The ridgeline route through the length of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the Southeast's most spectacular trails, but the remote location of the trailheads at either end make shuttling a daunting and expensive prospect. The crowds are another problem. Hit the Smokies' highcountry during spring break, and you'll have to battle for permits and shelter space. Finally, the ridgeline route, as spectacular as it is, only shows hikers a small sliver of the park's ecological diversity, which boasts more species of trees than all of western Europe. This 75-mile loop solves two-and-half of those problems. (Depending on the time of year you hike, you might still have to battle some crowds for half of your hike.)
Location: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the far southwestern corner of North Carolina. The trailhead is at Fontana Dam, where you can take advantage of food and lodging at a full-service resort.
Distance: 75 miles.
Maps: Trails are well marked; the Trails Illustrated map #229 shows the route.
The route: From Fontana Dam, head north and up on the Appalachian Trail. You'll spend the whole first day climbing, and the next two or three view-chasing along the ridge. From Clingman's Dome ? the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and on the AT ? you'll veer downhill to the south (that's the North Carolina side) on the Forney Ridge Trail, then continue down the Forney Creek Trail all the way to the Lakeshore Trail. This loops back to Fontana Dam by meandering along the shoreline of the reservoir. Movie buffs might be interested to know that Nell was filmed here.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication