‘Trails Forever Hikes’ launches, raises funds for GSMNP trail restoration

March 6, 2024

Hikers on Rainbow Falls Trail

by Julie Dodd

Friends of the Smokies is launching ‘Trails Forever Hikes,’ a new hiking series offering two hikes a month from April through October.

The hikes offer special views of the Smokies — historic structures, high Appalachian vistas, wildflowers, and waterfalls.

The hikes vary in distance, difficulty and location within the park. The Tuesday hikes are at least six miles and geared to experienced hikers. The Wednesday hikes are less than six miles and paced to beginning hikers.

The series is a fundraiser for Trails Forever, a program supporting the restoration and rehabilitation of some of the Smokies most impacted trails. The Trails Forever crew has restored Alum Cave TrailRainbow Falls TrailTrillium Gap TrailAbrams Falls TrailChimney Tops Trail and Forney Ridge TrailRamsey Cascades Trail is the crew’s current project.

curving staircase on Abrams Falls Trail
Several of the ‘Trails Forever Hikes’ will be on trails restored by the Trails Forever crew. Hikers will hear from NPS staff about the skilled work involved in trail restoration. This spiral staircase is one of the many structural improvements made during the restoration of the Abrams Falls Trail. NPS photo

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a wealth of hiking trails that most visitors never see,” said Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) President and CEO Dana Soehn. “We are excited to offer guided hiking opportunities on some of these less traveled trails with experts who know them well, while still including some familiar favorites as part of an overall ‘Trails Forever Hikes’ experience.”

Featured experts will add to the hikers’ experience by talking about special aspects of the hikes. Park experts will talk about the ecology and wildlife. Descendants of those who lived in the Smokies before the national park will discuss the history of the area. Hikers will hear about park projects supported by Friends of the Smokies.

New hike series merges two successful FOTS hike programs

‘Trails Forever Hikes’ builds on the success of two previous FOTS hiking programs. ‘Get on the Trail with Friends & Missy,’ with hikes led by U.S. Olympian Missy Kane, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. ‘Classic Hikes of the Smokies,’ which offered more strenuous hikes, was started by Danny Bernstein, a member of the 900 Miler Club and author of several hiking guides. Those two series have merged to provide one unified series, which continues to support the Trails Forever trail restoration program.

Both Kane and Bernstein are part of the Hike Advisory Team, volunteers who will serve as the leader and sweep (the last person in the hiking group) for each hike.

“I’m thrilled to announce the upcoming launch of our new hiking series,” said Olivia Wright, FOTS Outreach Coordinator and the contact person for the ‘Trails Forever Hikes.’ “Organizing these excursions is hands down the highlight of my job. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to explore the park’s beautiful areas alongside new friends.”

Registration process

Wright encouraged hikers to sign up for hikes appropriate to their hiking experience and capability. If you have questions about a hike’s challenge, you can contact her for more information.

You must register for the hike in advance and can do so on the ‘Trails Forever Hike’ webpage. Registration for all hikes is limited to 25 participants.

After completing registration, you will receive an email the Friday before the hike with directions and more information. The Tuesday hikes begin at 9 a.m. and the Wednesday hikes begin at 10 a.m.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s ‘Park it Forward’ program requires visitors to buy and display a valid parking tag for any vehicle parking for more than 15 minutes. Participants of the ‘Trails Forever Hikes’ are responsible for obtaining a parking tag prior to attending a hike. Annual passes are available through Smokies Life (formerly named Great Smoky Mountains Association) at smokiesinformation.org, daily and weekly passes are available at recreation.gov.

List of ‘Trails Forever Hikes’ for 2024

April hikes

FOTS hikers at Messer Barn
FOTS hikers at the Messer Barn, which is one of the historical highlights along the Porter’s Creek Trail. Photo by Linda Spangler

Tuesday, April 9 – Porters Creek
7.2 miles | 1,400 ft elevation gain
Wildflowers, John Messer Barn, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Gatlinburg, TN

Wednesday, April 24 – Abrams Falls
5 miles | 500 ft elevation gain
Trails Forever Restoration Project, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Townsend, TN

May hikes

Tuesday, May 14 – Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Andrews Bald & Clingmans Dome
7.4 miles | 1,600 ft elevation gain
Mountains to Sea Trail Highlight, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Gatlinburg, TN or Cherokee, NC

Wednesday, May 22 – Oconaluftee River Trail
3.2 miles | 100 ft elevation gain
Interpretation, Visitor Center, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Cherokee, NC

Alum Cave Bluff
Alum Cave Bluff is one of the many photo opportunities on the hike to Mt. Le Conte. The group of FOTS hikers in the background are learning about the locust log staircase built by the Trails Forever crew as part of the restoration of the Alum Cave Trail.

June hikes

Tuesday, June 11 – Mt. Le Conte, Alum & Rainbow
11.7 miles |3,800 ft elevation gain
Trails Forever Restoration Project, Shuttle Provided
Nearest Town: Gatlinburg, TN
[The photo at the top of the blog is of FOTS hikers on the renovated Rainbow Falls Trail.]

Wednesday, June 26 – Hazel Creek
6 miles | 300 ft elevation gain
Boat Trip Organized, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Bryson City, NC or Fontana Village

July hikes

Tuesday, July 9 – Noland Creek
10.2 miles | 900 ft elevation gain
History, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Bryson City, NC

Wednesday, July 24 – Mingus Creek
4 miles | 700 ft elevation gain
Enloe Slave Cemetery History, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Cherokee, NC

August hikes

Tuesday, August 13 – Sugarland Mountain
11.9 miles | 700 ft elevation gain
History, Shuttle Provided
Nearest Town: Cherokee, NC or Gatlinburg, TN

Wednesday, August 28 – Cades Cove Loop Road
11 miles | 800 ft elevation gain OR 3.5 miles | 300 ft elevation gain
Walk or Bike, Loop
Nearest Town: Townsend, TN

Ferguson Cabin
FOTS hikers rest at the John Love Ferguson cabin, which was built the cabin in 1874. GSMNP restored the cabin in 2000. Visiting the cabin is one of the highlights of the Purchase Knob hike.

September hikes

Tuesday, September 10 – Ramsey Cascades
8 miles | 2,200 ft elevation gain
Trails Forever Restoration Project, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Gatlinburg, NC

Wednesday, September 25 – Purchase Knob to Ferguson Cabin
TBD miles | TBD ft elevation gain
Science Programs, Ferguson Cabin, Loop
Nearest Town: Waynesville & Maggie Valley, NC

October hikes

Tuesday, October 8 – Little Cataloochee Trail from Horse Camp to Church
8 miles | 2,600 ft elevation gain
Trails Forever Restoration Project, Forever Places Highlight, Church, Palmer House, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Waynesville & Maggie Valley, NC

Wednesday, October 23 – Metcalf Bottoms to Walker Sisters Cabin
3.6 miles | 300 ft elevation gain
Forever Places Highlight, Out & Back
Nearest Town: Gatlinburg, TN

Thanks to our sponsors

Smoky Mountain Living logo

Smoky Mountain News logo

Prestige Subaru logo

Cabins of the Smoky Mountains logo

Crestview Dental logo

Farm Bureau Insurance Tennessee logo