Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 270 miles of roads, over 800 miles
of trails, and more than 500,000 acres of land. How much of it have you
traversed? There are 50 species of mammals, 80 species of fish, 200 species
of birds, and 1,300 species of flowering plants. The Park even boasts
seven trees of record dimensions. How many of these have you seen?
More than ten million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National
Park yearly, but most only see the park superficially. The best part of
the Smoky Mountains area is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself,
yet most people's views and experiences of the Park are limited to the
main roads, a handful of the most frequented trails, the Cades Cove loop
road, the carnival atmosphere of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and the
bumper of the car in front of them. While the individuals who experience
these things are richer for the experience (except for the bumper), they
are missing so much. Perhaps saving the rest for another trip? That's
a worthwhile notion, but most will simply revisit the places which afforded
them so much pleasure before, while there is a lifetime of adventure and
experiences left undiscovered.
Though there is so much land and so many sites, discovering the beauty
and solitude of this national park does not have to be a hit-or-miss effort.
Rod's Guide will help you plan part of your visit to the Park.
With the help of Rod's Guide, you can get out of your car and get
lost (figuratively speaking) in the splendor of the Park. This month we
feature a fairly easy hike from the trailhead near the Cades Cove Visitor's
Center, where you will follow Abrams Creek approximately 2.5 to Abrams
How to Get To Cades Cove and Abrams Falls:
To get to the Smokies area from where you are, see directions to get to Gatlinburg or Townsend, Tennessee. From Townsend take TN 321 to the Park entrance, turn right on Little River Road to Cades Cove. From Gatlinburg, turn right at the Sugarlands Visitor Center onto Little River Road and on to Cades Cove, where you will travel nearly halfway around the 11-mile loop road to the parking area for the 5-mile round-trip hike to Abrams Falls.
Summary: A fairly easy 5-mile trek (round-trip) that is ideal
for the beginner or a family. Plan on roughly three hours, depending on
your pace and whether you have small children along. Since the departure
point for this hike lies within Cades Cove (the most visited spot within
the Park), you will find little solitude unless you are hiking very early
in the morning or in the "off" season before May or after the
last pockets of Fall color have disappeared. However, even if the circumstances
are not ideal, the hike to Abrams Falls is more than reward enough for
the effort. The name Abrams is a shortened reference to Abraham, the Cherokee
chief of a village on the Little Tennessee near the mouth of what is now
Elevation: You will climb to approximately 1,800 feet at one point,
but when you arrive at the falls you are actually 300 feet lower than
when you started.
Point of departure: You have entered Cades Cove from either Townsend
or Gatlinburg via Little River Road (refer to map above). Drive along
the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road 4.9 miles, and turn right onto a gravel
road that terminates within 0.5 mile at a parking area. Signs mark the
area well, but you've gone too far if you get to the Cades Cove Visitors
Center. The Abrams Falls Trail begins at the wooden bridge at the end
of the parking area.
Abrams Creek Trail: From the parking area, enter the forest and
cross the wooden bridge at Abrams Creek. The trail leads right 0.5 mile
to the Elijah Oliver Place and left to begin the hike to Abrams Falls.
The trail to Abrams Falls parallels Abrams Creek most of the way, except
when Abrams Creek twists left from Arbutus Ridge to form a nearly one-mile
loop resembling a "horseshoe," a stretch of the creek that has
always been populated with trout fishermen when we've passed. At mile
2.5 you will cross Wilson Branch and take the short side trail to the
Eighteen smaller streams drain the slopes of the Cades Cove enclosure
and empty into Abrams Creek. At the falls, what was the relatively peaceful
Abrams Creek is suddenly diverted into a narrow chute along the right
side, transforming Abrams to a violent and beautiful twenty-foot plunge
over the ledge. During the hot summer months, the natural pool attracts
sunbathers and swimmers. During June, the falls are framed by rhododendron
and laurel that have grown up the steep bank found at this point on Abrams
Creek. The mist created by the plunge of the falls creates a natural air
conditioner, and the pool is a wonderful spot to pause, cool off, and
enjoy some of the very best the Park has to offer the visitor.
For those who want to hike further, the remaining two miles of the trail
are more isolated and challenging than the section you have just completed.
The trail ends at the Abrams Creek Ford, where the hiker can pick up the
Hannah Mountain Trail (which leads left 1.9 miles to the Rabbit Creek
Trail at Scott Gap) and Hatcher Mountain Trail (which leads right 2.8
miles to the Cooper Road Trail and the Beard Cane Creek Trail). Otherwise,
you can retrace your steps to the Abrams Creek Trail and return to Cades
Cove--completing the 5-mile trek to Abrams Falls and back. From there
you can continue on the Cades Cove Loop Road to the visitors center where
you can refresh yourself and then enjoy the remaining sights of Cades
If your trek to Abrams Falls is a day-hike, take a knapsack and carry a
few extra items. Include some bottled water and a snack. Never drink the
water from a Park stream without boiling it first. Though the streams in
the park are invitingly cool and deceptively clear, they contain bacteria
that can wreck your trip and a substantial period thereafter, if you succumb
to the temptation to drink from them. You might even include a camera in
your knapsack too. If you are making an overnight trip to LeConte Lodge,
you'll be carrying a backpack, and we assume here that you have included
all the necessary items and arranged for the required reservation at the
lodge. A backcountry permit is required for overnight stays in the backcountry.
Certain campsites are reserved in advance. Permits are available at visitors
centers or by calling (865) 436-1231.
Order Your Park Area Maps Here....
General Tips for Enjoying Hikes in the Smokies
he hiker should be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. The temperature on some hikes can be 10 degrees cooler than when you leave lower elevations. 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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