The University of Tennessee is well-known for a multitude of reasons: Neyland Stadium and its large capacity, the Fort, Pat Summitt, but not for its beauty. Around every corner, construction looms; orange cones dot every roadway. Within this concrete jungle, students often feel trapped and restricted.
Whenever the Hill just is not enough to climb, students should embrace the nearby mountains.The Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides a meaningful escape from the hustle and bustle of Knoxville.
The west entrance of the neighboring national park lies only an hour away down Highway 129 from the agricultural campus. The Smokies house thousands of species and is the most biodiverse place north of the Equator. With almost 900 miles of trails, 2000 miles of streams, and countless opportunities, students can find a home somewhere within the 520,000 acre preserved area.
After a few days of cramped up city life, students are dying to experience the sheer awe and unadulterated beauty that can only be found outside of campus.
Welcome back outside.
Historically rich and wildlife abundant, Cades Cove sees well over four million visitors annually alone. Cades Cove is not an ideal place to go to escape people. This area of the park lies low within a valley housing several old homesites dating back to the early 1800s.
Trails within this area remain steady in terms of elevation gain for the most part. A great day hike that most can manage is Abrams Falls. Abrams Falls is a five mile roundtrip hike that leads to the most powerful waterfall in the Smokies.
Swimming holes, waterfalls and a quiet frontcountry campground makes Big Creek a good escape from any sort of distraction. Big Creek is a local favorite and often an undervisited and lesser appreciated area of the Smokies.
On the Big Creek Trail, visitors have the potential of seeing and playing in two waterfalls. The Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls are a hop, skip and a jump down a horse trail with a level gradient.
Located near the middle of the Smokies, Greenbrier successfully manages to avoid being insanely busy like the Sugarlands or Roaring Fork areas while providing an even better outlet for recreational fun. Greenbrier, much like Cades Cove, is an old community from the 1800s and 1900s. Hundreds of people claimed this area to be home.
Visitors are still able to find old homesites of these past residents. Greenbrier is also one of the few areas people are able to locate virgin forest. Before the creation of the national park in 1934, logging was prevalent with this area. Over 75% of the now existing national park was logged at one time or another.
Greenbrier successfully survived the logging era because of its difficult to maneuver mountains. A great trail to hike to see not only the tallest waterfall in the park but some of the largest trees located in Appalachia is Ramsey Cascades. Ramsey Cascades proves time and time again to be an extremely challenging trail but nonetheless rewarding.
Some students may feel inclined to head for the hills and escape the lower elevation heat. Newfound Gap rises at 5,046 feet. The Appalachian Trail crosses Highway 441, otherwise known as Newfound Gap Road, at this location. Four miles in on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap, people can find one of the best views in the Smokies called Charlies Bunion.
Newfound Gap itself occurs right before the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome. Clingmans Dome is a short half a mile walk from the parking lot to the actual observation tower. The temperatures at the higher elevations, such as Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome, are anywhere from ten to twenty degrees cooler than the lower elevations.
The megafauna of the Smokies are most commonly found in Cataloochee. This remote area of the park resembles Cades Cove. Like Greenbrier and other areas, Cataloochee is an old community residing within this national park. Cataloochee has plenty of opportunities with scenic beauty as well as wildlife viewing.
The elk was recently reintroduced to the Smokies back in 2001 and 2002. Since then, the populations have resurfaced and Cataloochee has an active herd. Cataloochee is considerably more remote than Cades Cove. Cataloochee involves a minimum of a two hour drive from Knoxville, if not more. Cataloochee gives visitors an opportunity to escape the excitement and traffic of Cades Cove while still enjoying very similar scenic beauty.