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  1. #1
    Registered User DSPeabody's Avatar
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    Default Best Hiking in the Park - Eastern or Western side?

    In your opinion which side has the best overall hiking?

    Subjective and wide ranging criteria, i know. But wanted to see if there is a consensus among experiences gsmnp hikers.

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    Do you mean on the AT only or the entire park?

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    Registered User DSPeabody's Avatar
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    I'm looking at the park in general.
    I haven't hiked a lot of the trails but the few i have done have been on the eastern side. (Cataloochee area, Mt. Sterling, Laurel Gap)
    I've front country'd in Cades and Elkmont but haven't ventured into any back country over there.

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    my answer?

    yes.....

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    this is so subjective----everyone will have a different answer based on their own criteria...

    some will say trails with view...

    some will say trails with waterfalls.....

    etc etc etc.....


    it all depends upon what you consider the "best"....

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    There is something special in just about every corner of the park, so it is impossible to make a general statement along the lines of "the X half of the park has the best hiking".
    The closest thing to such a statement I've seen is that many who have hike the entire AT thru the Smokies tend to say the eastern half is nicer than the western half... but that's just because there.seems to be more views (not necessarily better views) on the eastern half.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HooKooDooKu View Post
    The closest thing to such a statement I've seen is that many who have hike the entire AT thru the Smokies tend to say the eastern half is nicer than the western half... but that's just because there.seems to be more views (not necessarily better views) on the eastern half.


    and the AT is just a small percentage of trail mileage in the Park...

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    I'm more interested in ridgeline hikes and vistas than I am to waterfalls. But I love me some thundering creeks too. So take my preferences into account.....

    When people ask me about where they should backpack in the park, I typically point them to a loop out of Big Creek. Start at Big Creek, hike up Baxter Creek, Mt. Sterling, Balsam Mtn, AT, Mt. Cammerer, back to Big Creek. Some of the best views in the park, camping high up at Mt. Sterling, AT shelters, mostly on ridgelines. Do it in the early spring or late fall for better views. Cataloochee has some great trails too. So I am partial to the East side of the park.

    But there is so much to see throughout the park.

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    Quote Originally Posted by madgoat View Post
    When people ask me about where they should backpack in the park, I typically point them to a loop out of Big Creek. Start at Big Creek, hike up Baxter Creek, Mt. Sterling, Balsam Mtn, AT, Mt. Cammerer, back to Big Creek.
    Never hiked it, but I've had that loop marked off in Google Earth for several years... I call it the "Double Fire Tower Loop" (even though Mt. Cammerer isn't officially a "tower"). If you can survive the 4,000' climb up Baxter and keep going, it looks to be a nice two night loop utilizing Laurel Gap and Cosby Knob shelters.

    By contrast, I think my favorite loop is Abrams Falls, Hannah Mtn, Gregory Bald, Gregory Ridge (plus a three mile road walk between Gregory Ridge and Abrams Falls trail heads) in the fall.

  10. #10

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    As the AT goes I prefer the east side 10 out of 10 times. West side is hardwoods, east side gets up into the spruce and furs from clingmans all the way to about cosby where you start dropping down in elevation.

    I have only hiked a handful of other trails in the park but really like everyone that I hike.
    Trail Miles: 3,715.9
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    Registered User rmitchell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by madgoat View Post
    I'm more interested in ridgeline hikes and vistas than I am to waterfalls. But I love me some thundering creeks too. So take my preferences into account.....

    When people ask me about where they should backpack in the park, I typically point them to a loop out of Big Creek. Start at Big Creek, hike up Baxter Creek, Mt. Sterling, Balsam Mtn, AT, Mt. Cammerer, back to Big Creek. Some of the best views in the park, camping high up at Mt. Sterling, AT shelters, mostly on ridgelines. Do it in the early spring or late fall for better views. Cataloochee has some great trails too. So I am partial to the East side of the park.

    But there is so much to see throughout the park.
    I like this loop, but prefer to do it in the other direction.

    Park at Baxter Creek trailhead then short road walk to Chestnut Branch. Somewhat more gradual climb to ridge line.

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    I concur. The east side is more scenic at least on the AT. I don't recall any significant water falls on the AT either way though.


