The best views in the Smoky Mountains are not hard to find if you're up for a little exercise. The national park is home to some of the most beautiful terrain in the country. And the best way to explore and take in all of nature’s splendor is by lacing up your hiking boots and hitting the trails.
Some of the best views in the Smoky Mountains are from the many fields, gaps, balds, butts, bunions and knobs. These terms might sound like the set up to a bad joke, but these simple (and funny) words describe the different landscapes you’ll encounter as you set foot through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Let’s break down and define each landscape feature, and see where you can find them here in the Smokies.
Fields: Mountain highland meadows, also known as fields, make up some of the most beautiful parts of the landscape here in the Smokies. You’ll find fields full of soft grasses, mountain wildflowers and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
Spence Field is one example of a field you’ll find in the Great Smoky Mountains. It lays right along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. You can hike to Spence Field from the Anthony Creek Trailhead, which begins in the Cades Cove picnic area. If you decide to make the trek, be ready for some steep incline. Spence Field is about 3,000 feet above Cades Cove. The 5.1 mile hike is worth it, though, as the grassy field is home to delicate wildflowers in the spring and some of the best views in the Smoky Mountains year-round.
Gaps: It’s a good idea to mind the gap here in the Great Smoky Mountains. A gap, or mountain pass, is a route you can take through a mountain range. You might also hear a gap called a saddle or col.
One of the most famous gaps here in the Smoky Mountains is Newfound Gap. In fact, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was dedicated from the site at Newfound Gap by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Sept. 2, 1940. You can find the gap by cruising down Newfound Gap Road off the Parkway. Newfound Gap Road connects Gatlinburg, TN, and Cheroke, NC.Newfound Gap
There are other gaps to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains on foot. Trillium Gap, Cucumber Gap and Huskey Gap are all easily accessible by trails and definitely some of the best views in the Smoky Mountains. The trails to these gaps are known for awesome scenery, gentle streams and seasonal wildflowers.
Balds: When it comes to your hairline, bald might be a bad thing. When it comes to mountain terrain, bald is beautiful. Here in the Appalachian Mountains, a bald refers to an area of the mountains covered with grasses or shrubs where you might expect to see a forest or thick trees.
Gregory & Andrews Bald
You’ll find two kinds of balds in the Smoky Mountains: grassy balds and heath balds. Grassy balds are often found on the summit of hills; heath balds tend to be located along ridges and mountain crests. Consider making the trek up to Andrews Bald, Gregory Bald or Silers Bald. The grassy terrain lets you take in an unobstructed mountain view, providing excellent photo opportunities of some of the best views in the Smoky Mountains.Andrews Bald
Bunions: Just like on Aunt Edna’s feet, a mountain bunion is a protrusion that sticks out from the rest of the terrain. Charlies Bunion is the most famous of these formations in the Great Smoky Mountains and it’s much nicer to look at than your auntie’s.
Charlies Bunion is a boulder protrusion that reaches out on an otherwise sheer mountain cliff. It is one of the few bare rock summits in the Smokies. Charlies Bunion sits exactly 5,565 feet above sea level and can be easily accessed by day hikers from the Appalachian Trail. The bunion is about 4 miles east of Newfound Gap, right on the state line between Sevier County, TN, and Swain County, NC.Charlies Bunion
Knobs: A knob is a prominent rounded bump or peak along a mountain range. There are a few notable knobs in the Great Smoky Mountains, including Luftee Knob, Marks Knob and Tricorner Knob. Hiking to the knobs can be a serious feat, but the views and experience are worth it.
Inadu & Tricorner Knob
You can hike to Inadu and Tricorner Knob along the Appalachian Trail. Inadu Knob is home to some of the best old growth forests in the entire national park, and the views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking. The Tricorner Knob Shelter is an important rest stop for those making the long haul on the famous trail. Tricorner Knob has an elevation of 6,120 feet above sea level, with 160 feet of clean prominence.
Butts: Hikers in The Great Smoky Mountains like big butts (and they cannot lie). Butts, or buttes, are isolated hills or peaks that feature steep sides with a flat top. The top of a butte might be a plateau or tableland.
Holy Butt & Cove Mountain
You’ll find several places in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with this distinctly named feature. Holy Butt might be the most irreverent sounding, but you’ll also find Mollies Butt, Cobb Butt and of course Big Butt here in the Smokies. You can explore Holy Butt by hiking along the Cove Mountain Trail near Elkmont. Not only will you see the mountain’s butt, but you’ll also be able to see waterfalls and old-growth forest along the way.
From fields to knobs, there is so much to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains. Now that you know the lingo for the terrain, it’s time to start planning your next hiking adventure. Prepare your pack, lace up your boots and head out for an unforgettable journey hiking through the Smokies.