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Best Family Hikes in Haywood County, Smoky Mountains

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Family hiking Black Balsam Knob in the sun

Look no further than Haywood County for the perfect family hikes.

On a mission to find the perfect family hikes for your next trip to Haywood County? Look no further! We’re sharing the best of Haywood County’s hiking excursions to have received our “family-friendly” stamp of approval. Introducing your children to the wonders of hiking and instilling an appreciation of the great outdoors is one of the greatest gifts you can give. There is nothing more rewarding than spending a few hours -or days- in the woods, and taking in all that mother nature has to offer. Haywood County is a great place to do just that. Given our location – conveniently wedged between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Haywood County offers miles of pristine hiking trails.  Since these trails range in difficulty and length, it can sometimes be hard to determine the best ones to take your tiny hikers or even beginner adults on. But stress not, we’ve taken the guesswork out of it! Check out the following fantastic family hikes in Haywood County.

As always, be sure to consider the physical capabilities of you and your hiking crew, as the following content is comprised of our personal recommendations. For additional, technical information about various trails, refer to resources such as AllTrails.

Graveyard Fields

Due to its beauty and ease, Graveyard Fields holds its spot as one of our popular family hikes with 3.2 miles total miles of trail. It offers a mile moderate climbing difficulty, rewarded by an impressive waterfall. In the parking area, you can find a map showing its entire trail system. After crossing the bridge, the main trail goes left and upstream. A 0.25-mile trail to the right will take you to the bottom of the Lower Falls, which is of moderate descent. Be careful, as there are slippery rocks around the waterfalls. The main trail will take you through open, grassy areas, and past nice pools for wading on a hot summer day. Blueberries are abundant in the late summer to early fall. After a single mile, you will see the trail to the Upper Falls. The main trail crosses the Yellow stone Prong and returns to the parking lot.

Directions

This trail begins at the Graveyard Fields Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the U.S. Highway 276 junction with the parkway, turn left or south on the Parkway and continue to milepost 418.8 (about 6 miles).

Devil’s Courthouse

Devil’s Courthouse, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, presides over some of the most spectacular views in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the top of Devil’s Courthouse at 5,720 feet, visitors can see into South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee in a 360-degree panorama. It derived its name from the sinister aspect of its rock formation and, as legend holds, the devil held court within the cave beneath the rock. In Cherokee folklore, this cave is actually the private dancing chamber and the dwelling place of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla. It also provides a habitat for a variety of rare, high-altitude plants. Some of these alpine species may be remnants from the last glacial period. Hawks, ravens, vultures, eagles, and peregrine falcons ride the hot air currents that rise from the valley.

Devils Courthouse sits at an Elevation of 5720 ft on the Blue Ridge Parkway, located at Mile Post 422.4, it includes an overlook from the parking lot as well as at the summit. A twenty-minute walk/hike up a partially paved trail to summit & overlook, with a short but fairly steep incline halfway through. From the summit, you can view 4 states  –  NC, SC, GA & TN – and informative “plaques” are located at the summit’s overlook with distances to well-known peaks both near and far. There is also a picnic table near the parking lot, perfect for a scenic lunch.

Max Patch

Max Pax is a local favorite for family hikes, and is actually one of the most visited hiking areas in Haywood County. This easy-to-moderate hike’s unique location consists of 300+ acres of grassy bald that makes for an easier hike with sweeping, unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. The trail provides two loops to choose from: 1.4 miles and 2.4 miles. The loops guide you up and around the summit.

Directions

Take I-40 W to exit 7 (Harmon’s Den). Take a right on Cold Springs Road, and the road almost immediately becomes gravel. This usually well-graded road climbs steadily but never steeply. Follow it 6.2 miles to SR-1182 (Max Patch Rd). Turn left and drive 1.5 miles to the Max Patch parking area on the right.