    Quote Originally Posted by Gambit McCrae View Post
    As the AT goes I prefer the east side 10 out of 10 times. West side is hardwoods, east side gets up into the spruce and furs from clingmans all the way to about cosby where you start dropping down in elevation.

    I have only hiked a handful of other trails in the park but really like everyone that I hike.

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    HooKooDooKu,

    Yeah, that pull up Baxter is bad. But I would rather go up it, than down it. Ouch, I have gone up it once and down it twice. The up was definitely preferable.

    I didn't do your exact loop, but have hiked all of those trails. Any trip to Gregory Bald is a highlight indeed.

    Almost got my 900. Should finally finish it up next year (after 22+ years of piecing trails together). I only have 29 miles of trails left to hike, but have to hike about 116 miles to bag those 29.

  14. #14
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    DSPeabody,

    As you can see, there is something of a consensus on which half of the AT is nicer... and is likely the reason Seatbelt started with his question about AT or whole park.

    But beyond that, you'll only find consensus on certain spots being nice (such as the comments on visiting Gregory Bald).


    So are you looking to plan a GSMNP hike?
    If so, how many days, how many miles per day, and what are the types of things you'd like to see?
    As you can see already in this thread, there's many suggestions the group can offer.

  15. #15
    Registered User DSPeabody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HooKooDooKu View Post
    DSPeabody,

    As you can see, there is something of a consensus on which half of the AT is nicer... and is likely the reason Seatbelt started with his question about AT or whole park.

    But beyond that, you'll only find consensus on certain spots being nice (such as the comments on visiting Gregory Bald).


    So are you looking to plan a GSMNP hike?
    If so, how many days, how many miles per day, and what are the types of things you'd like to see?
    As you can see already in this thread, there's many suggestions the group can offer.
    No, there is no particular hike in mind that I am trying to plan.
    We live about 6 hours away from the park and with a job and family, have been only getting there one trip a year. That being a family trip which usually involves car camping at one of the western camgrounds, (Cades or Elkmont). We've done this for several years but the kids are growing and retirement isn't that far off for me, so hopefully there will be some back country trips in my future.
    As stated, I have done some hiking around the Sterling area out of Cataloochee. That was probably 15 years ago though.

    I'm not big on waterfalls. I like views like everyone else, but also like quiet/secluded forest walks.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by DSPeabody View Post
    No, there is no particular hike in mind that I am trying to plan.
    We live about 6 hours away from the park and with a job and family, have been only getting there one trip a year. That being a family trip which usually involves car camping at one of the western camgrounds, (Cades or Elkmont). We've done this for several years but the kids are growing and retirement isn't that far off for me, so hopefully there will be some back country trips in my future.
    As stated, I have done some hiking around the Sterling area out of Cataloochee. That was probably 15 years ago though.

    I'm not big on waterfalls. I like views like everyone else, but also like quiet/secluded forest walks.
    Then I suggest a trip that includes a visit to Gregory Bald. It's a clearing overlooking Cades Cove. There is a campsite just 1/3 mile down the hill. One of my favorite things to do is setup camp, and then haul your stove and food to Gregory Bald and have dinner on the bald.

    I too live about 6 hours from GSMNP. The way I do a typical 2 night back country trip is to take a vacation day on either Friday or Monday. The 1st day of the trip, wake about 3:00am, get a shower and jump in the car. I get to GSMNP about 10:00am local time leaving plenty of time for the 1st day's hike. Waking up at the crack of dawn on the 2nd night out frequently gives me enough time to hike out and drive home before dark.

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    i lean towards the East, too, though there's definitely still some A+ ridge hiking over the Western half. Rocky Top, for example, might be my favorite vista.... can't think of many other non-firetower vistas that are 360* views like Rocky Top. the west is more enjoyable in the leaf-off months. and there's a lot of long stretches of ridge with gnarled old oak trees in the overstory, and grassy understory.... like a well-pruned city park.
    Last edited by Ashepabst; 05-22-2019 at 17:51.

  18. #18
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    Both.

    I've done perhaps a few hundred miles, all over the Park. Great trails, views, streams, camps all over, some bad ones too.

    I'd recommend calling the Backcountry Office and ask them. Can discuss your abilities & preferences and also trails & campsites to currently avoid.
    ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: ... Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit..... Numbers 35

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