Cosby Nature Loop Trail at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Written by

Jason Barnette


September 2, 2016

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COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.

Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is much bigger than most people realize. To prove it, I’ll ask a question: have you ever been to the Cosby Campground? Have you even heard of it? Chances are only a few know where this out of the way campground is located, and even fewer have been. I’m about to give you a very good reason to visit the next time you drive through Gatlinburg.

The Cosby Campground is located on the northern end of the national park about thirty minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. The campground area features 157 sites spread out around several loops in a densely wooded area. There is a large picnic shelter just before the entrance to the campground with ample parking for large groups.

But most day visitors to Cosby come for the hiking. Several trails can be accessed here leading to beautiful and exciting locations in the national park. But the focus here is the local Cosby Nature Loop Trail. This 1-mile trail winds through the forest between the campground and picnic shelter; it only takes about 45 minutes to hike the entire trail, making it a popular activity for families or those just wanting a short hike.

at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

These log bridges were fun to cross! Except the one without a rail.

The wide, mostly flat trail is an easy hike but you should still wear a good pair of shoes. Roots and rocks cover the path at times, and there are a couple of stream crossings. These crossings are provided by fallen trees turned into primitive bridges that make an exciting way to cross over the water.

The trail dips down in a gully hidden beneath a thick canopy of leaves in the summer. Very little sunlight makes it through to the forest floor which keeps the temperatures cool even on the hottest day. It’s almost silent along the trail, a silence so loud it is almost deafening at times. Peaceful, though. It’s not really buggy, there are no signs of wildlife, and the trail is actually seldom used. A leisure walk on a weekday afternoon in August and you just might have the entire trail to yourself, like I did.

at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Moss really does cover everything along the trail.

Moss covers nearly everything; tree stumps, live trees, and rocks. It adds even more green to the summer landscape. Every once in awhile a butterfly will flap by searching for whatever it is butterflies do.

This would be a great place to bring a sandwich or a small collapsible chair. Sit along one of the log bridges with your feet dangling over the creek. The cool, clean breeze created by the local atmosphere will keep you feeling great on hot summer days. It’s certainly a place to spend some time.

at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This small cascading waterfall is the last goodbye to the loop trail before returning to the parking lot.

While the trail crosses a few streams over log bridges, the final crossing is sure to get your feet wet. The wide, shallow creek tumbles across hundreds of smooth river stones. Just up stream a short, beautiful waterfall roars in the silent forest. It’s entirely possible to tip toe across the rocks without getting your feet wet, but it’s also fun to walk ankle-deep through the cold mountain water.

From here the return to the parking lot at the trail head takes only minutes. You will have lost track of time on this trail, but that’s one of the attractions of the national park. Now you’ve finished one of the parks’ best hidden secrets. What will you do next?

If you would like to view more photos from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please visit my photography site at

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