I was really excited to get into the Smokies, because even though I grew up only a few hours away I had never visited the park before. The Appalachian Trail follows the North Carolina/Tennessee border through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for seventy some miles. The weather was ideal and the trails were both well made and scenic. I always enjoy visiting the national parks, and this was no exception. Here are some highlights from my four days in the park:
Hiking through the park you’re constantly awarded with breathtaking vistas. The trail follows high ridge lines with panoramic views, and a couple of short side trails lead to fire/observation towers where you can get an even better look around.
As with most National Parks, the hiking trails inside GSMNP are very well-built and easy to travel. Long gentle traverses and wide sweeping switchbacks make climbing up and over mountains unbelievably easy.
MAGIC AT NEWFOUND GAP.
About halfway through the park, A.T. hikers cross Newfound Gap. It’s a major road that crosses through the park, and I get the feeling that most park visitors never step foot off of it. When I got to the gap, there was a baptist group hosting some trail magic; cold sodas, candy bars, chips, cookies, and brownies. I was tired and hungry and sick of all the food in my pack, so this was greatly appreciated!
Max Patch is a high grassy bald just north of the park. The mountaintop was originally cleared for cattle some many years ago, and now it’s maintained as a bald. It offers incredible panoramic views, and it’s a great place to lounge in the sun. I got there around 9:00 AM, made a cup of coffee and hung out on the bald for a couple of hours.
STRAWBERRIES AND BLOODHOUNDS.
Another bit of trail magic came at the Deer Park Shelter, just a few miles south of Hot Springs, North Carolina. I was staying there for the night before heading into town the next morning. Around 7:00 P.M., a guy showed up at the shelter with two bloodhounds on leashes. I was excited to see the dogs as they’re always nice to have around on the trail, but I was even more excited when he pulled a bucket of fresh picked strawberries out of his backpack. He put them down on the table and told us to enjoy. I have never eaten so many strawberries…
I hiked into Hot Springs yesterday morning, where a friend picked me up and brought me back to his house in Asheville. I’m hanging here for the weekend, binging on food and movies. He’ll be driving me back to the trail sometime tomorrow. There is a 15 mile section of trail just north of Hot Springs which is closed due to a forest fire that was just recently contained, so it looks like I’ll need to skip that section. I was hoping it would reopen by time I was ready to get back on the trail, but it’s looking like it will remain closed for a few more days.
Enjoying a zero today, and looking forward to getting back on the trail tomorrow. I should be in Erwin, TN in three or four days. More soon!