Waterrock Knob

Waterrock Knob is a must-stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway! Located at Milepost 451.2, it features the last hiking trail along the Parkway as you travel toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This peak (6,292 feet) is the 16th highest mountain in the Eastern United States and the 15th highest of the 40 mountains in North Carolina over 6,000 feet. There are fantastic views both east and west from the parking area, home to a Visitors Center and restrooms. It’s one of the best places in the North Carolina mountains to watch a sunrise or sunset.A 1.2-mile roundtrip hike will take you to the top of the summit. The steep climb gains 412 feet in elevation. While it is a short hike, the elevation gain makes it better for families equipped to conquer rugged terrain, and contains plenty of gorgeous views to stop by or rest at along the way. The first quarter-mile of the trail is paved, concluding at a breathtaking overlook. Its peak offers several vantage points for views stretching great distances. On a clear day, you can enjoy views as far as fifty miles, which includes the highest peaks in the Smoky Mountains. You don’t have to hike the trail up to the summit to take in these excellent views! However, if you and your crew are capable of hiking a strenuous trail, then we strongly recommend it. Alternatively, you can make use of the provided picnic tables for a picnic lunch in the mile-high parking area.

Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is perfect for families who don’t want to hike, but still enjoy breathtaking views, incredible wildlife, and historic sites. It’s one of the most remote parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is rich in mountain history and beauty. The area is laced with abundant wildflowers and wildlife including reintroduced wild elk (most visible at dawn and dusk), white–tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys, butterflies, and numerous species of birds. The tranquil scenery is sure to inspire the inner artist in everyone. With several hiking trails, streams for fishing, and preserved buildings from the early 1900s, there is plenty to explore in the valley. You can see most of the valley with just a simple car ride, but parking and exploring by foot offers an even more rewarding experience.

Directions

The easiest way to reach Cataloochee Valley is to take 276 North (Jonathan Creek Road) off Highway 19 in Maggie Valley. Go about 6 miles and turn left onto Cove Creek Road, the last left turn before coming to the 1-40 intersection. Travel on Cove Creek Road into Cataloochee Valley (see below). From 1-40: Take exit 20 towards Maggie Valley. After 1/.i mile, turn right on Cove Creek Road. Go about 13 miles to the Cataloochee Valley. The road turns into a narrow dirt road and intersects a paved road. Follow directional signs for “Cataloochee Camp Ground.” *Cove Creek Road is a steep, ten-mile, narrow, curving mountain road. There is a three-mile unpaved section leading up and over Cove Creek Gap, and then winding down the other side of the mountain. Early settlers built this road by hand in the 1800s and called it Cataloochee Turnpike. This graveled section remains as a vital reminder of Cataloochee’s history and a tribute to its builders. When you again reach the pavement, turn left and enjoy your easy descent into the valley.

Mix Your Family Hikes Up with Some Seasonal Elk Watching

Before an elk-watching adventure, be sure to review elk watching etiquette to make sure that you and your family enjoy a safe trip!

Calving Season

Late Spring

Most of the calves in Cataloochee and WNC are born in late May thru June. The cows hide their calves in the high grass. For safety and to avoid disturbing the calves, visitors should stay out of the fields. Cows can be aggressive in protecting their young. By late June, visitors can often see the calves up and move with the herd.

Growing Season

Summer

The herd can often be seen grazing in the fields. Bulls are “in velvet,” rapidly growing new antlers. The calves are growing quickly and will gain as much as 140 pounds by winter.

The Rut

Fall

The mating season for elk is called the rut, which occurs from mid-September through the end of October. Large bulls bugle and fight for domination and the right to breed with the cows. This can be a dangerous time for visitors as the bulls can be aggressive with unpredictable behavior. For your protection, please remain on the roadway and near your vehicle during the rut.

Quiet Time in Cataloochee Valley

Winter

Winter is a quiet time in the valley. The elk herd retreats to the woods and may not be seen in the fields for weeks. The road becomes treacherous with snow. The road will often be closed when snow is on the peaks around Jonathan Valley.

 

If you enjoy these family hikes, make sure to check out our Kid-Friendly page to plan an unforgettable family adventure in the NC Smokies!

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