As a hiking guide in the most visited national park in the country I am often asked about my favorite places to go for a hike. While I do a lot of the same trails guiding people, since my hobby and my job coincide I often find myself looking for other less busy trails to hike when I'm out for myself. One of the things the Smokies is known for would be the stunning views, many of which have mountain ridge lines for days. Here are a few of my favorite views in the park.
1) Mt. Cammmerer
Mt. Cammerer can be a long day hike and can be hiked in a few directions. You can make this a strenuous 10 mile out and back hike or you can make it a less difficult, but still long, 15.5 mile loop hike. Regardless of how you decide to hike to this amazing mountaintop you'll be rewarded with views into the Cherokee National Forest, back into the Smokies and North Carolina, and views of the Appalachian Trail. You'll also be seeing them from a really unique and gorgeous fire tower. The views up here in the fall and winter cannot be beat! If you're out doing a thru hike or section hike of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies, the 1.2-mile round trip to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower is definitely worth it.
2) Bradley View
The Bradley View is one I would highly recommend you see on a backpacking trip. While you can see it on a day hike, to make it out and back in one day would be challenging and would require a nearly 17.5-mile out and back from Newfound Gap Road to visit. I often get to see Bradley View on backpacking trips when I'm staying at the Peck's Corner Shelter or if I'm hiking down a side trail off of the Appalachian Trail. Regardless of where you're camping, the Bradley View is one of my favorite in the park. Usually when we get a view from a mountain top we are seeing other mountain ranges and some signs of towns in the valley below. At Bradley View you're looking out onto a sea of mountains without a cell tower or road in sight. With up to as many as nine different ridge lines present this view will definitely take your breath away. This point is located approximately 1.5 miles Appalachian Trail "South" of the Peck's Corner shelter.
3) Spence Field
Spence Field is another hike that can be done either in the daytime or you can camp up at the shelter nearby overnight. You can hike this in a loop or as an out and back. My favorite way to see Spence Field though is to camp at the Spence Field Shelter. Less than a half a mile from the shelter round-trip you will head up to the field just before sunset for some stunning views with Fontana Lake below you. If you head back to the shelter just before the sun drops in the sky you'll have enough daylight to make it back to the shelter without a headlamp. To make this hike, you can hike up from Cades Cove picnic area via the Anthony Creek Trail, Bote Mountain Trail, and follow the AT to the field. Return by the same route or you can continue "south" on the AT to the Russell Field Trail back down to the Anthony Creek Trail.
Shuckstack Fire Tower is located only 0.1 miles off the Appalachian Trail at the "southern" end of the trail in the park. This fire tower is notoriously rickety, but the climb is definitely worth heading up for! Climbing up the flights of stairs on the tower you'll feel and hear the wind catching and then you'll come into the top of the tower - views of the Nantahala National Forest, Fontana Lake, the Smokies, and the largest undeveloped tract of wilderness left in the eastern United States will be your reward. This hike can be done many different ways, but an out-and-back from Fontana Dam is the most popular route. This 7-mile round trip hike also gives you the opportunity to see the largest hydroelectric dam east of the Mississippi River before your hike.
5) Mt. Sterling
Of course I would save my favorite view for last! Mt. Sterling boasts the highest backcountry campsite in the park as well as the highest point on the entire Benton MacKaye Trail. Looking north from the top of the tower you'll have an epic view of the ridge line the Appalachian Trail follows. You'll have views of Snowbird Mountain and Max Patch Mountain. You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway cutting across the mountains in North Carolina. Best of all, this hike rarely has others to share the view with. You can make this hike as short as 4 miles round trip view the old NC 284 gravel road and the Mt. Sterling Trail. You can also hike it as a 12.2 mile up and back on Baxter Creek Trail or you can make a 17.1 mile loop hike by taking Big Creek Trail to Swallow Fork Trail to the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail and finally hiking down the Baxter Creek Trail.
These are just a few of the many, many places I like to hike to avoid the crowds. Where are some of your favorite places in the Smokies? Do you like to hike to a view?
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