerably. Old growth forests mixed with a dizzying variety of accompanying flora are highlights of this hike.|
| Half Acre Ridge |
|Part of the Cataloochee Divide at the far eastern end of the Smokies. Home to one of the finest areas of old growth forest in eastern America. Elk are also found here.|
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has something on the order of 800+ miles of trails. I won’t try to list all of them here but I’ll hit the major ones. To help locate the trails listed below I suggest downloading the NPS Trail Map .
The Appalachian Trail follows the spine of the Smokies for 71.4 miles. It is, therefore, the workhorse of the Smoky Mountains. It enters the park at Fontana Dam and spends the next 7-ish miles climbing to the ridge at Doe Knob (4520’). From here it follows the spine of the Smokies, spending most of its time at elevations in excess of 5000’, reaching busy Newfound Gap at mile 37.4 and dropping from Mt Cammerer (4928’) to Davenport Gap near I-40 30-miles later. It is one of the premier stretches on the entire AT.
Twenty-Seven Trails access the AT on its trip through the Smokies. From south-to-north they are…
|Trail||Trailhead||Length||Distance to Fontana||Distance to Newfound Gap|
|Lost Cove||Lakeshore Trail||2.7 miles||3.7 miles||33.5 miles|
|Twentymile||Twentymile Ranger Station off NC-28||5.0 miles||3.7 miles||33.5 miles|
|Gregory Bald||Parson Branch Rd.||7.3 miles||6.8 miles||30.4 miles|
|Russell Field||Anthony Creek Trail from Cades Cove||3.5 miles||11.7 miles||25.5 miles|
|Eagle Creek||Lakeshore Trail||8.9 miles||14.3 miles||22.9 miles|
|Bote Mountain||Laurel Creek Rd.||6.9 miles||14.3 miles||22.9 miles|
|Jenkins Ridge||Hazel Creek Trail from Lakeshore Trail||8.9 miles||14.9 miles||22.3 miles|
|Greenbrier Ridge||Prong Trail from Middle Prong Rd.||4.2 miles||20.7 miles||16.5 miles|
|Miry Ridge||Jakes Creek Trail from Elkmont Campground||5.0 miles||23.1 miles||14.1 miles|
|Welch Ridge||Bear Creek Trail from Lakeshore Trail||7.3 miles||24.8 miles||12.4 miles|
|Goshen Prong||Little River Trail from Elkmont Campground||7.6 miles||27.3 miles||9.9 miles|
|Forney Ridge||Springhouse Branch Trail from Noland Creek Trail from Lakeshore Trail||5.6 miles||29.2 miles||8.0 miles|
|Clingmans Dome By-Pass||Forney Ridge Trail from Clingmans Dome Parking Area||0.5 miles||29.2 miles||8.0 miles|
|Clingmans Dome||Clingmans Dome Parking Area||0.5 miles||29.2 miles||8.0 miles|
|Sugarland Mountain||Little River Road||11.9 miles||32.7 miles||4.5 miles|
|Road Prong||Chimney Tops Trail from US-441||2.4 miles||35.5 miles||1.7 miles|
|Trail||Trailhead||Length||Distance to I-40||Distance to Newfound Gap|
|Sweat Heifer Creek||Kephart Prong Trail from US-441||3.7 miles||28.7 miles||1.7 miles|
|The Boulevard||Mount LeConte||5.4 miles||27.7 miles||2.7 miles|
|Dry Sluice Gap||Bradley Fork Trail from Smokemont Campground||4.2 miles||26.0 miles||4.4 miles|
|Hughes Ridge||Chasteen Creek Trail||5.0 miles||21.0 miles||10.4 miles|
|Balsam Mountain||Balsam Mountain Gap Rd.||10.1 miles||15.8 miles||15.6 miles|
|Snake Den Ridge||Cosby Campground||5.3 miles||12.1 miles||19.3 miles|
|Camel Gap||Gunter Fork Trail from Big Creek Campground||4.7 miles||9.8 miles||21.6 miles|
|Low Gap||Cosby Campground or Big Creek Trail from Big Creek Campground||5.4 miles||7.4 miles||24.0 miles|
|Mt. Cammerer||Mt. Cammerer||0.6 miles||5.3 miles||26.1 miles|
|Lower Mt. Cammerer||Cosby Campground||7.5 miles||3.0 miles||28.4 miles|
|Chestnut Branch||Big Creek Ranger Station||2.1 miles||2.0 miles||29.4 miles|
Worth mentioning also is the Lakeshore Trail . This trail never gains the ridge but is a trailhead for numerous trails in the western half of the park. The trail is 35 miles long and follows the north shore of Fontana Lake