The beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains is something to truly behold at any time of the year. But for hikers that are able to take advantage of a trek on one of the many trails in and around the mountains during the fall season, that beauty they are able to enjoy is at its greatest magnificence, as virtually countless varieties of trees, at all elevations, burst out in their colorful brilliance.
Whether you’re a beginning hiker or seasoned veteran, there are beautiful, scenic trails here for all to enjoy. If you are fortunate enough to be able to take a hike in the Smokies this fall, you may consider one of the following trails:
Porters Creek: Easy/Beginner. This casual, 4-mile round-trip hike has just about everything to see in this somewhat short journey. Hikers stroll through a lush old-growth forest alongside a beautiful cascading stream.
Hikers can view many remnants of early settlers before reaching Fern Branch Falls, approximately two miles into the hike.
For hikers that wish to see a bit more on this hike, there’s a short side trail, roughly one mile from the trailhead. From this trail they can view a cantilevered barn, built circa 1875; they can also see a cabin built by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club in the 1930s.
Location: beginning out of Greenbrier, just east of Gatlinburg.
Grotto Falls: Moderate/Intermediate. This is not a long round-trip hike at 3-miles, taking about 2-3 hours to waterfall and back. Portions of the trail are rocky, which may put it into this moderate category (hiking shoes are recommended; sandals and other casual footwear definitely not).
The real draw here for hikers, as this Trillium Gap Trail makes its way through an old-growth hemlock forest, is the waterfall that hikers are able to walk behind. This is a good place to view salamanders, as they enjoy the cool, moist environment of the falls area.
Location: Trillium Gap Trail on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, east of Gatlinburg.
Ramsay Cascades: Strenuous/Advanced. This gorgeous 8-mile round-trip hike, which takes approximately 5-7 hours to cover, is well worth the time and effort.
The trail follows rushing streams and rivers for a great deal of the hike. The last two miles of the trail pass through an old-growth cove hardwood forest, with large basswood, tuliptrees, yellow birches and silverbells quite possibly being at peak color.
Hikers ultimately reach the cascades, the highest waterfall accessible by trail in the park. Water comes crashing down 100-feet over rock croppings, collecting in a small pool where salamanders congregate. Much of this water comes from Mt. Guyot, the second highest mountain in the Smokies.
The trail to the waterfall gains over 2000-feet in elevation, and portions of the trail are very rocky, so sturdy hiking shoes are recommended.
Location: 6-miles east of Gatlinburg; Ramsay Cascades Trail in Greenbrier area.
Safety note: Do not climb near or on any waterfalls anywhere in the park. Rocks and other debris are wet and algae covered, and are extremely dangerous. Stay on the trail and stay safe!