The Greenbrier Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park smoky mountain hiking club cabin greenbrier

Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin

…feeling great in GREENBRIER!

The Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be found six miles east of Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Highway 321. Also known as Big Greenbrier, this watershed is widely considered the finest example of a cove hardwood forest on planet Earth. The entrance to the cove is a narrow paved road which meanders alongside the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River.


A Driving Tour of Greenbrier

The first mile into Greenbrier has many riverside pull outs for fishing, paddling, and the occasional wedding ceremony. After passing the ranger station the road turns to gravel and narrows, so please be courteous and allow room for other vehicles to maneuver. Past the ranger station the next landmark will be a quiet picnic area on the left next to the river. The picnic grounds have several tables and composting toilets.

Traveling on you will soon find a pair of bridges on the left. The Grapeyard Ridge trail begins on the west side of the bridges. Grapeyard Ridge meanders 7.6 miles west ending at the Cherokee Orchard Motor Nature Trail.

The Old Settler’s trail begins on the east side of the bridges. Old Settlers trail stretches 15.9 miles east to its junction with Maddron Bald trail and Gabes Mountain trail.

Turn left onto the bridge and drive 1.5 miles to the Ramsay Cascade trailhead. Ramsay Cascades is a tough eight mile round trip hike to one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls found in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trail is renowned for its old growth forest and giant trees in addition to the awe inspiring waterfall.

Remaining straight at the bridge will bring you to the second picnic area found in Greenbrier. This spot has a covered pavilion, picnic tables, a pure, running spring and composting toilets.

A half mile after the picnic area the road dead ends at the Porters Creek trailhead. Porters Creek trail is 3.7 miles long and is a favorite among wildflower enthusiasts during the spring. Porters Creek trail also provides access to the historic Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin and the Brushy Mountain Trail. Brushy Mountain is 4.7 miles long to its junction with Trillium Gap trail and is considered one of the most challenging ways to access the summit of Mt. Leconte. Continue reading…

Five Great Smoky Mountain Fishing Spots

Smoky Mountain fishing is fun for the whole family.

Cast your line in the Smoky Mountains for the catch of a lifetime!

Five Great Smoky Mountain Fishing Spots. Smoky Mountain Fishing is one of the most popular activities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies have over two thousand miles of streams and rivers within the park boundary.  If you are ready for the challenge, fishing opportunities abound in the Smokies.

Anglers from around the globe visit the park to test their skills in our pristine waters. If you are a novice or a seasoned pro you will be hollerin’ “Fish On” before you know it.  Folks often ask HeySmokies, “What kind of fish do you have in the Smoky Mountains?” The five most common game fish in the Smokies are Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Rock Bass, and Smallmouth Bass. Each of these beauties are a thrill to catch. The HeySmokies fly rod squad agrees that the most beautiful fish we ever caught is the one on the end of our line right now!

The HeySmokies fly rod squad has trekked across the Smokies from end to end over the years and we know where the fish tend to be biting. For those who are unfamiliar with the park here are a few fishing destinations you will want to explore. If you are after Smallmouth bass and Rock bass a couple of good places to begin would be the Big Pigeon River on eastern edge of the park. The Pigeon is easily accessed in Hartford, TN via Interstate 40. The Waterville road I – 40 exit, five miles south of Hartford near Big Creek, is another spot with easy access. If you are after trout you can’t go wrong in Big Greenbrier five miles east of Gatlinburg. Porters Creek and the middle prong of the Little Pigeon river are popular spots in “Big G.” If you plan to visit the North Carolina side of Smokies make plans to cast a line in Cataloochee near Maggie Valley or Deep Creek near Bryson City. Both places offer solitude and a sense of immersion in the mountains.

Brook Trout is the only species of trout native to the Smoky Mountains. This fish is known as “spec” or “speckled trout” by Smoky Mountain natives and is one of the most elusive and difficult to catch. Many anglers are not aware that spec is not a true trout but a “char.” The historic range of char stretches from Canada to north Georgia. “Brookies” in the Smokies usually have a life span of less than three years and rarely grow larger than 8 – 9 inches.

Brown Trout are the largest game fish species in the national park. Primarily found in the

Trout fishing in the Smokies!

Deciding which stream to fish may be the most difficult thing about angling in the Smokies!

lower elevation streams, they thrive in slow moving water with good cover and lot’s of hiding spots. “Brownies” were brought to the the United States from Europe and compete with other species in the Smokies. They are long lived and it is not uncommon for them to survive up to twelve years. The majority caught in the Smokies are six to twelve inches in length and have been known to become thirty inches long weighing eleven pounds. Can you imagine the feeling of reeling in one of those bad boys?

