Great Smoky Mountains

The Southeast's Backwoods at its Best

Morning mist settles along Great Smoky National Park     Photo: Weststock

Established 1934
521,490 Acres
IN THE SMOKIES, the numbers tell good news and bad: 930 miles of trails, almost 500 miles of fishable streams, hazy blue ridges topping out above 6,000 feet (the highest east of the Rockies), 4,000 species of plants, 65 of mammals...and upwards of nine million humans every year. So head where the masses aren't—the Greenbrier area, across the North Carolina border on the Tennessee side—for three sweet and soothing days of HIKING and FLY-FISHING. Start hoofing it at the Porter's Creek trailhead, reached by entering the park off Highway 321 east of Gatlinburg. Follow the wide creek for five miles until you reach the evocatively named Campsite 31, gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation in the process—good reason to stop and wet a line. Casting is easier here than in many of the park's cramped, brush-banked streams, and you can catch browns, rainbows, speckleds, and brookies (throw back the latter; they're the only natives). Legend has it one ranger landed a 21-inch trout in Porter's, so come prepared. Next morning, backtrack a couple miles from your campsite to the Brushy Mountain Trail, where you'll cross more trout streams and roam through tulip poplars, hemlocks, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels. Bunk that night at the Mount LeConte shelter, a three-sided stone structure at 6,593 feet (free; reserve through the backcountry office at 865-436-1297). Or book a slot at the LeConte Lodge, a rustic haven reachable only by trail and lit by kerosene lamps (cabins and group lodges start at $81.50 per adult per night; call 865-429-5704). On the third day, march six more miles on the Boulevard Trail, encountering many a heart-stopping mountain vista, to another shelter, at Icewater Springs near the Appalachian Trail (70 miles of which traverse the park). Finally, a two-mile taste of the AT takes you to Newfound Gap Road, where you thoughtfully arranged for a shuttle to pick you up ($44, A Walk in the Woods, 865-436-8283).
WHEN TO GO: Early spring before school's out, and September after Labor Day. Flower fans, mark your calendar accordingly: April brings ground flowers; May, mountain laurel; June, rhododendron. Yes, the fall leaves are pretty, but skip October—that's the park's second-busiest month.
ANNUAL VISITORS: 9,196,408. (High: July, 1.4 million. Low: January, 297,855.)
MORE CHOICE ADVENTURE: Treat yourself and your MOUNTAIN BIKE to eight-mile Round Bottom Road and its lightly traveled curves. You'll find it on the North Carolina side in the park's southeast end.
HEADLAMP READING: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, by Rose Houk, photographs by Michael Collier; The Wild East: A Biography of the Great Smoky Mountains, by Margaret Brown
LOCAL SPECIALTY: The Old Mill, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, serves up heaping helpings of southern Appalachia: rocking chairs on the porch, bluegrass on weekends, and more fried chicken than you can finish. Drop in early to avoid lines.
INSIDE SCOOP: Stock these trout flies in your arsenal, and your odds of getting skunked diminish greatly: Smoky Mountain thunderhead, Coffey's stonefly, blue-winged olive, yallerhammer, Palmer fly, and Adams variant. Hunter Banks, a fine fly shop in Asheville, North Carolina, offers gear and advice (800-227-6732; www.hunterbanks.com ).
PARK HEADQUARTERS: 865-436-1200, www.nps.gov/grsm

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