It's got everything you need to tackle the trails in the park - elevation profiles, trail descriptions, accurate mileage and great natural and cultural history. Plus it's small and lightweight enough to fit in your daypack. If you don't already have it you can get it here.
Now - on to the business of the day. Today is my birthday, and what better way to spend one's birthday than to go for a hike? Jesse had to work, but Sarah, Laurel & Duncan were all game to go with me so we picked out a good hike that was relatively close and short. We started at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area and took the Metcalf Bottoms trail and the Little Brier Gap trail from Metcalf Bottoms up to the Walker Sister's cabin. Trail distance of 2.1 miles (= 4.2 miles roundtrip); elevation gain of about 500'.
The trail starts just on the north side of the bridge over the Little River at Metcalf Bottoms and leads first to the Little Greenbrier School in just about 0.7 miles.
According to "Hiking Trails of the Smokies" this log school building was built in 1882 with all of the area residents pitching in materials and/or labor. It was also used as a church building and there is a cemetery next door with many gravestones from the late 1800s / early 1900s.
From the Little Greenbrier School the Little Brier Gap trail winds about 1.1 miles to the Walker Sister's cabin, and then 0.3 miles further on it dead-ends into the Little Greenbrier Trail.
The trail follows an old road and is wide and even. It follows a branch (aka creek or stream) for most of its length and is bordered by mountain laurel and rhododendron. Along the way we stopped for a few rest breaks and enjoyed the beautiful sunny day.
The Walker Sister's cabin was really cool. The "Hiking Trails of the Smokies" tells the story of the 5 Walker sisters who grew up in this cabin and stayed even after the National Park was created in 1934. The last one, Louisa, lived here until she died in 1964. The cabin is very simple - two floors, each with one room, and attached building that served as the kitchen. No electricity, no plumbing, and only a fireplace for heat. The only outbuildings that remain are the corn crib / tool shed, and the spring house.
While Sarah and the kids stayed at the cabin I hiked the remaining 0.3 miles of the trail up to its junction with the Little Greenbrier Trail at the very edge of the park.
Looking down over the ridge you can see down into Wear's Valley on the northern border of the Smokies.
There's really something spectacular about the Smokies in the winter. While the laurels, rhododendron, hemlock and pines stay green, all of the hardwoods have lost their leaves and you can see much more deeply into the forest than usual. The way the light trickles through these bare tree branches is mesmerizing.
All in all it was a great hike and beautiful day. Mostly it was just great to get to spend my birthday doing what I like best with the people I like best.