Rainbow Trout are the most common game fish in the Smokies and are highly prized by anglers. Rainbows are found in almost every stream in the national park and are recognized by their familiar pink-toned stripe on their side. Like Brownies, Rainbows are not native to the Smokies, they were introduced from stock in the Northwestern United States. They were released into our mountain streams by logging companies in the early 1900’s. Most Rainbows reeled in by anglers are six to ten inches in length with an average age of three to five years. It is extremely rare to find rainbow trout over twelve inches in length.

Smallmouth bass and rock bass inhabit the lowest elevation streams and rivers in the Smokies on the borders of the park. They prefer cool deeper pools and shaded areas near the banks of the river. These species are native to the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi river. Smallmouth bass are the largest of the two and are usually six to fourteen inches in length. Their lifespan is five to seven years and a five pounder is considered a trophy fish. Rockbass are smaller in size ranging from four to eight inches in length but occasionally reach up to ten inches. Their typical life span is six to eight years.

Bonus angler tip: Did you know only one fishing license is required to fish Great Smoky Mountains National Park? With roughly half the park in North Carolina and the other in Tennessee a valid license from either state gives you total access to over 500,000 square miles of fishing heaven. As if you needed another reason to come fish with us!

Smoky Mountain Ironweed

Giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is one of the most striking and beautiful wildflowers in the region!

Smoky Mountain Ironweed is a beautiful flowering plant commonly found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If a hike takes you through a sunny meadow in the Smokies during the late summer or autumn, you are likely to see a tall graceful wildflower with a head of deep purple flowers and bright green spear-shaped leaves growing along the meadow’s wet margins, often accompanied by goldenrod. This will be ironweed. You might also see it growing along roadsides and in pastures in Cades Cove, largely unnoticed until it begins to bloom in late July, with flowers continuing into late October. Orange and brown skipper butterflies are also likely to be flitting about the plant’s flowers, feeding on its nectar, which they greatly favor. But as you approach ironweed and look more closely, you’ll find that its beauty disguises its truly tough nature.

First, ironweed is tall. The most common variety in the Smokies, giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), grows up to 9 feet in height, though 7 feet is more normal. Next, it has a coarse, stiff, rather thick stem, reddish in color, that easily supports the plant’s great height and gives it its name. At its base, the plant forms a clump of stems that hold tenaciously to the soil mostly by way of a long tap root, making it difficult for farmers to eradicate the plant from their pastures, where its toxicity poses a threat to livestock. (Native Americans, however, used the dried tap root in a bitter drink to combat fevers and purify the blood.) The plant propagates itself over an extensive area through the thousands of seeds it produces each autumn. A single plant can produce up to 19,000 seeds.

While farmers view ironweed as a pest, gardeners favor it as a background plant for butterfly and native plant gardens, especially when partnered with sunflowers, milkweed, or hollyhocks. It is relatively easy to grow in East Tennessee, requiring a sunny spot, some compost to amend the clay soil, regular watering until established, and mulch to prevent drying out. Gardeners may wish to consider New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) as their ornamental of choice instead of giant ironweed since it is a more prolific bloomer.

Ironweed is easy to find this time of year no matter what part of the Smokies you visit. Keep your eyes peeled for it’s showy blooms in Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Cataloochee, Greenbrier, Cosby, Smokemont, and Tremont. is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.


Sources: GardenKnowhow,

Ironweed, and Ohio State.

Hike into spring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


The amazing fire pink (Silene virginica) wildflower can often be found in sunny, rocky outcrops alongside trails and roads.

Hike into spring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina is magical. A time of renewal and rebirth and it has never been more welcome than this year following on the heels of the recent devastating fires.

Spring is a season best experienced first hand. Poplar and Sourwood trees are showing their buds. Delicate pink and white Dogwoods can be found blooming throughout the landscape and soon will usher in a blazing display of color as wild azaleas strut their stuff, punctuating the mountains against the dense evergreen of Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, and Hemlock. A warm, gentle breeze carries the hint of blossoms, moist earth, and that indefinable smell of spring. A favorite activity for us is to hike with spring over the coming months as warm temperatures climb the mountains heralding the seasons change at each elevation.

One of our favorite places to enjoy spring and view amazing wildflowers is the Porters Creek Trail in Greenbrier. This trail is easy to find and fairly easy to walk. In addition to an amazing wildflower display you can enjoy the impressive John Whaley cantilevered barn built in 1875 and the historic Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin.


Porters Creek Trail is a great hike for the entire family!

Beyond the the historic structures, a profusion of wildflowers carpet the forest floor. Keep an eye out for bloodroot, hepaticas, white fringed phacelia, trilliums of every color, bluets, and jack in the pulpit.

Approximately two miles above the trailhead is the spectacular Fern Falls which plunges sixty feet down to the trail and beyond to it’s confluence with Porters Creek. These falls are dramatic during times of high water, and the cool breeze flowing down from its rocky heights is always refreshing during warm summer months!

