Monday, August 27, 2012

Hikes That Kids May Enjoy In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1.   Abrams Falls

Trail Features:   Waterfalls
Trail Location:       Cades Cove 
Roundtrip Length:      5.0 Miles 
Total Elevation Gain:   340 Feet 
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:  136 Feet 
Highest Elevation:      1710 Feet 
Trail Difficulty Rating:  5.68 (moderate) 
Parking Lot Latitude    35.59077 
Parking Lot Longitude  - 83.85293

The 5-mile roundtrip hike to Abrams Falls is relatively short and is considered to be moderate in difficulty, thus helping to make it one of the more popular trails in the park and attracting nearly 1000 visitors per day during peak season.  
Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet high, the large volume of water rushing over the cliff more than makes up for its lack of height. In fact, Abrams Falls is the most voluminous waterfall in the park. Although the long, deep pool at its base is very picturesque and inviting, swimming here is extremely dangerous due to strong currents and an undertow when close to the falls.

Kids love going swimming after hiking up to the falls durning the summer months.
The waterfall and the creek are named after Cherokee Chief Abram (or Abraham) whose village once stood several miles downstream.

2. Laurel Falls

Trail Features:  Waterfalls
Trail Location:     Little River Road 
Roundtrip Length:          2.3 Miles 
Total Elevation Gain:    314 Feet 
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:   273 Feet 
Highest Elevation:         2677 Feet 
Trail Difficulty Rating:  2.93 (easy) 
Parking Lot Latitude     35.67208 
Parking Lot Longitude  - 83.58068

Roundtrip, the trail to Laurel Falls and back to the parking lot is 2.3 miles. You'll climb about 314 feet in elevation before arriving at the 80-foot waterfall. The hike is well worth it though - Laurel Falls is very photogenic!
The waterfall consists of an upper and a lower section, divided by a walkway which crosses the stream (Laurel Branch) at the base of the upper falls. The falls receives its name from the mountain laurel that blooms along the trail and near the falls in May.
If your goal is to go home with some excellent photos of the falls you may want to plan your hike for early in the morning or late in the day. The shade provided by the surrounding mountains will produce a much better picture.

The Laurel Falls Trail was built in 1932 to provide fire crews with access to the Cove Mountain area in the event of a forest fire. By the early 1960s, however, Laurel Falls had become a popular hiking destination for visitors, and erosion was taking a toll on the trail. As part of the 1963 Accelerated Works Projects grant to the Department of Interior, the trail to Laurel Falls was paved in order to halt the problems with erosion.

3. Grotto Falls

Trail Features:    Waterfalls, Old growth forest
Trail Location:    Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail 
Roundtrip Length:           2.6 Miles 
Total Elevation Gain:       585 Feet 
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:      450 Feet 
Highest Elevation:           3777 Feet 
Trail Difficulty Rating:    3.77 (easy) 
Parking Lot Latitude       35.68037 
Parking Lot Longitude   -83.46243

For the most part the trail is a gentle climb to Grotto Falls along a wide, well-worn path. As you proceed to the waterfalls you'll cross over four small streams without the benefit of a bridge.
At 1.2 miles hikers will reach a nice tumbling cascade. Just beyond this point, looking upstream, Grotto Falls comes into view for the first time.
The most distinctive feature about Grotto Falls is that it's the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that a person can actually walk behind. The 25-foot high waterfall offers a cool, shady, and moist retreat for hikers in the summer. This same environment also provides an ideal habitat for salamanders as well.

As you walk behind the falls you can hear and feel the thunderous power of the water plunging into the pool in front of you. Watch your step here - especially in the winter - the area around the falls is always wet and slick.

