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1-night loop suggestions for GSMNP


JHaveman
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Thinking of doing a quick trip to GSMNP at the beginning of April. Any suggestions for a 1-night loop. Hike out, camp, hike back sort of thing? Any help is appreciated. I do not know the area that well, so details are greatly appreciated!!

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AdventureMyk

There are a couple of great ones along the Lakeshore Trail if you park at Fontana Dam. However, I'd avoid the one that starts at Lakeshore, hangs a left and goes up the east side of the ridge to Shuckstack Fire Tower. That was probably the longest purely uphill section of increasing steepness I've ever been on. It would not have been so bad if there were even anything to see but even in late spring it was just dry ground, dead trees in a bland crease of a valley as you climbed out to the top. Not even a stream or anything after a short distance. We did that loop once and have no interest in trying it again, however, the camp sites at the bottom of it were great though they had lots of stream crossings (no bridges, expect wet feet or to take off shoes). The Lakeshore part was great, the fire tower was great, linking the two? not so much.

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The Big Creek area is nice. If you want a flat in/out hike, sites 36/37 are about 6 miles. If you want a steep hike with an awesome view (firetower), site 38 (Mt Sterling) is great.

It is a longer hike, but site 98 on Fontana Lake has great views of the lake, as does 90 at the other end of the lake.

The Forney Creek (70, 71, 74) and Noland Creek (65 and 66) areas are nice as well.

If you want a short easy hike (2 miles), I liked site 39 off of Cataloochee as well. There is a lot of history in Cataloochee if you are interested in that sort of thing.

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Can anyone give me the temps I could expect for this time of year in this area? I am concerned my kids (15 and 17) might not have an enjoyable time if it is too cold for them.

Also, where are the trailheads for all of these locations? I can't really decipher from the map. Or is there a book I should get that would help with this information?

I am really looking for about a 7-8 mile hike in each direction, total loop of 14-16 miles. Would prefer to stay in a lower elevation if weather would be a concern at that time of year.

Edited by JHaveman
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This can give you an idea of what is happening at higher elevations (6000 ft) http://www.highonleconte.com/daily-posts

This gives data for a couple locations in the park http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=NWS&product=RTP&issuedby=MRX

In general, the Smokies have very erratic weather in the spring. I was just there the end of Jan. and had highs in the 40s, lows in the 30s. The day after I left the trail, there was a lot of snow and closed roads. Last spring, I was there the end of March and had great weather until the last day (rain and mid-30s), driving home on I75 there were snowplows having problems keeping up with all the snow.

At low elevations, site 36 or 90 you probably won't freeze to death in the beginning of April, but you could be really uncomfortable (rain and mid-30s all day), you could also see sunshine and 50s/60s. At higher elevations, it depends, much more erratic. If the weather is going to be nice Mt Sterling is hard to beat, but the 6 miles from Big Creek is all up hill.

I would think about a couple different possibilities and then reserve a site based on the weather forecast as you get closer. You can check Gatlinburg and Cherokee forecasts to get an idea of weather in the park.

On the park map, Big Creek is off I40 (exit 451). It is right on the TN/NC border.

Site 90 is on Lake Fontana, this is a cool hike, you start at the Fontana Dam and the site has great views of the lake.

One thing to consider if you haven't hiked in the Smokies very much is that a lot of the trails are steep, 7-8 miles can be a long day. For example, the Baxter Creek trail (to Mt Sterling) gains about 4000 ft in 6 miles. The Big Creek trail (to site 36) gains about 1300 feet in 5 miles.

Hope this helps

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AdventureMyk

I camped at site 91 off of Fontanna (hang a right for 90 to stay on the lake short, a left across a few streams for 91). It was nestled down in a valley off of a stream and was very nice, clean, etc. From there, however, it would be a pure uphill miserably boring climb to Shuckstack Tower... That was my first backpacking trip and that 2nd day was horrible! A steep climb is one thing if you at least have views or something to distract you. This just kept getting steeper all the way up to the top of the ridge. Not a hike I would ever recommend unless you are taking it from the tower DOWN to Lakeshore.

Just remember that every thousand feet is a few degrees in temp. The higher you are the more likely to have stronger and more consistent winds to add to that wind chill, especially at peaks and ridge-lines.

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  • 1 month later...
AdventureMyk

Jhave, gotta flesh that post out with a report and if you have a few pics to add they would be welcome. :)

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