Bryson City, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks, photos, Staying Active

Deep Creek Hiking Trail

The Deep Creek Loop Trail, which is located just outside of Bryson City, North Carolina, is a moderately difficult, 4.6 mile roundtrip hike with rewarding water views, plentiful wildflowers, and peaceful river sounds.

This loop hike takes you past three great waterfalls. Approximately 0.8 miles into the trail, turn right onto the Indian Creek Trail – this marks the beginning of the trail loop.

The first waterfall on the hike is Tom Branch Falls, an easy 1/4 mile from the parking area. The path is nice and wide. You will even find benches next to the water.

Approximately 0.8 miles into the trail, turn right onto the Indian Creek Trail – this marks the beginning of the trail loop. One-tenth of a mile after this junction, you will see a small trail on your left side – this trail leads down to a beautiful 45-foot waterfall and is well worth the jaunt. You take a slight detour off your trail to head uphill and then downhill to be at the base of the falls. This is very near the put-in point for any tubing. After rejoining the main Deep Creek Trail, it hits the horse trail and heads uphill. There are also a few bridges to cross. Continue hiking over a footbridge and past the Rhododendron-rich Indian River Valley on your right. Around 1.4 miles, you will reach a junction in the trail – continue straight ahead (one mile to the right is the Thomas Divide). When you get to the 1.7-mile point, there is an intersection with the Deep Creek Loop – turn left to stay on the loop and ascend 350 feet over the next half-mile.

Next, you will reach the Sunkota Ridge junction at around the 2.2 mile mark – to stay on the loop trail, continue straight ahead. This is the highpoint in the Deep Creek Loop trail and it is downhill or flat hiking from here! At approximately 2.9 miles, you will reach the Deep Creek Trail again – turn left. Now, you will continue across a footbridge.

The trail culminates in the Juney Whank falls. It’s a quick downhill walk from there to the parking lot. You can just sit on the bench, built into the bridge with Juney Whank falls running beneath us.

Directions to Trailhead:
From Gatlinburg, drive into the National Park on the main Parkway. When you pass the Sugarlands Visitor Center on your right, take note of your mileage and continue 32.1 miles through the National Park. Once you reach the intersection of Route 441 and Route 19 in Cherokee, turn right on Route 19 and continue for 10 miles to Bryson City. Turn right onto Everett and continue for 0.2 miles to Bryson Street. Turn right onto Bryson Street and continue for 0.2 miles. Take your third left, which is Ramseur Street. Make your second right, which is Deep Creek Road. Continue on Deep Creek Road for 2.8 miles to the Deep Creek Loop trailhead (you will enter park 0.5 miles prior to arriving at the trailhead).

It will take you about 2 hours to get to the trail from one of our Great Smoky Vacations cabins. So, plan on making a day of it.

Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks, Staying Active

Look Rock Tower Trail

Look Rock Tower Trail is a paved Smoky Mountain hiking trail you won’t want to miss. This trail is considered easy and is 0.8 miles roundtrip. The path is steep on this trail too. It is located off of Foothills Parkway near Maryville, Tennessee. There is an ADA friendly picnic area at Look Rock where you can enjoy a picnic lunch and spend some time with family and friends outdoors. This trail is not tagged as wheelchair or stroller friendly because although the trail surface is paved asphalt and it is typically at least four feet wide, it is moderately steep most of the way and very steep (over 12%) in areas. At the end of this trail is a beautiful view of the mountains. Pets are not allowed on this trail.

Look Rock Trail Observation Tower
Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, History, Staying Active


By Arthur “Butch” McDade

Butch and Glenn
Arthur “Butch” McDade, left, and Glenn Cardwell, right, outside of Sugarlands Visitor Center in 2014. Photo courtesy of Arthur McDade.

In Greenbrier there’s a path that leads to an old homesite. The house is gone but you can still spot foundation stones and a stone springhead nearby. And, if you really look around, you can find an old automobile frame.

I had the honor of hiking to this homesite several times with Glenn Cardwell. The last time was in 2014, two years before his death. Hiking there meant a lot to Glenn; it was where he entered this earth on a cold Christmas Eve in 1930, four years before his birthplace and the surrounding forest became part of the new Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As we hiked, Cardwell would talk and point things out. He had a soft voice and was one of the kindest folks you’d ever meet (I once asked his wife Faye if Glenn ever got mad—she said, “No.”). He told me everything about his life, from his humble beginnings in Greenbrier to the 34 years he spent as a national park ranger in the Smokies.

A sense of place permeated Cardwell’s life—he never forgot where he came from. He attributed this to his mother “Pearlie,” who took him into the forests of the Smokies on long walks along Hills Creek. Cardwell attended school, but he believed he got his real education by following his mom in the woods. She was an “herb doctor” familiar with healthful native plants.

Glenn Cardwell
Glenn Cardwell on a footbridge in Greenbrier during a hike with Arthur “Butch” McDade in 2014. Photo courtesy of Arthur “Butch” McDade.

His mother’s teachings served him well when he became a ranger in the Smokies in 1961. With his knowledge of the woods, he became a go-to authority on plants and animals. In the Smokies, he mentored well over one hundred park rangers during his career and guided thousands of park visitors on nature walks. He directed visitors to family cemeteries and assisted on “lost person” cases. He became a “ranger’s ranger” and was later honored by Great Smoky Mountains Association as one of the 100 most influential people in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cardwell once mentioned that after he left this job in 1995, he intended to retire, but his retirement didn’t quite go as planned. In 1998 he became mayor of nearby Pittman Center, Tennessee, a position he held for nigh on 18 years. He also authored two history books on the area. He stayed busy, he said, because “if you rest, you rust!”

Cardwell was a man of the Smokies. He never wanted to leave these mountains, turning down jobs from other parks. He only temporarily left while in the Navy during the Korean War and while attending the University of Tennessee. He said that while in the Navy, half-way around the world, he vowed that if he ever got back to the Smokies he’d never stray farther than the local co-op store in Sevierville. And to cement his attachment to the area, he married his childhood sweetheart and they lived permanently in Emerts Cove, only three miles from where his mother brought him into this world.

On my last hike with Cardwell, I asked what the most memorable thing was that his mother taught him. He said he learned a lot from her, but she gave him a saying he remembered to that day. She’d told him, “Glenn, once you fall in love with nature, you’ve got a friend for life.”

Arthur “Butch” McDade worked 30 years for the National Park Service at several sites, ultimately retiring from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He currently works as a freelance writer.

I just love to hear stories of people who lived in the Great Smoky Mountains before it was the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I had the honor to meet Odis Clinton Abbott when at the primitive church in Cades Cove. I also really enjoy the Walker Sisters story.

Attractions, Great Smoky Mountains, Parks, Staying Active

Pigeon River Canopy Tours (Hartford)

Pigeon River Canopy Tours is located about 30 miles out of Gatlinburg in the tiny mountain community of Hartford near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

The tour, which accommodates kids ages 8 and up with a minimum weight of 60 lbs, isn’t for those afraid of heights.

The tour soars over the Big Pigeon River at heights up to 120 feet above the river.

This is an adventure and riders must be in good physical condition and able to raise their arms over their head to regulate speed and braking, but if you’re capable and brave enough, it offers a unique experience the family will remember for a lifetime.

The zipline canopy tour in the Gatlinburg area that is truly in the wilderness with 2 spectacular zips across the Big Pigeon River! Get away from the crowds, lines and concrete of Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge for a day of fun in the trees! River crossings, rock cliffs, waterfalls, Rabbit Hole repel, sky bridges, wildlife & more are the things that make the Pigeon River Canopy Tour!

Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, History, Staying Active

White Oak Sinks and Blowhole Cave

Approximately halfway between Townsend and Cades Cove on Laurel Creek Road lies the beginning of the route to one of the most magical locations within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park called Whiteoak Sink. 

The hike to Whiteoak Sink is just under two miles. The trail is located off of the “Schoolhouse Gap Trail” just past the junction with the “Turkeypen Ridge Trail”. There is no “official” trail to Whiteoak Sink. The “unofficial” trailhead is well beaten down with foot traffic; you won’t have any problem finding and following it. You can reach the trailhead for Schoolhouse Gap Trail 3.7 miles west from the Townsend Y junction on the right, and the trail to White Oak Sinks is about 1.1 miles from the parking lot.

