There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but most of them aren’t appropriate for hiking with preschoolers because they are either too long or too difficult or both. We have done a fair amount of hiking and walking with the kids and I know that our distance is limited to around 2.5 miles round trip and even that’s a little long for G. With that in mind we headed into the park to do a bit of hiking.
Our first stop was Sugarland Visitor Center to pick up some maps and Junior Ranger books for T and J. Unlike most National Parks, Great Smoky Mountain does not have an admission fee. Instead, they charge a small fee for just about every brochure. The Junior Ranger booklets are $2.50 a piece and if your child completes all four steps they get a patch. We also picked up the Smoky Mountain starter pack of brochures and maps for $5.00 because it is cheaper than paying $0.50 to $1.00 for each of the brochures that are in it.
After examining the maps and brochures, we decided that the Laurel Falls Trail was the best choice for our group. It’s a paved 2.6 miles round trip path to a waterfall. We were expecting a smooth paved path up the mountain as were many of the visitors with strollers we saw on the trail. The trail IS paved but it is NOT smooth and strollers are technically prohibited. We had all chosen to use frame backpack carriers for our little ones so the bumpiness of the trail wasn’t an issue.
The signs warning of steep drop offs and slippery rocks more disconcerting than the trail condition. They advised that falling deaths had occurred and to please keep children under control at all times. G was the only one we were really concerned about since he’s fond of charging blindly ahead. He was very good about holding hands although we did break out the harness for the hike back down because he was getting tired and stumble-footed.
We had a bit of excitement on the walk up when a yearling black bear ran through the woods and across the trail. There was trail volunteer stopping people on the trail to give the bear space. We did get to see it but didn’t get a picture of it because it was moving very fast. The kids were pretty excited but glad that we were several hundred feet down the trail from said bear.
The falls were lovely, although the walk down to the lower pool looked way to steep and dangerous for our young hikers. The kids had fun wading in the small pool between the upper and lower fall. There is a concrete bridge with culverts in it that divides the pool from the top of the lower waterfall so we didn’t need to worry about anyone getting swept over the waterfall.
I did feel kind of bad for Mr. J the last half mile of our hike because G was just too tired to walk any farther so he had to carry our small boy down to the trailhead. Even worse, G quickly fell asleep while being carried. I can’t imagine that hiking with 30 pounds of dead weight in your arms is fun or easy.
One other quick note about this trail: parking is very limited. We had to park about a half a mile down the road and hike up the side of the road to the trailhead . The shoulder is narrow and there is a fair amount of poison ivy growing near the edge of the gravel.
Up next: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies