Each week here within our page of The Loafer, we have taken our readers on adventures across Tennessee and within our neighboring states as well. From amusement parks to museums and road trips, we’ve done it all. I think we get most excited when we get to include you on one of our many hiking excursions.
Along with amusement parks and comic books, we both can agree that hiking is one of our favorite past times. After a long week of work and commuting through traffic, the mountains seem to invite us to come enjoy the peace and seclusion they have to offer. Hiking allows us to escape the hectic world and return to a place that our ancestors once lived in harmony with. It opens up panoramas and sights which most people will only get to see through photos. Our health also benefits from hiking as well, and not just from the exercise. Studies show that being in the forest reduces blood pressure as well as stress.
With the dog days of summer in full swing and autumn rapidly approaching in just a couple of short months, we will be hiking as often as we can to enjoy our favorite season. As the Appalachian forests erupt into a riot of different colors the sky becomes an impossibly dark blue, and warm breezes make it almost impossible for us to stay inside. Before our main hiking season gets underway, we want to direct you towards a few of our favorite hiking destinations across the region. Some of these have astonishing views, while the highlights of others might be a bit more muted, such as a streamside walk in the forest. Now it’s on to ten of our favorite summer and fall hikes!
1. Appalachian Trail to Silers Bald
This portion of the trail begins atop Clingmans Dome, the highest point within the state as well as along the entire trail. Passing over the top of neighboring Mount Buckley, the trail towards Double Spring Gap and ends at the remains of Silers Bald. Views stretch into both Tennessee and North Carolina, and highlights of the trail include the beautiful Double Spring Gap Shelter, abundant blueberries in late summer, and the grassy slopes of Silers Bald. The path also sees far fewer crowds than many of the other area trails. Best to do this one in summer, as fall temperatures up here can feel more like winter, with snow coming as early as October. Length: 9.2 miles round-trip.
2. Lake Trail Loop
Located in Virginia’s Hungry Mother State Park, this trail encircles the entire lake at the center of the park. With little elevation gain and the opportunity to end the day with a cool swim, this trail is one of our top picks for a relaxing time. Length: 5.7 miles round-trip.
3. Deep Gap Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park is home to many of the highest peaks in the east. This trail traverses Mount Mitchell as well as nearby Mount Craig, second-highest peak at 6,647 feet. Plentiful views of the surround Pisgah National Forest, as well as cool temperatures, make this an ideal spot to escape the summer heat. Length: 8.6 miles.
4. Fall Creek Falls Trail
Fall Creek Falls is our state’s highest waterfall at 256 feet high. This trail, while somewhat short, it nonetheless spectacular, and ends at the splash pool of the falls. Bring a bathing suit if you want to enjoy the cool mists here. – Length: 1.2 miles.
5. Appalachian Trail to Beauty Spot
Once again the A.T. is on our list, but that’s only because it passes so many iconic areas within our state. Starting at Indian Grave Gap along TN 395, the trail climbs to an area of open fields which makes a wonderful place to watch the sunrise and is filled with wildflowers. Length: 4.6 miles.
6. Graveyard Fields Loop
This two-mile loop traverses an open valley located high atop the Great Balsam Mountains at mile marker 418.8 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Despite the morbid name, this is one of the top places to see fall foliage in early October. Several side trails lead to beautiful waterfalls, making the valley a must-stop no matter what the season. Length: 2.2 miles.
7. Lookout Tower Trail West
Frozen Head State Park is home to one of the highest peaks in the Cumberlands, offering a fantastic area to view the fall foliage of the surround Cumberland Plateau. This trail takes a scenic route along the main mountain crest to end at the old fire tower. Length: 12.6 miles.
8. Cumberland Trail (Tank Springs Segment)
Cumberland Trail State Park is still far from completion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the portions that are already open. Beginning in the town of LaFollette, this portion climbs Cumberland Mountain and proceeds south through a geological wonderland of cliffs and rocky spires. This portion stretches almost eleven miles one way, so hike as far as you want and then return.
9. Profile Trail
Grandfather Mountain State Park is a geological and ecological wonderland, sitting atop the Blue Ridge’s highest peak. This trail is the only one to climb the mountain’s north face and ascends all the way to the top of Calloway Peak. While the elevation gain of two thousand feet is taxing, the autumn views make it that much more rewarding. Length: 3.5 miles.
10. Hemphill Bald Trail
Winding along the southern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this often-overlooked trail passes through forests and over grassy knobs as it traverses Cataloochee Divide. Views stretch across Maggie Valley to the Plott Balsams and northward to Mount Sterling, making this one of our favorite hikes of all during the fall. Length: 11 miles.