Whiteoak Sink is a small basin surrounded by steep hills. Unlike the long swath of valley in Cades Cove, the basin is much smaller and more elliptical in nature. In fact the name might have been derived because of this basin (sink) or maybe because of the many individual sinkholes found in the area.  White Oak Sinks is home to everything from old homesteads to stone walls and is known for its beautiful display of wildflowers in the spring and summer.

  1. The first 1.1 miles on the Schoolhouse Gap trail is a moderate climb. The trail was originally a road so it’s easy to follow with lots of room.
  2. At 1.1 miles on the Schoolhouse Gap trail, turn left through the gate just above the Turkeypen Ridge trail junction. The next 0.3 miles is an easy walk down to a flat open area. At this point the trail seems to split. Take the left across the wet boggy/creek area.
  3. The next 0.5 miles navigates through some ridges culminating on a steep descent into the Whiteoak Sink area.
  4. Once in the basin the trail splits. The right trail leads to the Rainbow Falls cave, the left trail leads to the Blowhole cave.

You’ll see 4 caves in the White Oak Sinks area, but the Blowhole Cave is one of the most impressive. You’ll feel a cold blast of air when you stand next to it, which is where it got its name. Although you can’t enter the cave, it’s still worth the hike to see it! The Indiana bat (an endangered species) hibernates in the cave. While the Indiana bat spends its summer living throughout the eastern US, during winter hibernation the bat congregates in a very few caves. This is one of them

The most popular cave is the waterfall cave, sometimes referred to as Rainbow Falls Cave. Water tumbles over the top of a cliff and disappears into the cave entrance. It can be quite impressive in early spring after a decent rain.

A third cave is north of the Blowhole cave. If you’re facing the Blowhole cave, look to your right for a small footpath. Follow the footpath north up a gully which was originally one of the manways in and out of the basin. Approximately 1/8 mile from the Blowhole cave you will see a small sink on the left which contains the third cave.

The fourth cave entrance is located at the far northwestern section of the basin. There is no consistent footpath to this cave entrance which lies at the bottom of a steep sink. For a general location see the pdf map below. This is by far the least impressive of the four cave entrances.

The historical artifacts in the Whiteoak Sink basin are as fascinating as the wildflower bonanza is ethereal. Realize some of the artifacts are off the paths and should be explored during the late fall or winter to minimize disturbing the vegetation. Also note it’s illegal to remove any artifacts from the park. One of the more interesting remnants of history is the grave on the small hill in front of the Blowhole cave. If you’re standing facing the cave (the one with metal grating boxed around the entrance), turn around and walk about two hundred yards up a steep but small hill. The grave is right there as the hill levels off.

The foot and head markers of Abraham Law’s grave look to be the original stone slabs. There are no markings on them. The carved river stone appears to be more recent and was probably created and carried to the location by family members or friends of the family after the creation of the park.

Per the Daily Times of Blount County (Law Family Genealogy), Abraham Law moved to Blount County with his wife and their children to a parcel of land in Whiteoak Sink sometime after 1820.

The article goes on to say, per census and court records, the correct dates for his birth and death are actually 1775-1844. In addition, the article mentions some family lore that implied his death occurred during a large snow fall and he couldn’t be moved to Townsend, so the family made due with the hill top burial.

Abraham’s daughter Caroline married James Spence and they lived on a grassy bald overlooking the eastern end of Cades Cove. The bald became known as Spence Field. Both James and Caroline Law Spence are buried in Myers Cemetery in Townsend TN.

Another interesting artifact is the collection of metal cogs (gears) propped up against a tree. The origin of the machinery is a mystery to me. Could they have been parts of a saw mill in the area? There doesn’t appear to be any consistent water source so if they are parts of a mill then it was probably powered by steam and/or gasoline. Another guess is that the cogs might have been part of some 20th century farming equipment.

Various rock piles and stone walls can be found in the area. One of the more interesting stone remnants is a small dug out section of earth with a descending entrance lined with stones. I suspect this structure might have been a root cellar. The intermittent outline of a stone foundation surrounds the dugout implying a house or other structure was on top of the depression. In addition to the stone work, cast iron stove parts, metal tubs, and sometimes bricks can be located in the vicinity.