by Danny Bernstein
Smokemont Loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the first hike that I led for the Classic Hikes of the Smokies program in 2010. At the time, the goal of the hiking program was to show off the best of North Carolina hiking in the park. The loop is really a classic.
I have done this loop so many times before. But I am so glad that I checked out the hike again a week before I led it. My friend Diane and I took the Smokemont Loop clockwise. About a half-mile up the trail, we were stopped by a trail blockage.
These blowdowns were probably created by the high winds we had a couple of days before. First, we tried to go over or under the trees. We were too short to go over, too big to go under. Finally, we bushwhacked off the trail and went around and back down. This was not going to work for twenty-five hikers.
Thankfully, the Smokies trail crew was hard at work clearing fallen trees along popular trails like this one. By the time the FOTS hike was on, you couldn’t tell that there ever was a problem. So, kudos to them and thank you.
Before our climb, we first stopped at the Bradley Cemetery. The family elders had engraved headstones but there were plenty of stone stumps as well.
We continued up the trail without any drama. It was steep and we seemed to naturally break into several clumps. But Kevin FitzGerald, retired Deputy Superintendent of the Smokies, was the sweep, the tail ender. He was able to keep all the slower hikers in front of him.
At the top, we stopped for a snack and a rest. On the way down toward Bradley Fork, we slowed down to admire the white trillium, cinquefoil, a few violets, and fringed phacelias.
Before crossing the bridge over the river, I was able to ask hikers to not have more than three people on the bridge.
At this point, if we had just gone back down to the campground and our cars, the distance would have been 6.2 miles.
But we took Chasteen Creek Trail and saw a pack of horses and their riders. The ride starts at Tow String, goes up Bradley Creek Trail and up to the waterfall.
We walked around the horses carefully and found a spot by Chasteen Creek, facing the falls, to have lunch.
Then we strolled down Bradley Creek Trail to our cars. The mileage for the total hike is 8 miles. Walkers and some fishermen were coming up. But our day was not over.
We stopped at the Lufty Baptist Church. Buildings in the Smokies are always unlocked, and this small church was no exception. The inside was dark and bare of any decorations. But we got a great treat. Kevin FitzGerald got up to the pulpit and started talking.
No, Kevin did not give a sermon. Instead, he recounted that he and his wife, Cynthia, were married in the Lufty Baptist Church over forty years ago. Kevin was a young ranger, and he and his bride were living in park housing; that’s where they had their reception. A fine ending to a great hiking day.
Outdoor writer and avid hiker Danny Bernstein brings more than 40 years of trail experience with her, having previously completed every trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Appalachian Trail, the Mountains to Sea Trail, South Beyond 6,000 Challenge, and three Caminos de Santiago. She has written two hiking guides for the Southern Appalachians, a travel narrative on hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and DuPont Forest: A History. She blogs at https://hikertohiker.com/
Register For Classic Hikes
The Classic Hikes are the second Tuesday of the month, March through December, with hikes of different levels of difficulty. Each hike features special elements of the Smokies, from wildflowers to historic buildings to waterfalls to mountain views. A member of the Classic Hike Advisory Team leads the hike.
The next available Classic Hike is the June 13 hike to Chimney Tops. The May Classic Hike is sold out.
You must register prior to the hike.
After completing registration, you will receive an email the Friday before the hike with directions, and more information. All hikes begin at 9 a.m. The cost is $20 for members and $35 for non-members.
Many of this year’s Classic Hikes are part of the 100 Favorite Trails Challenge. Charlies Bunion = #27, Chimney Tops = #22, Deep Creek Waterfalls Loop = #18, Hemphill Bald from Polls Gap = #37, and Smokemont Loop = #28.
Trails Forever Improves GSMNP Trails
Proceeds from the Classic Hike series benefit Trails Forever. The Trails Forever Crew has restored Alum Cave Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Abrams Falls Trail, Chimney Tops Trail and Forney Ridge Trail. Ramsey Cascades Trail is the crew’s current project.