About ten years ago I had the best day hiking ever in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Often times, when on an outdoor adventure the best times arise like a phoenix from the ashes from adversity. This was one of those times.
Adversity in the form of rain and cold
I camped in a tent spot the night before. Around midnight the rain cascaded down and did not stop until noon the next day. I stayed relatively dry inside the tent, but while packing up in the rain I got drenched. There is nothing worse than packing up in the rain.
Actually, there is one thing worse than packing up in the rain. That is when one gets soaked and then temperatures plummet. To make matters worse the night’s permit at Laurel Gap shelter stood at over 6,000 feet, so it would even be colder up there. I arrived at Laurel Gap, and I made a fire to warm up and dry off, but eventually gave up and just jumped in my sleeping bag at around 4pm. I did not emerge until 5am the next day although I slept little and remained cold all night.
Finally dawn came, and I jumped out of bed had a granola bar and took off. I had permits for another night in the mountains, but I decided to hike in a day early. A good soaking combined with a cold snap can sap one’s desire to remain outdoors. The decision to hike in made for a long 18 mile hike, but the long hike turned into a memorable one.
Incredible day hiking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
I had five miles before I hit the Appalachian Trail (AT) and then ten miles on the AT before a final descent of 2.5 miles on the Low Gap Trail to my car at Cosby. The Appalachian Trail is by far the busiest trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Incredibly I did not see a single soul after I left the shelter. The sun came out and it turned out to be a glorious day. The hike plus the sun regenerated my lagging cold spirit, and I felt revived.
Rare clear day in the Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains are known and named for its haziness. Sometimes this smoky sky is natural due to rain and clouds like I had experienced the night before. Often times the haze is a white haze generated by air pollution thanks to the mountain range’s proximity to the densely populated eastern seaboard. The man made haze plus natural clouds make clear panoramic views of the mountains elusive.
Not on this day. Hardly a cloud in the sky appeared and the haze also did not make an appearance (note: the pics that accompany this post are from the same area, but not the same trip.) I had views for miles on both sides of the trail. I sometimes had trouble making time because I just wanted to shuck off my backpack and melt into the stunning view that stretched out before me.
The hike traversed some rugged sections of trail that included skirting Mt. Guyot, which is the park’s third highest peak at 6,621 feet; nonetheless, I floated easily down the trail. Adrenaline coursed through my veins thanks to overcoming the elements and a general happiness for being alive.
Return to Cosby and departing the Great Smoky Mountains
Soon I made the Low Gap Trail junction and flew down to my car. I pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the park exit. Just before leaving two wild turkeys emerged from the woods to bid me farewell and put a fitting close to the best hiking day ever in the Great Smoky Mountains.
If this adventure appeals to you then I highly suggest hiking the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One can park at Cosby and hike up the Low Gap Trail to the Appalachian Trail. There is camping available near the trailhead.
From there one can hike on the AT or continue into the back country on the Low Gap Trail. The East side of the park is just as pretty and far less crowded. There are many interconnecting trails that make for a plethora of loop options. The stretch of trail that I enjoyed so much was on the AT between the Tricorner Knob shelter and the Low Gap Trail junction.
For more information on hiking in the park click here.
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