One hiker’s perspective:
I boarded the Aerial Tram and rode up to Ober Gatlinburg’s mountaintop location on a Friday morning, excited to hike the new Trails at Ober. The temperature was in the mid- ‘80s and the sun was shining bright. We had a group of 10 including our guide, a fellow by the name of Tiger. He gave us a brief spiel on what to expect and we headed out on our adventure. We crossed a grassy slope and started up a slowly rising hill. We stopped at the entrance to the woods, where our guide pointed out a large patch of poison ivy. This would be the first of many native plants in the area that we would discuss. Next, we climbed up some stones placed like steps and came across a “bleeding” blue mushroom. This fungus was weirdly cool and is apparently edible! Then we continued up through the woods until we came across a large bench created from rock slabs. Named after the late President of Ober Gatlinburg, Bruce Anders, “Bruce’s Bench” proved to be a great resting place and photo-op!
We arose from our short rest and hiked out of the woods and into a meadow. Where we were serenaded by a Yellow Finch! Then we walked by a large, yellow fan-like structure on wheels. This turned out to be one of the big snow “guns” that shoots out snow during Ober’s ski season. The hills and meadows where we were walked are actually ski slopes in the winter! Around the bend was a red cable car sitting on the ground. Our guide explained we had arrived at “Patroller’s Point,” a second home to the Ski Patrol during ski season. This location provided the best view of the Great Smoky Mountains on our hike, as well as a bird’s eye view of Ober Gatlinburg!
After everyone had taken their photos, we hiked on across a “holler” and were introduced to wild carrots and the pretty white flowers that distinguish them. I’d seen the flowers before but never knew that small white carrots were growing amongst their roots! As we walked along, we learned some of the history of Ober Gatlinburg, originally called Gatlinburg Ski Resort.
Next, we came to our first pond – Newt’s Pond, named appropriately for the many newts that we saw in and around it. This man-made pond also serves as a water source for the native animals in the warmer months and is used for snowmaking in the winter months (after it goes through a filtration process). After watching the newts and frogs play in the pond, we continued our hiking adventure. Our path took a turn and climbed upwards to gain even more elevation. There was a water cooler at the top for anyone who needed to top off their water bottle. Then we walked around the bend and came across some old ski lift chairs which were repurposed into hanging benches. We all hopped onto the “Nowhere Chairs” for a short rest and more photo-ops.
Also found on the trail was a fun little surprise for the young (or young-at-heart) hikers that take this tour – a playground! This feature is made almost entirely from the logs and other natural materials that were found in the area (maples, oaks, rocks, etc.). It’s like a little obstacle course where you can jump from tree stump to tree stump, cross a bridge made from a fallen tree, or traverse a mini swinging bridge. Most of the adults in our group played along, as did our guide. It’s also a perfect spot for kids to act like kids and blow off some steam.
Further down, in a small clearing amongst the trees, our next surprise awaited us – a moonshine still! Not a real, functioning still, this copper beauty serves as a representative of both Appalachian and American history (think moonshine and prohibition). Moonshine is now big business in this area (ex. Ole Smoky Moonshine, Sugarlands Shine, etc.) and is part of the mountain culture.
We continued walking along the trail, learning about more medicinal plants, and emerged from the woods near the top of the Alpine Slide. Next, across the grass to a frontage road and then back down to the amusement park, where our adventure had begun. We thanked our guide and said goodbye to him and each other as we parted ways to take part in the other activities Ober Gatlinburg offers. It was a nice outing and served as a great introduction to hiking. For someone like myself who hikes quite a bit, it was still fun and kept me entertained while I learned some facts about the area, snowmaking, and plants. The hike was nicely tailored to our group and our experienced guide provided plenty of opportunities to ask questions. I think it would be interesting to do again in the Fall when the leaves are changing and, in the Spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom. Also, it should be noted that I did not reveal everything we saw on our hike. There are still some surprises left for you to discover on your adventure!
- Our tour lasted a full 2 hours which gave us our money’s worth. Allow plenty of time so you can relax and enjoy your time on the trail!
- Wear hiking boots or athletic shoes with good traction.
- Bring full water bottles! You don’t have to be an experienced hiker to enjoy this tour, but good hydration is a must! I also wished I’d packed a granola bar…
- Dress for the weather – if there’s a chance of rain, pack a rain jacket. If it’s hot, wear a hat and sunglasses. *You can also carry a backpack – several people did in our group!
- Ask lots of questions! Your guide wants to talk about what YOU are interested in. We learned a ton about plants because our group kept asking about plants. The guides love to answer questions and they want to teach people – that’s why they do this!
- Bring insect repellent.
- Have fun!