The hiking options in East Tennessee are abundant, despite the closure of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From state parks to greenway trails to hidden gems in the middle of the city, there are trails to challenge experienced hikers and scenic views along meandering paths for novice explorers.
“People can stay in the mountains and hike in the mountains outside of the national park, or they can choose walking trails that take them through parks in more developed areas, but that still provide interesting sites along the way and great views,” said Tami Vater, director of tourism for the Blount Partnership.
Ms. Vater said that there are plenty of options for places to stay in the Smokies—from camping and rustic cabins to bed and breakfasts and hotel/motels—and there are a wide range of hiking opportunities within a short drive.
Ms. Vater said that she wants to make sure that visitors understand that just because the park is closed doesn’t mean they can’t come to the mountains and experience the great outdoors and the beautiful fall colors.
Blount County has two walking trails—the Shadows of the Past trail in Townsend and the Greenbelt in Alcoa and Maryville. The Shadows of the Past is a 10-mile trail through Townsend that includes 13 historic sites. Informational signs are posted throughout the trail to provide information about the region. The Greenbelt is an eight-mile trail that connects Springbrook Park in Alcoa with Bicentennial Greenbelt and Sandy Springs Park in Maryville. The trail includes several parks, a duck pond, the Blount County Library, a waterfront park with an outdoor theatre and Maryville College.
Located just 30 minutes from the Smoky Mountains, the Knoxville-area has several hiking options for those visiting the mountains.
House Mountain State Park includes more than 500-acres of natural area and five miles of nature trails. The 2,100-foot crest of House Mountain offers vistas where visitors can see the Great Smoky Mountains, the Unakas and Cumberlands. From this impressive perch, guests can also see Clinch Mountain to the northeast and to the Trail of the Lonesome Pine. The area is known for its huge sandstone boulders, its wide variety of bird and plant life, and for the spectacular views from its two peaks.
The Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge is East Tennessee region’s largest wildlife sanctuary. The park offers eight miles of nature trails and greenways with views of the Smoky Mountains and rolling farmlands.
Ijam’s Nature Center is a 300-acre urban greenspace that offers a wide range of natural surface trails and also trails for mountain biking. The park includes woodlands, meadows and even boardwalks along the Tennessee River.
Bordering Blount County is Loudon County, which is home to Fort Loudoun State Park. This 1,200-acre site is the location of one of the earliest British fortifications on the western frontier, built in 1756. Today the fort and the 1794 Tellico Blockhouse overlook TVA's Tellico Reservoir and the Appalachian Mountains. There are five miles of connecting trails at the park.
Norris Dam State Park, located just an hour from the Great Smoky Mountains, is a 4,038-acre park, located on the Norris Reservoir. Established in 1933 as the first Tennessee Valley Authority project, the park now has miles of trails that include deeply forested valleys and ridges, providing spectacular views of Norris Lake and its surrounding hills and valleys.
Big Ridge State Park is on Norris Lake in the Cumberland Mountains, just an hour from teh Great Smoky Mountains. With 15 miles of forested trails that range from short and easy to moderate and strenuous, visitorscan hike along dry ridges, lush hollows, old roadbeds, and lake shores.
Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area is situated in the beautiful Cumberland Mountains just 65 miles from the Smoky Mountains. There are more than 80 miles of scenic and challenging foot trails throughout this wild and rugged 13,122-acre mountain park. The trails feature waterfalls, giant sandstone rock formations, bluffs, abundant wildlife and 14 mountain peaks over 3,000 feet in elevation. Each of the 20 trails are color blazed and most of the trails inter-loop together giving a choice of 7 loop trails ranging from .6 mile to 15 miles round-trip. A portion of the Cumberland Trail passes through as well.
Contact the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority at 800 525-6834 or 865 983-2241 for help planning a trip and recommendations of attractions, accommodations and sites outside the park. Visit online at www.SmokyMountains.org.
If you are in the area, you can stop by the Smoky Mountain Visitors Center at Townsend, at 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, or the Smoky Mountain Visitors Center at Maryville, at 201 South Washington Street, for more information.