If you have a sense of adventure and you’re not afraid to try new things, then this list is just for you. We’ve highlighted five places you should visit if you want to step off from some of the typical tourist routes when you’re visiting the Smokies.
A great place for viewing spring wildflowers, Greenbrier is a less-crowded area to picnic and snap some photos. The Ramsey Cascades trailhead provides car-side viewing. If you trek the four miles down to the Cascades, you’ll see the 100-foot waterfall, which is the tallest waterfall in the Smokies. It will take 5–7 hours to hike and is strenuous. If you want to go on a milder hike, you can take the Porters Creek Trail, which offers excellent wildflower views. The area around Porters is rich in history. It was settled in the 1700s, and at one it time boasted multiple blacksmith shops, corn mills, general stores, and churches. The remnants of the community are still visible today. Take the trail from the parking lot to Porters Flat, and you’ll only have to walk a mile.
Rich Mountain Road
North of Cades Cove you’ll find a single lane gravel road offering picturesque forest and landscape views. Closed from November through May, this scenic journey will bring you up from Cades Cove towards Townsend. Just after you leave Cades Cove, you’ll be able to get a view of the iconic Primitive Baptist Church. About 1.13 miles up from Cades Cove you’ll find a great vantage point to see the Cove. The listed driving time for the eight-mile trip is an hour, and it is limited to vehicles that are 3/4 ton or less.
If you want to take a journey under the beaten path, there are a few companies that offer undeveloped and unexplored cave excursions. The Lost Sea in Sweetwater is the closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They offer a wild cave tour every Saturday that is open to individuals or small groups. It starts at 1 p.m. and reservations are not required. The tour lasts about three hours. You will need to take a flashlight and clothes that you can bear to live without because they’ll likely be completely ruined. In light of this, be sure to take a change of clothes for changing into later.
If you have a group of 12 or more, the wild cave tour is offered as an overnight excursion and includes meals. You can take less than 12 people, but you will be charged for the full 12. For overnight tour participants, you can buy a “Wild Cave Spelunker” badge as a trophy of your adventure.
If you want to view a stunning natural pool and want an easy hike to get there, the hour-long journey to Midnight Hole on Big Creek Trail is about a mile and a half from the road. A half mile down the trail you’ll find the 45-foot Mouse Creek Falls. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service doesn’t recommend swimming, as there is no supervision and rocks can be slippery. However, if you do want to swim at Midnight Hole, here are some guidelines: don’t climb on rocks, be careful when walking, don’t dive or jump into the water, and lay on your back if you find yourself in fast water. Typically, more people visit Midnight Hole as the weather improves.
Mt. Cammerer Lookout
For stunning 360-degree panoramas and some history, head towards Cosby, and visit the Mt. Cammerer Lookout. Originally built as a fire tower using mountainside stone in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp and locals, the restored lookout, at just under 5,000 feet elevation, provides some of the best views of the park. The trail that starts at the Low Gap Trailhead near the Cosby Campground has some rugged terrain and can be steep in spots, but it is the shortest route.
Do you have any more unique spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or surrounding areas that would be interesting to talk about? We’d love to hear about them! Either reply below in the comments or send us a message on Facebook. Not sure about exploring on your own? Take a guided hike with A Walk in the Woods..
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