Great Smoky Mountains National Park invites visitors to join a park ranger for a guided hike on Friday, Nov. 24 or a service opportunity on Saturday, Nov. 25. Hikes will be offered near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground, providing an outstanding opportunity for people of all ages to #OptOutside and enjoy the park.
Rangers and park volunteers will help visitors discover special cultural and natural resources along the hikes. Visitors may also choose to hike on their own and can come to any of the park’s visitor centers throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to receive information about hiking options including several short nature trails that are perfect for children.
“The park offers incredible places to enjoy a hike or a scenic drive with friends and family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We encourage you to join us in exploring the park and creating new memories over the holiday.”
The park has over 800 miles of trails to explore throughout the year with every season offering its own special rewards. During late fall and winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas revealing stone walls, chimneys, and foundations. These reminders of past communities allow hikers to discover a glimpse of history along park trails.
Friday, Nov. 24 at 10am – Mingus Creek Cemetery Hike
The 4.2-mile roundtrip hike on the Mingus Creek Trail is rated moderate but does have several steeps section near the cemeteries. The trail parallels Mingus Creek with several log foot bridges along the way. The ranger leading the hike will share some of the burial traditions and customs represented in the cemeteries of the Smokies to discover the beliefs and values that defined this southern Appalachian community as we visit two historic cemeteries. The guided portion of the hike will end after 2.1 miles at the Mingus Creek Cemetery. Participants can return to their cars at their own pace, further explore the area, or enjoy a picnic lunch near the cemetery. Meet in the Mingus Mill parking area, less than a mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, along Newfound Gap Road. For more information, call the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at 828-497-1904.
Friday, Nov. 24 at 9am – Cucumber Gap near Elkmont
This easy, 4.8-mile roundtrip hike follows the river through a beautiful, cove hardwood forest. Participants will learn about the rich history of the area including the logging operations of the Little River Lumber Company. Expect 3-4 hours total for the hike. One river crossing will be required. Meet at the Little River trailhead at 9:00 a.m., 7 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center in Elkmont. For more information, call Sugarlands Visitor Center at 865-436-1291.
Saturday, Nov. 25 at 9am – #OptOutside with Service
Help clean fire pits and perform other maintenance tasks around the Elkmont Campground to help care for one of the park’s busiest campgrounds. It is particularly important that we keep the area free of trash and food scraps to help us protect wildlife! Expect 3 hours total for the service project and then join us for an optional hike to Huskey Branch Falls! Bring a sack lunch and we’ll take a hike along the nearby Little River Trail to the falls and enjoy the beautiful scenery as we eat! The hike is a moderate 4.3 miles roundtrip and is expected to take 3 hours. Meet at the Elkmont Campground Office at 9:00 a.m., 7 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center in Elkmont. For more information, call the Volunteer Office at 865-436-12665.
What to bring: Weather in the Smoky Mountains can be unpredictable, especially in the fall. Rangers recommend participants dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and bring rain gear. Participants should also bring a bag lunch, snacks, and plenty of water.