The Deep Creek Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Deep Creek Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park includes three impressive waterfalls found among the pristine mountain streams that appeal to anglers and tubers alike. Hikers love the trails that lead to the waterfalls. Cyclists love Deep Creek too; most trails in the National Park are closed to bicycles but not the Deep Creek and Indian Creek Trails. And with camping and picnicking available, what’s not to love about Deep Creek?

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Tom Branch Falls at Deep Creek. Photo credit: ProTrails

DEEP CREEK WATERFALLS

Juneywhank Falls – The beautiful 80-foot cascade, Juneywhank Falls can be viewed along a 1/3 mile steep trail from the Deep Creek trailhead parking area. This is a large parking area at the end of Deep Creek Road which is located across the creek from Deep Creek Campground.

Tom Branch Falls – Another impressive 80-foot waterfall can be accessed from the Deep Creek trailhead parking area. Walk along the flat and wide Deep Creek Trail about 1.4 mile to Tom Branch Falls.

Indian Creek Falls – Continue along Deep Creek Trail past Tom Branch Falls for another mile to Indian Creek Falls. Follow the trail about 200 ft. uphill to view the top of falls the plunges over 25 feet into Deep Creek. There is a small spur trail that leads to the bottom of the falls.

There are two loop trails that can take you to all three trails: Three Waterfalls Loop which is 2.4 miles and Deep Creek-Indian Creek Loop which is a moderate 5 miles and a favorite hike for viewing spring wildflowers.

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Family-Friendly Fall Hikes for Different Skill Levels

When it comes to hiking it seems like everyone has a different skill and interest level, so here are four family-friendly fall hikes to please most everyone. An all-day trek covering many miles may be your thing; however someone in your bunch may prefer just a short, quiet walk in the woods. With that in mind, we have some suggestions for some great fall hikes that range from easy to difficult.

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Lace up your hiking boots, or your walking shoes, do a couple of simple stretches, and enjoy kicking through the colorful and crunchy leaves on these favorite trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this season!

  • Sugarlands Nature Trail (.5 mile roundtrip, easy)
    Sugarlands Nature Trail is found 1/4 mile south of Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road. The trail is a paved, handicap accessible, path that is 1/2 mile in length. The trail follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River upstream with benches for relaxing and plenty of access for trout fisherman. The Sugarland Valley is acclaimed for the beautiful fall foliage. Once dominated by the sugar maple tree, today it is a mixed hardwood forest with a dazzling diversity of fall color.
  • Laurel Falls Trail (2.6 miles roundtrip, moderate)
    The Laurel Falls trailhead is on Little River Road four miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail is paved but is considered moderate in difficulty. The 2.6 mile round-trip hike is well worth it with a 80-foot tall waterfall to reward your effort. If you hit this trail at the right time of the season the fall colors are amazing! We suggest early to mid October. This is one of the Park’s busiest trails, so a good off-time to hike is during the week or early before 10:00 a.m.
  • Abrams Falls Trail (5 miles roundtrip, moderate)
    The Abrams Falls Trail is found halfway around the Cades Cove Loop Road approximately 1/2 mile before the Cable Mill Historic Area and Visitor Center. The hike is 5 miles round trip and is considered moderate in difficulty. Again the rewards for this hike are big with an up close view of the 20-foot tall Abrams Falls from its base. Keep an eye on the creek as you walk along and you may be fortunate to see some playful river otters. The best chance for viewing fall color in Cades Cove is usually mid-to-late October due to its lower elevation;  however, with sweeping views of the Stateline Divide there is always some color in view at some elevation.
  • Alum Cave Bluffs Trail (4.6 miles roundtrip, difficult)
    Alum Cave Bluffs Trail is one of the most popular in the Smokies and is found on Newfound Gap Road 8.6 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Get an early start and avoid the crowds. This relatively short walk, 2.3 miles one way, is considered difficult due to a rise in elevation of almost 1,500 feet. The steep climb does however provide amazing views of some of the most famous geologic features in the Park, like Arch Rock and the Chimneys. The hike to the bluffs is 4.6 miles round-trip. This hike combines Cove Hardwood Forest and the edge of the Canadian Zone Spruce Fir Forest giving the hiker the opportunity to experience a wide diversity of fall color. The Smokies are often described as being on fire during the fall when the vibrant red and yellow foliage are at peak. Don’t miss your chance to see it in 2015.

