Stellar Overnight Hikes in the Smokies


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses 270 miles of roads, 850 miles of trails and 500,000 acres of land. Some 50 species of mammals, 80 species of fish, 130 species of trees, 200 species of birds and 1,300 species of flowering plants thrive within its borders.

The diversity of the flora and fauna found in the Great Smokies, home of the highest section of the Appalachian Trail, is unmatched by any other temperate climate — so much so that it has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

Thanks to these impressive statistics, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts another, less inviting, claim to fame: It is the most visited national park in the United States.

Many of these 9 million annual visitors are so-called windshield tourists, sedentary sightseers content to enjoy the beauty of the mountains from the comfort of their automobiles. And many others are day-trippers who crowd the most accessible trails and stick to the most obvious sights.

The hikes presented here steer you away from the well-trod paths and toward solitude. And the three featured below are overnight loops, allowing backpackers to experience the park after dark and avoid retracing their steps back to the trailhead.

The Maddron Bald loop is one of the parks' best hikes, boasting big views, tall trees and burbling mountain creeks. The Spruce Mountain loop covers a wide variety of terrain and trail conditions, while the Newton Bald loop takes you to a backcountry campsite 5,000 feet up in the Smokies.

Each of the hikes is rated according to a five-star system. In each category, the greater the number of stars, the better the scenery; the better the trail conditions; the greater the suitability for children; the greater the difficulty; and the greater the solitude. Conversely, the reverse is true for each category.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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