The trail continues another 1.7 miles past Fern Falls ending at Backcountry Campsite 31, a spacious site located conveniently next to Porters Creek and in the shadow of Mount LeConte and adjacent to the Appalachian Trail.

Winter Hiking in the Smoky Mountains | What You Need To Know and Where To Go!

The best thing about the Smokies is that every season of the year offers its own joys! Get out today, hike one of the park’s beautiful trails and get a taste of winter’s glory in East Tennessee or Western North Carolina. From frozen waterfalls to forests laced with light snow, everyone from beginners to experienced hikers will find winter hiking in the Smoky Mountains delightful! What’s more, local outfitters can get you the base gear you need to enjoy a day in the heart of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. A few of them share with us what you need to know and where to go for winter hiking fun in the Smoky Mountains!

Winter Hiking in the Smoky Mountains Need to Know Where to Go

When the leaves are gone a whole new Smokies reveals itself!

Michael Shepperd of GSM Outfitters in Wears Valley enjoys hiking in winter for a number of reasons. “Oftentimes I like to hike the most popular trails in winter, mid-week, to have a quiet, peaceful hike that would otherwise be very crowded and congested. I hiked on a Wednesday in the beginning of December to Abrams Falls (in Cades Cove). Besides myself and my wife, we saw no one. I took long-shot photos of the falls without one person being in the frame.  Hikes like Abrams or Ramsey Cascades are great to go to in the winter if you enjoy owning the falls. For photography, oftentimes these experiences are priceless!”

Shepperd, whose store offers hikers just about everything they need to stay comfortable on a chilly day, including base layers of clothing, great winter coats, hats, gloves, boots, Microspikes (to keep feet from slipping on icy trails), trekking poles and more, has plenty of other reasons for hitting the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains after the weather turns cold.

“Hikes like Bote Mountain, Rich Mountain, or any ridgeline hike are great in the winter. With dramatically reduced foliage, the views on these hikes are even more spectacular only during late fall, winter and early spring. Winter is also a great time to do waterfall hikes. Water tables are up, normally thirsty plants are not taxing ground water, and with most of the leaves gone there are vantages that are not available in the summer. Hikes like Mt. LeConte and Charlie’s Bunion will oftentimes render views of frosted peaks, dense clouds and land contours that are normally hidden under blankets of green,” Shepperd says. For more info, give GSM Outfitters a call at 865-366-2608.

John Northrup of the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Gatlinburg, says that if the area has recently been hit with decent snowfall or ice affecting roads, visitors still have options. “Odds are if the roads are icy or snow-covered, access to the heart of the park via US 441 will be prohibited until they are deemed safe for vehicular traffic. If that’s the case, one will be limited to the roads and trails that can be reached around the park’s perimeter. Depending on how low the snowline is, parking at the entrances to Cherokee Orchard or Greenbrier can afford visitors opportunities to walk the gravel roads or trails with comfort and ease. It doesn’t take long to achieve that sense of solitude in the woods and still be so close to Gatlinburg,” he says. For the more experienced hiker, there are even more exciting options under these conditions. “Take the drive east from Gatlinburg to I-40 and enter the park at Big Creek (exit 451). Park by the ranger station and walk the gravel road toward the campground or ascend any of the trails emanating from the ranger station that ascend Mounts Cammerer or Sterling. The views of snow-covered mountains on a clear day from either summit’s observation tower are breathtaking,” Northrup advises. For more info, call NOC in Gatlinburg at 865-277-8209.

Steve Ellis, owner and chief guide at Hike the Smokys, a company offering guided hikes in the GSMNP, doesn’t let a little cold weather keep him from hitting the trails. In an email interview with HeySmokies, Ellis says “for me, the ‘best’ winter trails are the trails that foliage has restricted my ability to see historic structures, artifacts and views during the warm weather months. These trails are often in the lower altitudes, where you have easier access, and where communities once existed, such as Greenbrier, Old Settler’s Trail, Porter’s Creek, and the Old Sugarlands Trail, where the CCC Camp and the Old Stone House remain. I also like Baskins Creek (you’ll need to hike in from Cherokee Orchard Loop Road as the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed from November 28 – March 24) and the Elkmont area, which is also a great place to find hidden and not-so-hidden ruins.”

Ellis, like Shepperd and Northrup, also enjoys grabbing some altitude on a cold day in the Smokies. “The higher altitudes are fun to explore, and see even greater views than in the warmer seasons, due to the incredibly clear visibility on clear days. I really enjoy a day hike on the Appalachian Trail heading east from Newfound Gap Park area to ‘The Jumpoff,’ located on the Boulevard Trail, and Charlie’s Bunion, further east on the Appalachian Trail,” he says.

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