Episode 020 – The Smokies at a Distance

We’re almost there!  Almost everything great about the Smokies and the surrounding areas is either open or set to reopen.  Most attractions and restaurants are now open albeit on a limited basis. In Episode 020- The Smokies at a Distance we will be exploring some of the lesser know trails and dining in and about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  If you want to come to the Smokies but avoid the crowds this is a must listen to episode.

Park Sign, trail sign, The Smokies at a Distance

Let’s take a look at the park.  Not much has changed since last week.


All the visitor’s centers – Closed

Campgrounds – Closed until at least June 7th

Clingman’s Dome – Open!

All other trails and backcountry campsites & shelters (accessible from open roads) are open with reduced capacity limits

Picnic Areas that are Open:

Big Creek
Cades Cove
Chimney Tops
Collins Creek and Pavilion
Cosby and Pavilion
Deep Creek and Pavilion
Metcalf Bottoms and Pavilion

Open restrooms:

Clingmans Dome
Newfound Gap
Restrooms near Cable Mill in Cades Cove
Restrooms near Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Restrooms near Sugarlands Visitor Center
Abram Falls, Alum Cave, and Rainbow Falls Trailheads
Restrooms at open picnic areas

Closed Roads: Little Greenbrier Road

Businesses Opening:

Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre: June 5

Country Tonite Theatre: June 5

Smoky Mountain Winery; June 5

Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show: June 10

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa: June 10

The Ripken Experience: June 14

Governor’s Crossing Stadium 14 Theater: June 16

Forge Cinemas: June 24

Dolly Parton’s Stampede: July 4th

Dollywood – Dollywood Parks & Resorts will begin a phased reopening on June 15.

Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country reopen June 17, with Season Passholder Exclusive Days on June 15 & 16.

Important Information To Know Before You Go

Daily capacity will be limited – Season Passholder Reservations are required and date-based tickets will be available for general admission.

Face masks or face coverings are required for all visitors ages 3 and up, with some exceptions. Some of the exceptions where masks are not required are while eating, on water park attractions or select coasters at Dollywood. For a full list of exceptions please visit our FAQ Page.

Temperature screenings will be taken prior to entry.

Attraction and dining capacities will be limited to allow guests to have more space to move around during their visit.

Physical distancing measures have been put in place including physically distanced queues, marked barriers and social distancing reminders.

Additional sanitation measures have been implemented. This includes high touch point areas being cleaned more frequently and providing additional hand sanitizing locations.

Businesses still without an opening date…

Bush’s Visitors Center

Comedy Barn

Lil’ Bit of Gatlinburg

Mysterious Mansion of Gatlinburg

Ripley’s Guinness World Records Adventure

Ripley’s Haunted Adventure

Smoky Mountain Escape Games

The Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum

Appalachian Bear Rescue Trillium Cove Visitor & Education Center

The Smokies at a distance. As more people return to the Smokies, Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and the surrounding areas there are many people asking where ca the go with limited crowds.  Of course going downtown that sidewalks are fairly congested, many people not wearing masks. Many restaurants and attractions are limiting capacity.  With the influx of tourists and the limited capacity of the attractions you can see where this can add some congestion.  Once Dollywood reopens that will take a good number of the people  off the streets but with their limits not as much as they used to.

Many are going to turn to the park to get away, possibly more than before.  Last year a record 12 million people visited the National Park.  Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap are all going to be flooded with tourists.

Plus now…. The National Park Service announced this past week that it will be implementing ‘Vehicle-Free Wednesdays’ in Cades Cove this summer from June 17 through September 30. Each Wednesday, the Cades Cove Loop will be closed to traffic all day instead of just mornings so cyclists and pedestrians can safely enjoy recreation. 

The park will not be doing the Saturday morning summer loop closures in turn, which they hope will improve visitor experiences all around.

The change is part of a pilot study. The park proposed the study due to congested parking areas and disruption of visitor services associated with the vehicle-free periods formerly held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings during the summer months over the past couple of decades.

With all that said I’m going to give you a few places to explore in the park that are shall we say the less traveled trails…but still pretty cool adventures. The Smokies at a distance.

Wrecked steam engine, The Smokies at a Distance

Grapeyard Ridge Trail

Close to Gatlinburg and often incredibly quiet, the Grapeyard Ridge Trail links Greenbrier Cove with the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and is a great plance to see the Smokies at a distance . Many opt to hike the trail from Greenbrier to the ruins of an old steam engine partway along, which makes for a 5.8-mile round-trip undertaking. However, you can extend your adventure by going the full way to Roaring Fork, crossing Grapeyard Ridge—named for prolific grapevines strung through its forests—in the process.

The east end of the Grapeyard Ridge Trail starts near where Porters Creek, False Gap Prong, and the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River merge to create the Little Pigeon River, which begins flowing northward towards Sevierville.

There are five water crossings without the benefit of a footbridge. During the rainy seasons the creek can be virtually impassable due to high water – if you wish to keep your feet dry. If you look around a little further upstream you may be able to find a spot to cross. The summer and fall time periods are usually drier, and are much better times to hike this trail when high water usually isn’t an issue.

There’s much evidence of bygone settlements, including the Whaley Cemetery not far from the Greenbrier trailhead. Along the hike you’ll pass several old homestead sites that were once part of a community known as Big Laurel. At roughly 2.1 miles the trail leaves the creek and begins climbing the ridge to James Gap. As you climb the trail passes through several long rhododendron tunnels. At roughly 2.85 miles hikers will reach the top of the ridge at James Gap. From here the trail makes a quick descent down to Injun Creek where you’ll find the remains of an old steam engine lying in the creek. Although some may suspect that “Injun” refers to “Indian”, it’s actually a misspelling of the word “engine”, apparently the mistake of an old mapmaker.

The engine, a Nichols and Shepard self-propelled, steam-powered machine, known as a traction engine, was brought to the area in the 1920’s to saw wood for the Greenbrier School. During its return trip the driver wasn’t able to execute a switchback, and the engine tumbled into Injun Creek. Many of its parts were salvaged, but the rest was left to rust in the creek bed.

Roundtrip Length:                 5.8 Miles   

Total Elevation Gain:            980 Feet   

Highest Elevation:                 2540 Feet 

Trail Difficulty Rating:           7.76 (moderate)

Getting there….At the junction of 441 and 321 in Gatlinburg (Light 3), turn to travel eastbound on Hwy 321. Drive 6 miles and turn right into Greenbrier (look for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entrance sign on the right). This road will turn into a gravel road after a short distance. From the highway you’ll drive 3 miles to the Grapeyard Ridge Trailhead. There will be a small parking area alongside the road – just before reaching the bridge that takes you to the Ramsey Cascades and Porters Creek Trailheads.

Crooked Arm Cascades/Falls

This is a well-kept secret and a great place to see the Smokies at a distance right at the beginning of the Cades Cove Loop. Look for the trailhead for the Rich Mountain Loop.  The trail will run parallel to the loop road for a while until it turns and heads into the woods. You will come to a junction of the Rich Mountain Loop Trail and the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail.  Turn to the right and follow the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail.  Follow the trail until you come to the cascades/falls.  You can see the falls from the trail but many people hike down to the falls, be careful that decent can be steep.  This is a fairly short hike of maybe 45 mins to an hour and not overly difficult.

Mouse Creek Falls, The Smokies at a Distance

Big Creek / Mouse Creek Falls

The Big Creek Trail follows an old railroad grade, built by the Crestmont Lumber Company in the early 1900’s to haul lumber out of the mountains during the logging boom. The trail was improved by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the early 1930s when it was converted for hiking use.

With a relatively smooth and even surface that climbs gradually over the course of its 2.1 miles to Mouse Creek Falls, this is an outstanding hike for young or novice hikers.

At first the wide path climbs high above the Big Creek Campground, and away from the creek. After roughly 1.3 miles, however, the trail finally makes contact with the creek, and for the rest of this hike you’ll never leave the sight or sounds of Big Creek. Wildflowers and rhododendron also line the pathway throughout this section of trail.

