There are some wonderful and easy Smoky Mountains hikes at 5000 feet and above that will transport you from the dense hardwood forests of the Southeast to the balsam-scented spruce and fir forests of the Great North Woods.
You don’t need to be a back-country camper or Appalachian Trail through-hiker to find the surreal serenity of being transported to another natural zone. I’ve talked before about living in an area that features great changes in altitude, and this is another example of the changes when you go up to the top of the Smoky Mountains.
The easiest high-elevation hike of all might be the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail off Clingmans Dome Road. This trail, shown in the photo below, is less than a half-mile loop with most of the way on a boardwalk conveniently above the wet ground. Park the car and stroll through this musky pine-smelling world of ferns and fallen giants. Even in summer the air will be noticeably cooler than down in Gatlinburg.
I like to head to Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome on a foggy day. At first it might seem like the weather is against you on such a day, but the fog-shrouded woods are so beautiful that it’s worth putting up with a little damp and mist. The photos above are two examples of such a day.
Parking at Newfound Gap, you can hop on the Appalachian Trail going either east or west. Both start out fairly level, and you can hike a mile or less just to experience the high-elevation terrain before turning around. There are also some trails that depart from Clingmans Dome Road, such as Noland Divide, Fork Ridge, and Andrews Bald Trails.
Whenever you take a break from your hikes on the trails, please consider a visit to the William Britten Gallery along the Arts and Crafts Trail on Glades Rd in Gatlinburg. You’ll find my complete collection of Smoky Mountains Photos.