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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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