Keep up with the Fall Color Report from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service!

HIKER PLANNING TIP: Always be prepared for the unexpected when you step into the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains. For a complete breakdown of the minimal supplies you should always carry visit our blog on the Ten Essentials.

The Abrams Creek Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Abrams Creek Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is great for hikers, bikers, campers, equestrians, and anglers! Nestled on the northwest tip of the National Park, the Abrams Creek Campground and Ranger Station are definitely on the quieter side of the Smokies making it the perfect destination for making family memories to last a lifetime!

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Abrams Creek in Autumn. (photo by Jennifer McKee, AllTrails)

Directions to Abrams Creek
To reach the Abrams Creek Campground (elevation 1,125 feet) and Ranger Station from the Foothills Parkway West and Highway 129 junction is approximately 8 miles. Turn left on Highway 129 to Happy Valley Road. Turn left onto Happy Valley Road and turn right on Abrams Creek Road. Proceed about a mile to the Campground.

Abrams Creek Campground
Abrams Creek Campground does not accept reservations and has an on-site, first-come first-served, self-registration system. Cost per site is $14. The small campground has 16 sites for tents or RVs up to 12 feet in length. There are no electric hookups or shower facilities; only cold, running water and bathroom facilities available. Each campsite does have a picnic table and fire grate. The campground will close October 13, 2015 and re-open in mid-May 2016.

Popular Hiking Trails at Abrams Creek

Rabbit Creek Trail  – 7.8 miles in length
Rabbit Creek Trail begins near the Ranger Station and will take you into Cades Cove near the Visitor Center. Back country campsite #15 is located on this trail. Be watchful as this trail is used by both humans and horses.

Cooper Road Trail – 10.5 miles in length
Cooper Road Trail begins at the eastern end of the campground and meanders along an old road bed to access backcountry campsite #1 and then on to Cades Cove. Cooper Road Trail can be combined with Little Bottoms Trail and Abrams Falls Trail to also access Cades Cove by way of the popular Abrams FallsCooper Road Trail is open to equestrian activities.

These are just a couple of our favorites of the many trails in the Abrams Creek area, there’s also Hannah Mountain Trail, Cane Creek Trail, Gold Mine Trail, Hatcher Mountain Trail and Beard Cane Trail. So much to explore! One of our favorite resources for trail information is the book, Hiking Trails of the Smokies, available for about $20 from the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Fishing in Abrams Creek
Because of the high-quality water chemistry of Abrams Creek, it is considered by many anglers to offer some of the best fishing in the National Park. Abrams Creek accessed from the Abrams Creek Campground contains more smallmouth bass than trout during most of the season. Better opportunities for rainbow trout are available upstream near the area known as Little Bottoms. A Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license is required in National Park streams and rivers.

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The Foothills Parkway East Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Foothills Parkway East Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This scenic drive over Green Mountain is lovely any time year; however in the fall, it provides some of the most vibrant displays of color we’ve ever seen in the Smokies! The road begins at the Foothills Parkway Exit #443 on Interstate 40, approximately 21 miles east of its interchange with Interstate 81. This section of the Foothills Parkway East is 6 miles long ending at the intersection with Highway 321 in Cosby, Tennessee.

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Vibrant fall foliage along the Foothills Parkway East in Cosby, Tennessee. (photo: Kenneth Keifer)

Along with your standard displays of red, orange and yellow, the foliage colors along the Foothills Parkway West are vibrant shades of fuchsia, peach, maroon, and neon yellow. The forest truly looks like a giant bowl of Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal! Sounds outrageous we know, but it is unbelievably spectacular! It’s hard to say when it’s peak viewing time; however we usually start checking it out in early October so we don’t miss out.

The Foothills Parkway East is a favorite of motorists and cyclists, and offers Three Scenic Pullouts which we’ve outlined east to west:

The First Pullout faces north with a splendid view of English Mountain. This high ridge which dominates the north rises 3,629 feet above sea level. Part of its imposing appearance is due to the lowland expanse separating the two. The valley below averages 1,300 feet above sea level. The difference in these two elevations is comparable to a 140 story skyscaper. To offer some perspective, consider the the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, has 163 stories.

