Now that Great Smoky Mountain National Park is back open, and within driving distance for so many, they are having record visitation. On a recent trip, I could have tried a more popular trail, going for big views like on Chimney tops, or Mt LeConte, but based on the packed parking lots, a quiet hike immersed in nature would have been all but impossible. Instead, I gave up iconic views and headed for the Smokemont Loop, a 6 mile circle located near the southern end of the park.
Here’s my video version of the hike.
The hike itself starts within the Smokemont Campground, near the end of Loop D. Instead of hundreds of cars filling large parking lots and lining the roads, there were just a few cars in the designated hiker lot.
The route begins right by the lot on Bradley Fork Trail, at about 2,200 feet in elevation. Although the loop eventually climbs to over 3,500 feet, The first 1.7 miles are wide and relatively flat, following the creek. Certainly the creek is an early highlight. Keep your eyes open as the trail is also used by horses and a few had left their calling card.
I’ve read the trail can be muddy at times, but after several dry days, there were no problems in that regard. Just over a mile in, the trail hits an intersection with Chasteen Creek Trail. A very short distance up this side trail is one of the parks designated back country campsites, Number 50 for those keeping track. It’s a very nice site with water nearby, flat spots to camp, tree stump tables and even cables to hoist your food up and away from bears or any other critters that might have designs on it. As this might be the easiest back country campsite to reach in the entire park, it would be a great spot for that first time camper.
Another half mile or so, Bradley Fork Trail intersects with Smokemont loop trail and immediately crosses Bradley Fork on a long log bridge, an interesting crossing.
Soon thereafter, the trail leaves the creek, cuts into the deeper woods and starts climbing. While the climb is very noticable, it remains moderate, with a few switchbacks when needed. Despite being late September, a few summer wildflowers were still hanging on to provide a bit of interest during the uphill trudge.
It is mainly a walk through a green tunnel, though there were glimpses of views. I’m assuming a winter hike on the trail would be significantly better in that regard.
After a bit over 1 1/2 miles of moderate climbing, 3+ miles total, the trail tops out at around 3600 feet. A log had been thoughtfully placed at the spot and worked out as a great spot for a break and a snack before continuing on.
Had I been a little quicker with the camera, I’d have a new bear photo to share. I came around a corner and as soon as we noticed each other, the bear took off running.
As the trail drops back down, there are a few more open shots, but mostly just more pleasant hiking through a green tunnel.
Eventually, the trail winds its way back down, hits a service road and follows along Bradley Fork for a bit. Throughout the stream there were a few folks trout fishing.
Soon the service road dumps you back into the campground. Hang a left and stroll for a bit until you get back to loop D and your vehicle, just over 6 miles from when you started.
While the Smokemont loop doesn’t provide much in the way of expansive views, it’s a great break from the crowds that are rediscovering GSMNP. I saw almost as many bears as other people, and that makes for a good day in my book.