TO THE TRAILHEAD: From Gatlinburg, take traffic light #8 onto Historic Nature Trail Road and follow this onto Cherokee Orchard Road. Continue onto the one-way section and eventually onto Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in winter). After 1.5 miles, the parking area will be on your left.
During the winter months you can also reach this destination by starting in the Greenbrier area via the Porters Creek Trail.
THE HIKE: For the hike to scenic Brushy Mountain, we are going to describe both of the major ways there because both are good and offer their own unique experiences. We will start with the most popular route to the summit, and that is via the Trillium Gap Trail. This is the same trail you would take to get to Grotto Falls and Trillium Gap on the way to Mount LeConte.
Begin by meeting the Trillium Gap Trail to begin your hike. This first part of the hike is easy and well worn as you make your way towards Grotto Falls. The falls are 1.2 miles from the start of the trail, and not only are Grotto Falls the only waterfall you can walk behind in the Smokies, you HAVE to go behind the 25 foot waterfall to continue on towards Trillium Gap. As you leave the falls, the trail begins to steepen. You are rewarded with views that begin to open up from time to time as a break through the trees. At the 3 mile mark, you will reach Trillium Gap. There is nothing remarkable at Trillium Gap. It is simply a nice and flat place to relax before you continue on one of two directions . You either go towards Mount LeConte or Brushy Mountain. You will take a left onto the Brushy Mountain Trail. From here, you are only .4 mile to the summit. While it is uphill, the path is not too steep at all and you will likely get to your destination without ending up too out of breath.
There is no major signage to tell you that you have arrived. You will simply come to a clear area where the views open up for miles. Mount LeConte looms in the distance along with Mount Guyot and other big peaks. There is fairly dense foliage around the area, so the views are not 360 panoramic vistas. But the directions that are open are spectacular. You can also keep walking just a short distance up the trail and you will come to another terrific overlook. Once you have had enough at the top, head back to the car for a total of 6.9 miles. I rate this hike as a moderate, though it is one of the more difficult moderate hikes.
The other way to get to the top of Brushy Mountain is by starting from the Greenbrier side of the mountain past the town of Gatlinburg. This way to Brushy Mountain is much longer and more difficult, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should go the other way. This 11.7 mile roundtrip, strenuous hike gains nearly twice the elevation that you would gain going by way of Trillium Gap, but it is a great hike and worth the effort.
For the first mile, you will hike along an easy and well graded gravel road. The old homesites and remains of homesites as long as well as rushing water will guide you along the way. After a mile, the trail starts to get more difficult. Also, you have trail junctions right next to each other, so be on the lookout. At the fork in the trail take a left. Less than a minute afterwards you will come to another junction. You need to take a right to get onto the Brushy Mountain Trail.
Here is where the fun begins. The trail starts to become quite steep and it will stay steep. Up to this point it has been pretty easy with just a couple of moderate inclines. It is tough for the next 4.5 miles, but the views seem to get better and better at each clearing as you go. It helps to keep pushing you towards your next big checkpoint at Trillium Gap. This piece of flat land is welcome relief after all the uphill you have been doing. If you are at the gap and see people sitting on one of the stumps, with their heads bowed down and sweating profusely, chances are they came from this trail. The good news is that the end is not far from here. Continue on the Brushy Mountain Trail for the next .4 mile to make to the end and relax and enjoy the amazing views before heading back to the car.
This hike is another great one to use a shuttle to complete. Go up one way and come down another. The trailheads are not too far apart. It will likely take 30-40 minutes to get from one trailhead to the other by car. If you have no mobility issues or knee/foot problems, I would recommend going up Trillium Gap Trail and down to Porters Creek. If you do have those issues, the downhill is the toughest part so I would advise doing it in reverse.