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Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower in Cosby, GSMNP

The Second Pullout is after the drive crests and you begin to descend into the Cosby watershed. This amazing view to the south is sometimes referred to as the Heart of the Park.  The high ridge stretching out to the left and right is the state line divide of Tennessee and  North Carolina which is considered the “heart of the park.” The state line divide is also the path of the famous Appalachian Trail. The left most knob of the ridge is Mt. Cammerer with its historic fire tower (an awesome hike but that is another blog). Scanning to the right Low Gap is easy to pick out as seen rising above the Cosby Campground. Further right and the second highest peak in the park, Mt. Guyot, rises 6,621 feet above sea level. Far to the right you may even see the third highest peak in the park, the “Island in the Clouds,”  Mt. LeConte rising 6,595 feet above sea level.

The Third Pullout offers an excellent view to the west of the Cosby community with the spine of the Smoky Mountains working their way toward Cades Cove. It’s not unusual in this large parking area for families to gather in the evening with their lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy the sunset.

The Foothills Parkway West dead ends at Highway 321 in Cosby, Tennessee. Taking a left here and traveling west is a 23-mile scenic drive to beautiful Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

INSIDER TRAVEL TIPS: Since the Foothills Parkway East is a short jaunt, we want to suggest a few other fun and interesting things to do while you’re in the Cosby neck of the woods. Don’t miss a visit to visit Carvers Orchard and Applehouse Restaurant and take a short walk on the enchanting  Cosby Nature Trail near Cosby Campground in the National Park. Stop by the the Sub Station Italian Restaurant and have a killer meatball sub…and tell Chef Frank his friends at HeySmokies say hello! For more info, check out our HeySmokies blog …feeling great in COSBY!

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Foothills Parkway East is located, and noted in red, in the upper right quadrant of the GSMNP map.

The Foothills Parkway West Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Foothills Parkway West Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a beautiful 18-mile scenic drive along the crest of Chilhowee Mountain connecting U.S. Highway 129, about 22 miles south of Maryville, Tennessee, to U.S. Highway 321 about 9 miles from the Townsend, Tennessee entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenic Foothills Parkway West is a favorite drive for motorists, bicyclists, and motorcyclists any time of the year.

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The narrow Chilhowee Mountain stretches for about thirty miles from the Chilhowee Reservoir/Little Tennessee River to Sevierville, Tennessee.
The highest point on the ridge is Look Rock at 2,700 feet above sea level. The Foothills Parkway West offers amazing views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south and, in stark contrast, the lowlands of the Tennessee Valley to the north.

The Miller Cove Pullout is a fine opportunity to ponder the unique geology of the Smoky Mountain region. Like it’s nearby cousin Cades Cove, Miller Cove shows us the effects of eons of erosion creating a low bottom land comprised of a stone substrate that is softer and faster eroding than the surrounding mountains.

Further along the Foothills Parkway West and looking north, you will notice the low, uniform bump-like hills stretching out towards Maryville. They are called Woodpecker Knob and Black Sulfur Knob. These Knobs represent the most northerly advance of the Smoky Mountain Foothills.

Beyond the Knobs the land flattens and stretches out in a more uniform appearance. This area was easier to traverse for native Americans and became known as the Warrior’s Path. Despite the militaristic implications of this moniker the route was largely used for commerce and trade over vast distances. It is believed that settlements in Georgia and Alabama could trade as far north as the Ohio River using the trail. The path was a major thoroughfare passing through the Cumberland Gap, America’s first western frontier.

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Look Rock Observation Tower

Look Rock is a popular spot to take a break from driving and stretch your legs. There is a great view of Happy Valley from the parking lot. Walking the half-mile long trail which begins across from the parking lot is rewarded with a fantastic 360 degree view from the Look Rock Observation Tower. Checking out the unique design of the tower itself makes the walk worth it; however, combined with the view, this experience really should not be missed.

The left turn onto Look Rock Campground Road above the tower parking area travels a half-mile to the Look Rock Campground. Unfortunately, the campground is currently closed. For information on other campgrounds in the National Park, visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park Frontcountry Camping.

Happy Valley Pullout is a great spot to view Gregory Bald and Slickrock Wilderness to the southwest. Happy Valley has been subjected to the same geologic forces as Miller Cove giving it a similar appearance.

Foothills Parkway West dead ends at the intersection with U.S. Highway 129 at the Chilhowee Reservoir. Highway 129 is a popular ride for motorcyclists heading south towards North Carolina and the “Tail of the Dragon.”

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Foothills Parkway West is marked in red in the top left quadrant of the map.