4.  Hen Wallow Falls

Trail Features:         Waterfalls     
Trail Location:          Cosby     
Roundtrip Length:           4.4 miles     
Total Elevation Gain:      900 feet     
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:     409 feet     
Highest Elevation:          2923 feet     
Trail Difficulty Rating:  6.20 (moderate)     
Parking Lot Latitude:      35.75719     
Parking Lot Longitude:   - 83.2087

Almost from the start, the path leading to Hen Wallow Falls begins to make a steady climb up the northern flank of Snake Den Mountain. While ascending Gabes Mountain Trail, which was once known as the Messer Trail, the roots and rocks on the pathway will testify how rough this trail is in some places. Although rugged, the trail passes through a beautiful lush-green forest of rhododendron and ferns, with hemlocks and yellow poplars that provide a nice overhead canopy.
After a short distance Rock Creek will appear on your right, and nearly 0.4 mile from the trailhead you'll pass a side trail that leads to the Cosby Campground. Shortly thereafter, the trail crosses over Rock Creek.
At roughly 0.7 mile you'll pass a social trail leading off to your right. Continue going straight here.

Roughly 1 mile from the trailhead you'll reach Messer Gap. There's another faint side trail on your right here that supposedly leads to an old grave site. To continue onto the falls hikers should go straight here. Just past this junction look towards your left and you'll see the remnants of an old rock wall from a former homestead.
At 2.1 miles you'll reach the short (and somewhat steep) side trail that leads down to the base of 90-foot Hen Wallow Falls. Although Hen Wallow Creek is only two feet wide at the top of the falls, it fans out to almost 20 feet at the base. We were fortunate to have visited the falls after quite a bit of rain. During the drier seasons throughout the year, water flowing over the cliff side can be a little low.

5. Clingman's Dome

Trail Features:    Scenic Views, Old growth forest , Highest point on Appalachian Trail &  In Tennessee

Trail Location:      Clingman's Dome Road

Roundtrip Length:          1.0 Miles 
Total Elevation Gain:      585 Feet 
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:     585 Feet 
Highest Elevation:          6643 Feet 
Trail Difficulty Rating:   3.37 (easy) 
Parking Lot Latitude      35.562872

Parking Lot Longitude   -83.498496

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains and in Tennessee.  From the top of the observation tower pictures above, one can, at times, see for over 100 miles in every direction. Unfortunately, these times are rare, and it is more common to be able to see for around 20 miles, which still provides outstanding views.
On my most recent trip to Clingmans Dome, however, the I was not even fortunate enough to see 20 miles. On rainy and cloudy days, the hike to Clingmans Dome is shrouded in fog, and limits views to only a few hundred feet.
One can actually choose from several different hikes to reach the observation tower. The most common route begins in the parking area 0.5 miles from the tower.
A paved trail leads from this area up a steep ascent. Along the trail, one will find a number of benches to rest. At each 0.1 mile there will also be a bench with a number indicating how many tenths of a mile you have walked.

Take your time on this popular trail as there are a number of potentially great views looking off into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Also be aware, however, that this is a very popular trail.

The forest surrounding Clingmans Dome received enough participation each year (mainly from near constant cloud coverage), that is considered a coniferous rain forest. As you walk up this trail, a community of spruce-firs lies along each sides of the trail.  These beautiful trees, however, are no longer a thriving community. Clingmans Dome received the highest levels of acid rain of any national park. Due to the constant precipitation left by the clouds and rain, the spruce firs are dying, and one will quickly notice the number of empty trunks and dead limbs in the area.

Once you reach the top of the trail, you will find a large circular stone area sitting below the 54 foot concrete observation tower. This tower is very accessible, and an easy climb to the top, as it is a long slow loop to the top with no stairs.

The top of the tower offers a 360 degree view  of the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Temperatures on top of Clingmans Dome can be suprising, even on a warm spring day. Be prepared for moisture and temperatures that can be 20 to 30 degrees lower than the temperatures in the towns surrounding the mountain.

Nearby  Trails
Approach Trail from Newfound Gap – 7 miles
Appalachian Trail – 2181 miles
Mountain to Sea Trail – approximately 1000 miles (Clingmans Dome is the trail head of this trail)

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