Looking for a weekend getaway? No matter the season, Great Smoky Mountains National Park can offer the perfect place to get outside, recharge, and hopefully enjoy the views. We live so close to the Smokies that we know the trails quite well. But if you are headed up for just two days, you’re going to need the best of the best. I’m tinkering with how to share useful maps throughout this series. The map photo below is a link that will allow you to get more details about the locations we mention (if you try it out, let us know how well [or not well] it works)
Day 1: Head out to the park and straight to your hike of choice. If you’re an avid hiker, you can string together as many of these hikes as you’d like to fill your day.
Option 1: Alum Cave to Mount LeConte. This 10 mile out and back hike will involve a good bit of climbing but the scenery and pay-off are worth every bit of the effort. The incline is also decently spread out and it’s nearly all downhill on the way back. Pack cash so you can buy yourself a giant cookie from the lodge (not open in all seasons).
Option 2: Andrews’s Bald. This out and back hike of under four miles is perfect for shorter legs. It starts from the Clingman’s Dome parking lot which has some annual closings (see weather considerations below) but if you are in the park when the road is open, it’s definitely worth a hike. Lots of high-elevation pine forests, smooth trail (rolling up & downs), and spectacular views at the end. You can hike up to the Clingman’s Dome tower from this same parking lot so you can add on time and distance to your day if you’re hungry for more hiking.
Option 3: Little River to Cucumber Gap. This 5.5 mile hike is a great option for people who want a little more distance but not much elevation gain. It’s on the north side of the park, about halfway between Cades Cove and Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Day 2: For your second day in the park, you probably want something sort of on-the-way to your final destination. If that’s on the north side of the park, we recommend a loop in Cades Cove. If you’re on the south side, we recommend a loop in the Deep Creek Area.
Option 1: Cades Cove: This 8.6 mile loop is a great alternative to the car-traffic in Cades Cove. Parking just outside the loop, you can pick up the trail right inside the gate. Start on Rich Mountain Loop. In .5 miles, you’ll pass Crooked Arm Ridge (later, you’ll get back to this spot via Crooked Arm Ridge), but stay on Rich Mountain. In just under another mile, you’ll arrive at John Oliver cabin. From here, you’ll start ascending until you reach Indian Grave Gap Trail, which you should take. At about 6 miles into the hike. you’ll reach an intersection with Scott Mountain Trail and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. Take Crooked Arm Ridge back to Rich Mountain loop. You’ll turn left to get back to where you started.
Option 2: Deep Creek. Loads of trails circle around the Deep Creek area, making it easy to pick a loop that works for you. If you’re up for 10 miles, I’d recommend the Indian Motor Creek loop. It’ll take you on a flat trail past a lovely river, gently up a wide trail, and then around through beautiful forests, bringing you easily back to the access point in a loop. People who want a shorter option in the Deep Creek area can do the Waterfalls loop, which is about 5 miles.
Weather Considerations: The road out to Clingman’s Dome road will close from December until April. It may close sporadically in November due to snow or ice. The main road through the park (US 441) can also close due to ice but it is a primary highway connecting NC and TN so they will work hard to get it open as soon as they can.
Where to stay: There are loads of options for housing near the park. The closest options are Bryson City and Gatlinburg, although Asheville and Knoxville are larger cities within driving distance.