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Iconic Appalachian Trail Not Just Built For Thru-hikers

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Iconic Appalachian Trail Not Just Built For Thru-hikers

The view is beautiful, all times of the year, and worth the effort. Fall is especially aesthetic as the leaves are changing colors. Think I need to schedule another trip to the Smokies…

Clingman's Dome Observation Tower

Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower

KnoxNews has the story…

With “A Walk in the Woods,” the movie in theaters now about the Appalachian Trail, some people in this region may find themselves wondering about that part of the trail in the Smokies. It is, after all, one of the parts of the trail on which author Bill Bryson and his pal Katz hiked, although for them it was a rainy miserable experience. They stopped at Clingmans Dome rather than walk the entire Smokies portion of the trail. However, weather varies and it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

The entirety of the AT in the Smokies goes from Fontana Dam in the south to Davenport Gap in the northeast. While it’s just a small section of the full Georgia-to-Maine trail, the part of the trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is 71 miles long. According to the website Hiking thesmokies.com, it usually takes about a week to complete. Backpackers need to get reservations and permits from the park service in order to camp along the Appalachian Trail in designated shelters and campgrounds.

But, for people with busier schedules, there are many ways to break the trail up into out-and-back day hikes, out-and-back overnights, or 3- to 4-day stays. Two day hikes on the Great Smoky Mountains AT are from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion (8 miles round-trip) and Clingmans Dome to Newfound Gap (7.5 miles one way).

One of the best-known and most easily accessible spots on the AT in the Smokies is Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies and on the AT. Visitors can reach it by car. I’ve visited that spot several times, enjoying its view of mountains rolling beyond it amid the spruce and fir forest surrounding the parking area. Balsam wooly adelgid has, unfortunately, killed several fir stands, but the place remains one of the Smokies’ most scenic areas.

“Be sure to bring a good jacket, even in summer,” says the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website with regard to Clingmans Dome. On one trip there, I shivered in my sweatshirt while looking out at the valley and mountains below. Still, it was worth it to see the mountains going further back into the sunset distance, becoming purplish amid the orange glow.

Plan on visiting during a clear day so that you can actually see the great view. In “A Walk in the Woods,” Bill Bryson relates that, due to the cloudy weather, he saw “nothing whatsoever but the dim shapes of dying trees amid the swirling fog.” I have visited on similar days.

Bryson also wrote about the balds, grassy areas on top of mountains. Possibly, many years ago, people cleared them or lightning strikes created them. “To climb for hours beneath the cool dark forest and emerge at last onto the liberating space of a sunny bald under a dome of blue sky is an experience not to be missed,” he writes. Yet he was pessimistic about the possibility that these areas would stay cleared. “Within twenty years,” he says, “there may be no balds in the Great Smoky Mountains.”

Bryson’s prediction proved wrong. Since the book’s publication in 1998, a few balds have stayed bald, including Andrews Bald, which is maintained by the National Park Service and can be reached by hiking 1.8 miles from the Clingmans Dome Parking Area.

To place reservations and find out more information on the various Appalachian Trail hikes in the Smoky Mountains, visit www.nps.gov/grsm.

For those looking for an inexpensive getaway, the Smokies are one of the most unique places in America, and worth a visit…

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