At roughly 1.5 miles the trail passes Midnight Hole, a deep, emerald green pool that lies just below a six-foot waterfall flowing between two large boulders. If you’re lucky you may see a trout scooting through the water here. Unfortunately this spot isn’t marked by a trail sign. Moreover, you’ll pass a couple of smaller waterfalls along the way that might lead some to believe that they’ve already reached Midnight Hole. On the flip side you can use this an excuse to take your time to explore the many features along this portion of the trail.

At just over two miles you’ll see a hitching post on your left. Continue a little bit further beyond the hitching post and you’ll see a short side trail that leads to a viewing area of Mouse Creek Falls. Located on the far side of Big Creek, this 45-foot waterfall emerges from the dense forest to tumble over several tiers of moss covered rocks before crashing into Big Creek. This is an outstanding place to drop your backpack, break out the camera, and grab a snack or picnic lunch.

Roundtrip Length:                 4.2 Miles   

Total Elevation Gain:            605 Feet   

Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:           288 Feet   

Highest Elevation:                 2338 Feet 

Trail Difficulty Rating:           5.41 (moderate)

One of the best things about this hike is the drive to get there.  You’ll take 321 (East Parkway) all the ay to Cosby. You’ll turn left when the road ends and head north for a few miles.  Look for the entrance to the Foothills Parkway and turn right.  This is an exceptional drive with beautiful scenery and overlooks. The foothills parkway runs into I-40.  Take I-40 south near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, take the Waterville Road Exit (#451). Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River and proceed 2.1 miles to a 4-way intersection. Continue straight ahead onto the narrow gravel road and drive past the ranger station to a large parking area at the end of the road. The Big Creek Trailhead is located on the right, just before reaching the parking area, roughly 3 miles from the highway.

Hen Wallow Falls, The Smokies at a Distance

Hen Wallow Falls

Almost from the start the trail begins to make a steady climb up the northern flank of Snake Den Mountain. While ascending the Gabes Mountain Trail, which was once known as the Messer Trail, the roots and rocks will testify just how rough this route can be in some places. Although rugged, the trail passes through a beautiful lush-green forest of rhododendron and ferns, with eastern hemlocks and yellow poplars providing a nice overhead canopy.

At 2.1 miles hikers will reach the short (and somewhat steep) side trail that leads down to the base of the 90-foot Hen Wallow Falls. Although Hen Wallow Creek is only two feet wide at the top of the falls, it fans out to almost 20 feet at the base. During the drier seasons water flowing over the rock cliff can be fairly low. Be sure to check out the small cave in the ridge just off to the right side of the falls.

Roundtrip Length:                 4.4 Miles   

Total Elevation Gain:            900 Feet   

Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:           409 Feet   

Highest Elevation:                 2923 Feet 

Trail Difficulty Rating:           6.20 (moderate)

The hike to Hen Wallow Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains begins from the Gabes Mountain Trailhead in Cosby. To reach the trailhead from the junction of 441 and 321 in Gatlinburg (Light 3), turn to travel eastbound on 321/73, and drive 18.2 miles until the road dead-ends into Hwy 32. Turn right here towards Cosby, and drive 1.2 miles to the park entrance. Turn right into the park and drive another 2 miles to the Gabes Mountain Trailhead. The trailhead is on the right side of the road, but the large parking area, located in the Cosby Picnic Area, is across the street. Hen Wallow Falls is located off the Gabes Mountain Trail.

Huskey Branch Falls

Huskey Branch Falls is a 4.7 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee that features a waterfall and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and bird watching and is best used from April until September.

This trail ascends a gentle grade along an old gravel railroad bed that parallels the Little River, a beautiful cascading stream with large boulders and several small waterfalls. f you’re lucky you might spot an otter in or around the stream. Between 1988 and 1990 park biologists released 14 river otters into the Little River as part of a successful effort to reintroduce the species throughout the Great Smoky Mountains.

At roughly 2.2 miles hikers will reach Huskey Branch Falls, a small 20-foot cascade that tumbles into the Little River. The waterfall flows down the slope along the hill next to the trail before running underneath a small footbridge.

