The Great Smoky Mountains are a great place to bask in nature and explore the great outdoors. But did you know the majestic mountains are also home to many learning opportunities? The Great Smoky Mountains are also home to rich history and you can learn more by taking advantage of the interpretive trails and historic hikes throughout the national park.
An interpretive trail tells a story. You’ll find resources along the path that will take you back in time, connect you with nature and more. You might find signs or markers along the trail that impart information and let you learn as you experience the natural splendor around you. You’ll find many interpretive trails and historic hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. This means you can easily turn your time in the Smokies into an educational experience.
You’ll find historic sites, special markers and interpretive guides along the way on the above trails. This means you’ll be able to step both back in time and into the woods. Let’s take a look at some of these historic hikes and interpretive trails in the Great Smoky Mountains and start planning your next adventure. Find more info about the types of trails from the National Park Service.
Cades Cove might be one of the most historic areas in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Cades Cove Visitor Center is a great place to start your interpretive journey, as it is home to a number of educational resources. You’ll find the visitor center, with more informational resources, on the midpoint of the 11 mile loop through this special part of the park.Cades Cove
Old Settlers Trail
If you’re ready to lace up your hiking boots and take a step back in time, consider setting out on Old Settlers Trail. This 16.2 mile trail is a moderate hike and features some sneaky changes in elevation. Along the way you’ll see numerous historical landmarks, including an old cemetery and original mountain homesites. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. Access Old Settlers Trail from the Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The Kephart Prong Trail is located between Cherokee and Newfound Gap. You’ll drive about 20 miles through the mountains from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to find the trailhead. Though it’s a trek from Pigeon Forge, you’ll find each mile of the drive is worth it. Kephart Prong Trail lets you see some unique history up close and in person. You’ll see remains from the Great Depression less than a mile from the trailhead. A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was set up in the area between 1933 and 1942.
You’ll find two spots on the National Register of Historic Places in the Little Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both buildings date back to the 1800s and can give you a glimpse into what life was like in the mountains years ago. You can get to Little Greenbrier by taking a hike down Little Brier Gap Trail. This 2.6 mile walk starts out in the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area and will take you through the woods and back in time.
Walker Sisters Cabin
The other historic building along this trail is the famous Walker Sisters Cabin. The 3-room Walker Cabin and the single room Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse still stand and still welcome visitors. Walker Cabin, also known as Walker Sisters Cabin, was home to 6 spinster sisters who called the cabin home until the final sister, Louisa, passed away in 1964.Walker Sisters Cabin
Grapeyard Ridge Trail
Also located in the Greenbrier area of the park is Grapeyard Ridge Trail. Hikers who embark on this 5.8 mile trek will find some unique terrain along the way. They’ll hike over a creek, up a ridge and finally will pass the remains of an old steam engine. The steam engine has been in the creek since the 1920s and offers a glimpse back in time. Grapeyard Ridge Trail is considered a quiet forest hike.
What is a Quiet Walkway?
You’ll find that many of the interpretive trails in the Great Smoky Mountains are near Quiet Walkways. You might see the signposts labeling these Quiet Walkways as your driving through the park or as you pull off toward trailheads. Generally speaking, Quiet Walkways are short trails that almost anyone can walk. They are designed to let you experience a little nature and are very accessible.
A short walk on this easy trail offers close-up views, subtle aromas, and the serene quiet of a protected woodland. You will be walking in one of the last great wildland areas in the East, but you won't need a backpack or hiking boots. Take your time. Have a seat on a rock or a log bench. The trail has no particular destination, so walk as far as you like and then return.Quiet Walkway Sign Inscription, Newfound Gap Rd.
You’ll find quite a few Quiet Walkways in the Great Smoky Mountains, including Hickory Flats, Laurel Branch, Balsam Point and Thunderhead Prong. Next time you see a sign for a Quiet Walkway as you travel down 441 or between Sugarlands and Cades Cove, consider pulling over and embarking on the short trek.
Are you ready to get out into the mountains and take a step back in time? Explore the interpretive and historic trails of the Great Smoky Mountains. See how adding a little history to your next Pigeon Forge vacation can make things both fun and informative for the entire family.