TO THE TRAILHEAD: Since they are scattered all over the park, there is no start place for them. Find them on the side of the road on major park roads such as Little River Road, Newfound Gap Road, and several others.
THE HIKE: Quiet Walkway hikes are very different from any other hike inside the Great Smoky Mountains. First, they don’t necessarily have a destination. In virtually every other hike there is a major objective. Whether it is a waterfall, mountain summit, scenic vista, or other great landmark, there has always been the carrot on the stick as your reward. Quiet walkways are much different. They are hiking for the sake of hiking.
This is likely the reason that I looked down my nose at them for so many years. There is no payoff, no patch to buy, no listing in the guidebooks. Well heck, these trails are for suckers. Well, maybe not. As it turns out, these hikes offer quite a bit. Hikes down to streams and water, scenic outlooks, and even some history can be found on these tucked away trails. And guess what? They are never busy. During peak times of summer or the leaf peeping in October, you can still have one of these trails entirely to yourself, or close to it.
There are quiet walkways scattered throughout the national park. They can be found at small pullouts off of major park roads including Little River Road and Newfound Gap Road among many others. The only thing that marks these little gems is a sign about 2×2 that designates it as a quiet walkway. How far is the trail? Who knows? They aren’t found on any park map and therefore don’t give you mileage. The idea behind these trails is to be out in the national park at your own pace and to venture as little or far as you want to go. With no big destination, it is much easier to slow down and take in everything about your surroundings.
How far each one goes varies as does how far people decide to go. Some last more than two miles on some and less than a quarter mile. And since they are right off main park roads, access to them is very, very easy. I’ve seen people on these trails several times. Most go for a half mile or so and turn around or stop and have a picnic in the solitude. In fact, you can actually have solitude on Newfound Gap Road. Can you believe that? While people going to Chimney Tops, Alum Cave Bluffs, or Newfound Gap Struggle to find a place to park and hike shoulder to shoulder, you can be on the same road and have peace and quiet.
Since these aren’t main trails, a logical question might be, Are the trails well marked? Yes. They are well graded and easy to follow so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. They are a little overgrown in places since they don’t have nearly as much foot traffic as other places, but they are easy to follow. One caveat to this. Since they are off the beaten path trails, several people have created their own side trails off of them, sometimes to do a little illegal camping overnight. These trails are faint but noticeable. Stay off those unless it is obvious where they go. But the main trails for Quiet Walkways are every bit as safe as other trails in the National Park.
One assumption might be since they have no main destination and generally aren’t any longer than a couple of miles that they are all pretty easy. Well, that is where it gets interesting. Some are easy and some are hard. Some are easy for a while before becoming crazy hard. It simply depends on the trail just like all the other trails in the park. The good news is that you only have to hike for as long as you want, so if its too tough, turn around and do a different one.
How do I find them? They are spaced out along the roads of the park everywhere. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know where every one of them are. I have no doubt that I have passed by several driving by over the years. Since they are not on any guidebook, I would simply ask a ranger. They are pretty good about knowing just about every square inch of the park.