Hiking trails of the North Carolina Smokies

Hiking is one of the best ways to get out and commune with nature. With a quiet step you stand a great chance of seeing some of the multitude of wildlife Western North Carolina has to offer.

Above it all: Fryingpan hike offers vast views, diverse plant life

It’s just a short walk from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Fryingpan Tower — 1.5 miles roundtrip — but in a season when wildflowers abound and the ecological intricacies of mountain life are on full display, a curious person could spend hours exploring. 

Especially when accompanied by someone who’s full of the knowledge and stories to explain it all. Someone like a Blue Ridge Parkway ranger, two of whom were out last week to lead a group of 25 locals and tourists on a summertime ramble.

Trio of trails get a makeover

Rainbow Falls Trail: The Rainbow Falls Trail is the next trail in line to get a complete rehabilitation through the Smokies Trails Forever program, funded by Friends of the Smokies. 

Trail crews get to work: Smokies crews work to improve trails and recover from storm damage

Dealing with the aftermath of two major storms while preparing for what could be another record-breaking visitor season, trail crews in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been keeping busy this spring. 

“Three major projects are taking place in addition to the normal routine spring cleaning that our crews do, along with storm damage that we’ve had from several different wind events,” said park spokesperson Dana Soehn.

Stories from mountains: Cherokee man keeps old stories alive, one hike at a time

The last known footprint of the slant-eyed giant Judaculla is not easy to get to.

First, there’s the drive to Wolf Laurel Trailhead, which takes about an hour to reach from Robbinsville up a steep and rutted U.S. Forest Service road that winds past tumbling waterfalls and an intersection with the Appalachian Trail before reaching the parking lot. Then there’s the hike — 3.5 miles of steep uphills offset by rocky downhills pieced together with the occasional stretch of level ground, often while traversing a narrow ridgeline with slopes falling steeply to either side.

Down to bare rock: Smokies’ Chimney Tops could be closed for years following fire

When starting the hike, it’s not immediately obvious why the Chimney Tops Trail should be appointed for long-term closure. The brook is babbling, the sun is shining and the trees are towering just as one would expect of a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the results of a recent trail rehabilitation effort make for exceedingly pleasant walking. 

But as the trail nears its terminus at the twin peaks of the Chimney Tops, the reason becomes abundantly clear. Its harbingers are announced with a jumble of burned branches here, an area of blackened ground there, and the sudden realization that, even on a brisk winter day when it’s hard to smell much at all, there’s a faint odor of charcoal in the air.

From mountains to sea: N.C. woman relives six months spent hiking the state

If you’d polled Kimberley Brookshire’s friends a couple years ago, they’d likely have said the chances were slim to none that the Charlotte resident would ever think seriously about leaving it all behind to hike more than 2,000 miles through North Carolina. 

“I wasn’t much of an outdoors person,” said Brookshire, 32.

A look back at 2016: Backcountry adventures, birthday celebrations and a wildfire season to remember

For those who love the outdoors, it’s not hard to list the reasons why Western North Carolina is a spectacular place to live, and from that standpoint, the year 2016 certainly didn’t fail to deliver. The curtains are now closing on 2016, but the year will get its proper send-off with this roundup of favorite moments and memorable stories from the past 12 months outdoors.

To save a life: Global village rallies for high-altitude rescue in the mountains of Nepal

Judy Seago almost left the United States without packing a stethoscope. 

Seago, a pediatrician, was headed to Nepal on a honeymoon trek with her new husband Jerry Parker, a pharmacist. Medical missions weren’t part of the itinerary for the Jackson County couple — it was supposed to be all about exploring the miles-high mountains of Nepal’s Annapurna range.

To the bluffs: Two-year Alum Cave Trail project culminates

It’s a miraculously warm, blue-skied November day, the iconic Alum Cave Trail stretching smoothly from the trailhead. 

The trail invites, almost audibly, framed by a mosaic of rhododendron, leafless deciduous trees and towering hemlocks that have thus far resisted the onslaught of the hemlock wooly adelgid. Tightly constructed wooden bridges and steps interject the trail’s leaf-and-dirt flooring, a stone drainage here and there waiting, shrouded with ferns, to siphon runoff from the trail when the drought finally ends.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
SUPPORT THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS AND
INDEPENDENT, AWARD-WINNING JOURNALISM
Go to top
Payment Information

/

At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.