Great Smoky Mountains Cabins, Gatlinburg Tennessee, Wedding Chapels

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Great Smoky Mountains Cabins, Gatlinburg Tennessee, Wedding Chapels

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 Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains

Hiking the Smokies:
Chimney Tops

 Chimney Tops Trail

Although only two miles in length, the trail to Chimney Tops requires strength and caution. Nevertheless, dueMap to Chimney Tops to the excellent views available from this trail, as well as abundant wildflowers, streams and large trees, many feel a hike up to "the chimneys" is well worth both effort and risk. By this logic, Chimney Tops trail has become one of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park's most popular trails.

To reach the Chimney Tops trailhead from Gatlinburg Tennessee, take Newfound Gap road into the park. Newfound Gap road is the only road which completely traverses the Great Smoky Mountain National park, linking Cherokee NC to Gatlinburg TN. From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, continue 6.7 miles until you reach the parking lot at the Chimney Tops trailhead. The parking lot and trailhead is located between the lower tunnel and "the loop" on Newfound Gap road. If traveling from Cherokee to Chimney Tops, take the Newfound gap road twenty-two miles from Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Once at the trailhead, there is plenty of room for parking, but the trail itself is sometimes a bit crowded due to its popularity. A tour bus in the parking lot means more people on the trail, so if you are looking for a back-to-nature experience along this trail, you may enjoy a hike to Chimney Tops during off-season. If so, beware of ice in really cold weather, as the trail is steep, rising 1,300 feet from the trailhead to the chimney-like pinnacles which give this trail its name. Ice tends to form early at the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountain National park. The highest point of Chimney Tops trail is 4,840 feet above sea level.

The Chimney Tops Trail begins at the low rock wall bordering the parking lot area. Here you will find Eastern hemlocks. The trail descends to a bridge across the Walker Camp Prong of the Little Pigeon River. In fact the trail crosses several bridges and tributaries along the one mile hike to Beech Flats. The second and third bridge both cross the Road Prong and guide the hikers on to the next landmark, Beech Flats Cove. This is approximately the half way mark of the trail. At Beech Flats, the Chimney Tops Trail crosses the Road Prong Trail that in turn leads to the Appalachian Trail at Indian gap 2.3 miles away. If your destination is Chimney Tops, you will want to stay on the main trail that veers right into a creek valley on the north side of Sugarland Mountain. This part of the trail cuts through an inspiring old growth forest, but beware of tree roots which have tripped many a hiker as they admired these old giants of the Smokies. At the top of the gulch, you'll see one of the oldest yellow Buckeyes in the Park, and just beyond the Buckeye are two sharp switchbacks that take the hiker to the bottom of the Chimneys as they rise from Sugarland Mountain.

The upper end of Chimney Tops trail is not a graded trail as it was in the beginning. The upper end of the trail narrows to a smaller trail called a manway. Narrowing, the trail continues on quite a distance. At its steepest point, the manway becomes an arduous climb--especially if ice has formed on the trail. The terrain can be rugged in places.

Two miles into the hike, you will be able to see the chimneys themselves. Care should be taken as you follow the path to the right that leads to the top. Here you can see Mount Le Conte to the east, Mount Mingus to the south, and to the west, a steep wooded side of Sugarland Mountain. Injuries have occurred in this area, as there is a hole large enough to fall into, so take precautions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Despite the obvious risks, even the upper end of Chimney Tops trail is worn smooth in places by the hoards ofView from Chimney Tops hikers willing to risk life and limb to experience "the chimneys". Why? Adventure perhaps? Or perhaps the urge to explore the chimneys for themselves? Perhaps others go simply to be edified by the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, while others go to enjoy the abundant beauty of the old growth forest and flora to be found there. Whatever the reason, the popularity of this trail continues season after season.

There are many plants of interest along the length of Chimney Tops trail. Old Hemlocks grace its top, and flowering trees and shrubs dot it's length. See how many you can recognize along your walk. To get you started, there is a large Fraser magnolia near the first bridge along this trail. Its blossoms are large, white and pretty hard to miss when in bloom in late April or early May.

Rhododendron is abundant along Chimney Tops trail. Also common are a variety of wildflowers. In Spring, you can find Trillium (right) and Hepatica (left). In Summer, Joe-Pye weed, Bee-balm, and Jewelweed can be found. Violets, Toothworts, and Foamflowers also grow nearby. On the trail to the Chimneys people rave about the yellow buckeye trees due to the age of these trees, their unusual leaf structure and the flowers which appear in May. A trek to Chimney Tops will make you understand why it is so popular. You will probably want to return on your next visit to the Smokies--and get fit in the process!

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he hiker should be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. The temperature on this hike can be 10 degrees cooler than when you left the lower elevation. Combine this with the fact that the Smokies are also the wettest place in the South, and you have the possibility for great discomfort in the event of a sudden storm. The higher elevations in the park can receive upwards of 90 inches of precipitation a year.

Don't judge the complete day by the morning sky. In summer the days usually start out clear, but as the day heats up, clouds can build up, resulting in a heavy shower. Winter is a great time to be in the Smokies, but also represents the most challenging time as well. Frontal systems sweep through the region, with alternately cloudy and sunny days, though cloudy days are most frequent in winter.

When traveling in the Smokies, it's a good idea to carry clothes for all weather conditions.

Footwear should be chosen with care. Though tennis shoes may be generally appropriate for some day hikes, boots should be worn on the uneven trails in the Park. They support the ankles from sprains and the foot from cuts and abrasions.

Stay on the designated trail, because most hikers who get lost do so when they leave the path. If you get temporarily lost, try to retrace your steps until you cross the trail again. Then its just a matter of guessing which way you were headed when you left the trail. You will either continue the way you were headed or go back to your starting point--either way, no harm is done.

Always bring rain gear and a wool sweater. They don't weigh much and might make the difference between being miserable or not in the event it rains. As mentioned earlier, the Smokies get approximately 90 inches of rain a year. This is good. Its what makes the Smokies such a wonderful place to be. Don't start a hike if thunderstorms threaten--some of the most devastating damage ever to the Park has been from great storms which can be upon you with little warning.

Cross streams carefully. Getting wet, even in summer, could lead to hypothermia, which leads ultimately to disorientation, poor decision making and, in extreme circumstances, death. Having said that, don't let a fear of hypothermia, getting lost, or bears prevent you from the enjoyment to be had by trekking the trails of the Park.

When we questioned a Park Ranger about how to react to meeting a bear on the trail, he smilingly told us the most likely sighting of a bear will be its tail disappearing over a ridge. Most "incidents" occur when an ignorant visitor feeds or otherwise harasses a bear. Our own experiences with bears have proven this to be true.

To avoid crowds, hike during the week; avoid holidays; go during the "off" season. Also, go in the morning before most folks are through eating breakfast; this is a good time to see wildlife and morning light is great for photography! You can also avoid crowds by using the outlying trailheads such as those found at the Cosby and Wears Valley entrances. I'm embarrassed to say we didn't know these existed for our first 18 visits to the Smokies. But to our delight, we found new vistas, trails, and landscapes to "discover for the first time".

ith a little care and planning, your trip to the Smokies can be much more rewarding and repay you with more great memories. You can enjoy not only the visual splendor of the Park, you can view it without counting out-of-state license plates, and you can get more fit in the bargain.

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