Old-growth forests, wildlife including turkeys, black bears and white-tail deer, and plenty of rugged expanse all make up the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Over 800-miles of trails wind through the woods, up the steep bluffs and past pristine lakes. Winter hikes are spectacular when snow crunches underfoot and hangs on evergreen limbs.
Get out and breathe in the crisp air. Exercise is easy when the views are this pretty. Kids can burn off pent-up energy and parents can soak-in the peaceful scenery. Strap on some sturdy hiking boots, layer up the clothes and grab a water bottle before you explore these easy trails:
1. Laurel Falls Trail is paved for easy hiking. Even little legs can handle the elevation gain of 314 ft. The reward at the end of the hike up is an 80-ft waterfall that splashes down two sections which are separated by a walkway. The round trip hike is 2.3 miles. Laurel Falls Trail is located at the top of Fighting Creek Gap where a parking lot is located.
2. Little Brier Gap Trail holds some fun history. Five spinster sisters refused to leave their family farm even after the national park was established. The Walker Sisters stayed within the Little Greenbrier Community until the 1960’s, maintaining their mountain lifestyle. See the Little Greenbrier School built in 1882. The Walker homestead is nearby. The cabin, corn crib and spring house still stand for visitors to enjoy. In winter, hikers can start their hike at Metcalf Bottoms. The round trip hike will be a little over 3 miles with about 400 ft of elevation gain.
3. Grotto Falls allows hikers to follow a wide, well-used path on this 2.6 mile round trip hike. See Eastern Hemlocks, old-growth forest and cascades along Trillium Gap Trailhead. When you reach the cascades look up to see Grotto Falls. This is not a very tall waterfall, but it is very powerful. You can feel the power as you walk behind the falls – but be careful because it is very slick in the winter.
4. Goldmine Loop Trail is 3.1 miles of hiking fun. This hike starts with a tunnel on Lakeview
Drive. Hike through the 1,200 ft tunnel (bring a flashlight!) which is flat and easy to walk. When you emerge you will be at the start of the 34-mile Lakeshore Trail (the second longest in the Smoky Mountains.) One-tenth of a mile on the left is Goldmine Loop Trail. Goldmine Branch creek, an old homestead chimney and an old washtub dot the sides of the trail. See a cove of Fontana Lake and some pretty mountain views on this trail. The elevation can be rather steep in certain spots but the hike is rated as ‘easy’.
5. Tom’s Branch Falls trail is a quick .6 mile hike – perfect for young children. The wide path has benches for hikers to sit and enjoy views of the 80-ft falls. The hike only gains 47 ft in elevation.