Editorial: Spring is the perfect time to hike in the Smokies

Apr. 29, 2013 @ 10:34 AM

We hope you enjoy the weather art we run on our front page. Local schoolchildren contribute these cute little images, which look like pictures schoolchildren anywhere would draw.

Except for the mountains. And the bears.

Yes, the little ones notice the incredible natural splendor here. That should remind adults not to get so busy that they forget about the mountains. And the bears.

Spring is a good time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trees and ground cover are lush. The wildflowers are blooming. It's not hot.

There are many excellent ways to enjoy the park. You can drive the Cades Cove loop. You can picnic at Metcalf Bottoms.

But for getting away from the crowds – and working those calf muscles – you can't beat a day walk on one of the wonderful trails.

You'll need the right footwear. Don't be like those unhappy-looking tourists you sometimes spot in flip-flops on popular trails. Even athletic shoes are iffy. Invest in a good pair of hiking boots, and you won't be sorry.

Bring rain gear, a poncho at minimum. Storms come on fast. Use sunscreen. Bring plenty of water. Take out any trash you generate.

Which trail? Depends how far you want to walk, and what you want to see.

The park's trail map is indispensable, and there are many great guidebooks. A good one is the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association's "Hiking Trails of the Smokies," whose writers' descriptions are detailed, passionate and, sometimes, delightfully snarky.

If you're feeling ambitious, walk the Rainbow Falls Trail out of Gatlinburg to the top of Mt. LeConte. The view up there is so beautiful that it will make you cry. For a shorter hike out of Gatlinburg, take the Trillium Gap Trail to Brushy Mountain, another stunning spot.

A walk along any stretch of the Appalachian Trail is a winner. If you head east on the trail from Newfound Gap Road, you can dream about walking all the way to Maine. Although you probably have to go back to your job tomorrow.

Brief walks are nice, too. You can drive to the seldom-used Wears Valley entrance, then take the short hike to Little Greenbriar School. Kids who went there also probably drew pictures of mountains and bears.