Looking for a way to introduce your kids to hiking? See the world from a child's perspective. Walking for the sake of walking can be a strange concept for kids. We stand to learn more from simply observing our children exploring nature than we could by hiking a thousand mindless miles. So get your children outside and enjoy their unencumbered delight in exploration.
Safety is always a concern when hiking with children. While you won't need any specialized equipment to enjoy these hikes, it is always smart to take enough water and snacks for everyone. Wear sturdy footwear to make the hike more enjoyable and dress in warm layers on colder days. Please remember to be respectful and do your part to preserve these areas because they are wonderful pieces of Smoky Mountain history. Please do not move any objects you find, and leave all plants undisturbed.
Kephart Prong Trail
The Kephart Prong Trail offers your children a chance to explore Smokies' history from the logging era through the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps. This area was heavily logged prior to the establishment of the park, however forests have reclaimed the landscape since the days of logging. Keep on the lookout, though—you may still find evidence of the old logging railway.
This hike follows the Kephart Prong two miles to the trail shelter, with four log bridges crossing the creek along the path. The first two log bridges are easier to cross, however the last two log bridges are a little more challenging and may be appropriate for older kids who wish to see the shelter.
Remnants of the Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was located here from 1933 to 1942 can still be found along the trail. The masonry notice board and a stone hearth with cook surface are two of the most obvious landmarks, but you may even find a stone drinking fountain used by the men living in camp.
Around 0.7 miles you may see evidence of the fish hatchery that was built in 1936. A few yards to the left of the trail there are two concrete tanks which indicate the location of the old fish hatchery. There were also several buildings and many fish pools in this area, and the fish hatched in these pools were used to stock the depleted streams within the park. All of these historical relics provide a great opportunity for curious children who like to explore the past.
Kephart Prong Trail also provides plenty of opportunity to see wildlife, including salamanders which can sometimes be found along the stream. Springtime is a good time for hiking here as there are many spectacular wildflowers blooming from late March through April. Though the forest is beautiful, not all the plants and trees belong here. Non-native arborvitae, boxwood, and yucca were planted by the CCC and can still be found here.
Porters Creek Trail is one of the many family-friendly hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Porters Flat is located in the Greenbrier Cove, 6 miles east of Gatlinburg. The 1 mile moderate walk from the parking lot to Porters Flat provides the opportunity to introduce kids to the natural communities within the cove hardwood forest. There are also historical remnants of the people who lived in the area before the park was established.The first Europeans settled in the Porters Flat and Greenbrier Cove area in the late 1700s. At one time the community boasted three general stores, two churches, one public school, a hotel, three blacksmith shops, five corn mills, and approximately 500 people, most of them supported by small farms. Today you can still find the evidence of this community. You may see indications of old homesteads, stone fences, and stairs, as well as the Ownby cemetery along the way.
When you reach Porters Flat you will find a cantilevered barn, springhouse, and cabin. Children may imagine the daily routines of the 19th century as well as compare and contrast the lives of early settlers and people today. They will also witness how nature has reclaimed this area over the last 80 years. Spring is an especially good time to hike because of the spectacular wildflowers blooming from late March through April.
Last updated: August 6, 2015