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best easy hikes smoky mountains
Best Easy Day Hikes covers 22 hikes in the Smokies, including "Quiet Walkways," self-guided nature trails, and recommendations based on best views, nature lovers, history hikes, waterfalls, etc.

Schoolhouse Gap

Trail Features: Wildflowers, Quiet Forest Hike pale-meadow-beauty
Trail Location: Between Townsend and Cades Cove
Roundtrip Length: 3.8 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 513 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 270 Feet
Highest Elevation: 2158 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 4.83 (easy)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.62696
Parking Lot Longitude -83.72645

Directions to Trailhead:

From the Townsend "Y" intersection, drive west on Laurel Creek Road towards Cades Cove. The parking area for the Schoolhouse Gap Trail will be on your right, 3.7 miles from the Townsend "Y" intersection.

Trail Description:

The day we hiked the Schoolhouse Gap Trail the National Park Service had posted a couple of signs at the trailhead indicating that there had been bear activity on this trail, and to use caution. Interestingly, when we got to the top of the trail at the Chestnut Top Trail junction, there was a sign at the exit point indicating that the Schoolhouse Gap Trail was closed due to aggressive bear activity.

pink-ladys-slipperI write this as a reminder that no matter when or where, you are always in bear country when hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Know how to avoid bear encounters and know what to do should you see one on the trail. The Park's website is a good place to start.

The Schoolhouse Gap Trail is an excellent trail for spring wildflowers. We saw several Virginia bluebells on the lower portion of the trail. As we proceeded up trail we also saw beaked violets, pink lady's slippers, fairy wand, golden aster, star grass, red clover, Robin's plantain, sun drops, Catesby's trillium and lyre-leaf sage. The trail also had its share of rhododendron and mountain laurel, which were just beginning to bloom during our mid-May hike. Hikers can also find cardinal flower, Carolina vetch and yellow ragwort on this trail as well.

From July through October, you can also look for southern harebell, purple ironweed, blue lobelia and sweet Joe Pye weed while out on the trail.

The trail itself is a wide horse path in which three people could easily walk abreast. At just under a mile the Turkeypen Ridge Trail branches off to the left. You may notice a large boar trap at this junction. Hikers should go straight here to continue on towards Schoolhouse Gap.

Just past the Turkeypen Ridge Trail is another trail that forks off to the left. This is an unmarked trail, but leads to the fairly well known White Oaks Sinks area. This trail will take you toward a beautiful meadow and, further along, a towering cliff with a cave, known as Blowhole Cave, which emits a constant flow of icy, refreshing air. There are a few confusing social trails in this area, so make sure you know exactly where you're going before deciding to venture down this path.

To continue on towards Schoolhouse Gap, continue going straight here.


Just past this junction we saw a large owl. It appeared to stand about a foot in height, and had at least a three-foot wing span. I've only seen 2 or 3 owls in the wild, so this was quite a treat.

This hike ends at the Chestnut Top Trail junction, just over 1.9 miles from the trailhead. You can continue on for another two-tenths of a mile to Schoolhouse Gap, which takes you to a private residence just outside of the park boundaries.