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  Hiking, biking and horseback riding provide springtime mountain exploration opportunities in the Smokies

BLOUNT COUNTY, TN — Visitors by the millions vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains each year to experience the great outdoors, see the national park’s natural attractions and enjoy the beautiful mountain vistas.

mountain river
Cool mountain river. Image by Jeaneane Payne

“The Smokies natural beauty is so vast, and when the flowers begin to blossom throughout the area, it makes you feel like you’re standing in the middle of a timeless watercolor painting,” said Tami Vater, director of Tourism for the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority. “With so many outdoor activities to choose from in the area, visitors have an array of options when it comes to discovering the Smokies in the springtime.”

Bicycling has become a popular springtime activity in the mountains, and one of the most utilized areas for cycling is the Cades Cove Loop Road, an 11-mile stretch where visitors can sightsee from their cycle and walk to historic spots. From early May to September, Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motorized traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m. to allow bicyclists a car-free chance to enjoy the cove.

Townsend also has the “Shadows of the Past” trail, which is a historical nine-mile bike/walking trail through the community. The trail showcases Townsend’s rich culture and interesting history throughout the ride, as cyclists have access to many historical landmarks, restaurants and shops along the way. Cyclists will get to enjoy the beauty of the area while biking three underpasses, paved trails and short hills. The trail is designed for cyclists of any level.

Blount County has numerous other trails and areas for bicyclists to explore, including:

Clover Hill Caper, an 18.5 mile, paved trail with panoramic views, historic homes and a unique bridge
Louisville Lap, a 16, or 6.5, mile, paved trail through historic Louisville with farms, a lake and picnic areas
Ellejoy Jaunt, a 20.5, or 10.5, mile, paved trail featuring mountain views, a stream, farmland and a historic site
Little River Run, an 11 mile, paved trail that parallels a stream

Maryville/Alcoa Trails, a 9-mile trail system that includes a variety of routes through the greenways of the communities featuring parks, rivers, community landmarks and picnic areas.

With more than 800 miles of maintained hiking trails, hiking is another favorite springtime activity in the Smokies. Hikers can hike to and from anywhere in the park using the park’s interconnecting trail system. This system includes 71 miles of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, the main east-west trail through the park. The park also offers a series of “quiet walkways,” typically one-half to three-quarters of a mile in length with a gradual incline.

Rated mild to moderate in difficulty, several nature trails also are available for those with moderate interest levels and time commitments. Each nature trail features a box at its entrance that contains information on natural resources and cultural highlights found on that trail.

Some of the trails in the area include:

Easy: Cades Cove Nature (2 miles), Laurel Falls (2.5 miles) West Prong (5.5 miles) Cooper Road (varied)
Moderate: Indian Creek (1.5 miles), Alum Cave (4.4 miles), Abrams Falls (5 miles), Charlie's Bunion (8 miles), Grotto Falls (2.4 miles)
Strenuous: Chimney Tops (4 miles), Ramsay Cascades (8 miles), Gregory Ridge (8 miles), Rich Mountain (8 miles)

For a unique view of the Smoky Mountains, climb on a horse and enjoy a relaxing tour of the trails the way the settlers did. Whether you’re an experienced rider or just a beginner, exploring the mountains and their spring beauty on horseback is always an adventure. Approximately two-thirds of the national park’s backcountry trails are designated as horse and hiking trails.

“You really see the area in a different way when you’re up on horseback,” said Vater. “You can literally go up the side of a mountain, be surrounded by nature and look down and see out over Blount County. There’s no way you could ever get the same view from sitting inside your car.”

Blount County, Tennessee is located just south of Knoxville at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The communities that make up Blount County — Townsend, Maryville, Alcoa, Friendsville, Louisville and Rockford – provide visitors with an abundance of outdoor activities, attractions and regular celebrations of the region’s rich Appalachian heritage and culture. Blount County is also home to the nation’s most visited national park -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For more information about Blount County, please contact the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority at (800) 525-6834 or visit Follow the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority at and

If you are in the area, please stop in to the Smoky Mountain Visitors Center at Townsend, located at 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, or the Smoky Mountain Visitors Center at Maryville, located at 201 South Washington Street, for more information.

Published April 30, 2013

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