Roundtrip Length:                 4.7 Miles   

Total Elevation Gain:            383 Feet   

Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:           162 Feet   

Trail Difficulty Rating:           Easy

Near the trailhead hikers will pass by several old cottages. Most of these former resort cottages were built in the 1920s, and were used as summer homes by the affluent from Knoxville. For many years the homes are in disrepair and are off limits to the public. However, in the fall of 2008, National Park Service crews completed emergency stabilization to 18 of the historic cabins, as well as the Appalachian Clubhouse. The park plans to fully restore all 19 structures so that they can be opened and viewed by the public.

From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 4.9 miles west along Little River Road to reach the turnoff for the Elkmont Campground, which will be on your left. After turning into Elkmont, drive 1.4 miles to the campground entrance. Instead of proceeding into the campground, turn left and drive another 0.6 miles to reach the parking area for the Little River Trail. The Huskey Gap Trail is accessed via the Little River Trail.

Spruce Flats Fall

The Smokies is home to many waterfalls, but sometimes trekking to a waterfall can be crowded.  Spruce Flats Falls is a wonderful hidden gem just outside of the Tremont Institute.  This area is steeped in history of some of the Smokies’ original inhabitants and was even the site of a CCC camp. 

From the parking lot at the Tremont Institute, head up the hill approximately 25 yards.  You’ll see the Buckeye Trail heads off to the right. Take this trail to reach your destination.   The Buckeye Trail is not on any park map, but don’t worry – it’s easy to follow.  The wide and well-worn path travels uphill, steeply in spots, and can be rocky and root-filled. 

When you reach the top of the first hill, stop and take in the view of the lumbering Rocky Top and the Appalachian Trail – the large mountain looming above you. From here, head downhill now, walking down a unique foot log and making your way carefully through the roots.  The rushing sound of the waterfall gets louder as you reach your destination.

Spruce Flats Falls is a series of cascades – a total of four – with a total drop of approximately 30 feet.  Many visitors prefer to enjoy the top two tiers. It’s a great place to cool off on a warm summer afternoon. Return to your vehicle the way you came.  The trail is approximately 1.6 miles round trip.

Roundtrip Length:                 1.4 Miles   

Total Elevation Gain:            460 Feet   

Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:           657 Feet   

Highest Elevation:                 1692 Feet 

Trail Difficulty Rating:           2.32 (easy)

Little Greenbrier Trail > Little Brier Gap Trail > Walker Sister Place

The trailhead is on Wear Cove Gap Road at the park boundary. You can take the Little River Road to Metcalf Bottom, drive straight across the bridge and go about 1.25 miles to the park boundary, where you can park. You can also access the trail by going through Wears Valley and taking the Wear Cove Gap Road to the park boundary.

Since this trail begins on the park boundary, it’s a great trail even if most of the park roads are closed due to high water or snow. Even though it is easy to get to and has beautiful views, this trail is rarely used, so it is great if you are looking to get away from the crowds.

As you work your way along the park boundary, you catch glimpses into Wear Cove, which lies outside the park. You’ll continue in and out of the park as you follow the trail. When you reach 1.9 miles, you reach Little Brier Gap. You can take a right turn and work your way down to the Walker Sisters homesite, about .6 miles from the gap.

At one point the homestead consisted of several outbuildings, including a barn, blacksmith shop, applehouse, springhouse, smokehouse, pig pen, corn crib and a small tub mill. Today, only the cabin, springhouse and corn crib survive at the site.

Roundtrip Length:                 4.9 Miles   

Total Elevation Gain:            774 Feet

If you have little kids or want to make this a little lighter hike. You can start the hike to the Walker Sisters Place from the Metcalf Bottoms Trail >Little Brier Gap Trail. To reach the trailhead from the Townsend “Y” intersection near Cades Cove, drive 7.4 miles East to reach the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg you’ll drive 10 miles West to reach the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. Turn into the picnic area and park walk across the one-lane bridge and the trail hear is on your right.

Roundtrip Length:                 4.1 Miles   

Total Elevation Gain:            285 Feet   

Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:           219 Feet   

Highest Elevation:                 2062 Feet 

Trail Difficulty Rating:           3.17 (easy)

Wears Valley

Mountain Chick Café – Wears Valley Road

Family owned and operated, Mountain Chick Cafe is a must stop destination for breakfast, lunch and espresso!  Located in the heart of Wears Valley, we offer the perfect place to enjoy a bite to eat and take in gorgeous views!   Our goal is to create a cozy spot for locals and visitors to gather.   


Breakfast &Lunch…  Banana Foster French Toast, Hillbilly Burgers and more….


Breakfast Lunch and Dinner….Traditional Menu.


Trailhead Steak and Trout House

Whether you’re in the mood for a good steak or craving a platter of seafood, you are sure to find a meal at our restaurant that will satisfy your appetite. You can choose from a selection of steaks and burgers as well as seafood like fish and shrimp. For something a little lighter, we also have different kinds of soups and salads.

Burger Master Drive In

Burgers, Sandwiches, Ice Cream, Treats for your Dog


Docs 321 Café

Doc’s 321 Cafe serves AWARD WINNING 5 star healthy meals made from scratch in a family friendly atmosphere in a modified 1980 school bus.

Smoked Sirloin on a stick served on a bed of rice with side salad one side and Parmesan smoked tomato for 1595

Famous beef brisket served with two sides with red-eye gravy on the side for 1395

Three Little Pigs which is our ribs smoked pork homemade smoked sausage served with two sides for 1595

Cosby Creek Padilla which is a Tuscan flatbread pizza with garlic pesto sauce with yellow squash zucchini red onions tomatoes smoked sausage and cheese for 995

Rapid River Rat which is turkey ham lettuce tomatoes red onions avocado with herbal mayonnaise and it’s on a sundried tomato wrap served with one side for 1095

Soups tomorrow will be tomato-basil Java and possibly smoked sausage and chicken gumbo

Did I mention Smoked pies?

Arts and Crafts Community (Glades Road)

Gatlinburg Grind Café and Bakery

Fresh made bagels. Sweet almond blueberry with a mixed berry cream cheese. When there is a cream cheese this amazing, you choose your bagels for the day to pair with this amazingness. Gatlinburg, meet Delice de Bourgogne gourmet spread. It is like brie and cream cheese had a baby. It is so smooth and creamy ….and perfect to cut the spiciness of my favorite jalapeño bagels. Come try this amazing deliciousness with our cheddar garlic jalapeño or our everything jalapeño bagel.

We are beyond excited to share our love for REALLY good coffee and top notch pastries with our friends, community and the wonderful people who visit our incredible town.  Gatlinburg Grinds is proud to serve real coffee to great people.  Our coffees are roasted locally by 2 reputable companies.  CliffTops Coffee Company roasts their beans right here in Gatlinburg and Vienna Coffee Company in Maryville. Amazing Coffee, Espresso, Cappuccino, Loose Tea, Cold Brew and fantastic choices for the Kiddos.

The Greenbrier

The Greenbrier Restaurant is a food and spirit outpost nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. Acclaimed for our unique chef-driven menu, we specialize in hand-cut prime steaks, fresh produce, house specialities, and craft cocktails. With a rare in-house dry-aging process and an exceptional atmosphere, The Greenbrier Restaurant is Gatlinburg’s premier steakhouse. Whether you are visiting the area or a resident of the Great Smoky Mountains, our staff is dedicated to providing the highest quality food and service. Visit The Greenbrier Restaurant for a truly unparalleled dining experience.

Crystelle Creek

I’ve never had a bad meal here.  From the chicken to the trout, to the streaks it’s always outstanding.  The live music is fun. Don’t miss the hummingbird cake!!!!

Are you planning a visit to the Smokies and are wondering how to fit it all in?  Check out our sample itineraries:  https://dancingbearfoot.blog/2018/08/30/smoky-mountains-vacation-itinerary-day-1/

If this is your fist time coming to the Smokies and renting a cabin check out out blog post in what to look for when renting a log cabin.

Thank you for reading.  If you’d like to learn more about our cabin or other great things to see while visiting the Smoky Mountains please visit us at Dancing Bearfoot.com.

Like our Pizza Bear? Check out the other great artwork from Kenton Visser https://www.kentonvisser.com/

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