Traveling Ted is a blog that takes readers along on my adventures hiking, canoeing, skiing, and international backpacking. Many blogs focus on one aspect of backpacking, but I tackle both the outdoor adventure side and international exploration as well.

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When you think of the Great Smoky Mountains, most people think of tree covered mountains shrouded in mist as far as the eye can. The vision is accurate and a big appeal for those who visit. If this is all you see during your stay in the mountains, you have only explored part of this amazing place. The Great Smoky Mountain backcountry is my favorite part of the park.

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry footbridge

There is much more to the Great Smoky Mountains than what can be seen from the roads

Many who come to the Smoky Mountains stick to the roads and scramble down paved walkways to waterfalls and overlooks. They also camp in Cades Cove and drive the scenic 11 mile loop and then go home. They may also swim or fish in one of the many gorgeous mountain streams. All of these are worthy activities, but one misses the most spectacular part of the park.

Related: Cades Cove Great Smoky Mountains Scenic loop

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry – Rhododendron bloom over a mountain stream

Don’t forget the Great Smoky Mountain backcountry

Even the more adventurous that come to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) miss one of my favorite parts of the park. I really enjoy the backcountry. I define the Great Smoky Mountain backcountry as any section at least a mile away from a parking lot and any trail off of the Appalachian Trail.

Related: My first bear encounter in the Great Smoky Mountains

Related: Smoky Mountain bear encounter number 2, 3, and 4

If you do not get off the road and get off the Appalachian Trail, you are missing the rhododendron stands (in full bloom in the summer), the gushing mountain streams, and the beautiful forested ridges. The Appalachian Trail is beautiful too, but since it follows the top of the ridge, you miss the majority of the mountain streams found in the lower elevations.

Great Smoky Mountain trail

Backcountry trail heading up to the Appalachian Trail

Great Smoky Mountain National Park backcountry photo essay

There are hundreds of miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. I hope this photo essay convinces you to do at least a short loop or stray off the Appalachian Trail into the rest of the park. Another perk of getting off the beaten path is finding solitude. Hard to believe how easy this is to find even in one of America’s most visited park. On my latest trip, I stayed at Russell Field shelter with 8 other people on the AT and then hiked down to a backcountry campsite where I stayed by myself. I hiked 20 miles this day and hardly saw anyone.

Related: Best day hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountain stream

Beautiful mountain stream

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry trail

Rhododendron bloom along a Great Smoky Mountain backcountry trail

Great Smoky Mountain rhododendron bloom

Close up of a Rhododendron bloom

Great Smoky Mountain trail

Flower petals fall on a Great Smoky Mountain backcountry trail

Great Smoky Mountain hiking

I felt rather kingly hiking over flower petals

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry

Another footbridge over a Great Smoky Mountain backcountry trail

Great Smoky Mountains

A beam of light penetrates a rhododendron bush along a mountain stream

Great Smoky Mountains

Hiking up the Parsons Branch Road near Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry

Fording a river along a Great Smoky Mountain backcountry trail

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry

Approaching Abrams Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great blue heron Abrams Creek

Great blue heron fishing along Abrams Creek

Great Smoky Mountain backcountry

One last Great Smoky Mountain backcountry footbridge

Related: Great Smoky Mountain fall photo essay

Adventure on!

The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then sign up for the email newsletter. Notifications are sent out once or twice a month with what is new with Traveling Ted’s adventures. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).