Did an 85 mile hike in the Smokeys from June 1 - June 8. This is just a very brief (ha ha!!!) trip report.
General conditions: hot, humid, and buggy at lower elevations (highs: 80s/90s, lows: lower 60s). Upper elevations were much nicer with highs in the lower 80s and lows in the lower 60s and upper 50s.
Hammocks used: I used my WBBB with whoopie slings. I used 6 foot tree straps and would have had a few more options with 8 foot straps. However, the 6 foot straps were sufficient for about 90% of the trees out there. My buddy used his HH Deep Jungle.
June 1. Started at Smokemont, no parking fees, plenty of parking spaces available. There were hard shelter toilets, not sure if they had showers or not. Parked at the north end of the camp area and hiked the Bradley Fork Trail and Cabin Flats Trail to campsite 49. Bradley Fork was a very easy trail - wide enough and smooth enough to drive a car, and had a very gentle climb. LOTS OF HORSE CRAP. Cabin Flats trail was a "normal" single track trail and in great condition. Campsite 49 had 3 or 4 smaller areas that offered a bit of privacy between sites. Each site had its own set of bear cables. "Average" amount of trash and horse crap in the campsite (pretty sad, but just about every site had trash and horse crap). Good water access right next to camp.
June 2: Cabin Flats Trail up to Dry Sluice Gap Trail up to Charlie's Bunion, then AT to Mount Collins Shelter. Dry Sluice Gap trail was in great condition with fairly easy footing considering its climb. The climb was brutal in the humidity though. Charlie's Bunion was definitely worth the effort! The AT was also in great condition. Quite a bit of elevation changes between the Bunion, Icewater Spring, and Newfound Gap. Icewater Spring was still running at a trickle - water pipe comes straight out of the ground and fills a 16 oz Nalgene in about 30 seconds or so. Much easier to use a chemical treatment versus a water pump, since there wasn't much of a water pool. Shelter looked nice but we didn't stay there. Ran into an AT Ridge Runner and chatted a bit - seemed like a great guy! The descent to Newfound Gap was steeper than I anticipated. Newfound Gap was packed with tourists - saw plenty of AT hikers hitch rides to Gatlinburg. Newfound Gap didn't have any running water but did have a nice restroom. The AT from Newfound Gap to Mt Collins wasn't as steep as the section to the east of the Gap, but still had a lot of smaller climbs and descents. Mt Collins is located about .5 miles from the AT on an easy access trail and the water source was about .25 miles down the hill. Mt Collins water source was similar to Icewater Spring, but the water flowed slightly faster and there was a small pool below the pipe - suitable for a water filter pump. FYI, a few thru hikers mentioned that some of the other AT springs were starting to dry up and it's only June. If you're hiking the AT, make sure you check the water conditions. Mt Collins had a bear warning and a bear trap, but no evidence of actual bears. Shelter log mentioned a bear siting on May 30. Shelter was fairly full - about 10 people or so, mostly thru hikers. Surprisingly, quite a few of them arrived between 7-10 pm.
June 3: AT to Clingman's Dome, then Forney Creek Trail to Campsite 68. The climb up to the Dome wasn't that bad. Tons of people at the Dome. If you walk down the .5 mile paved trail towards the parking lot, you'll find a very small gift shop that sold bottles of water. There's also restrooms available. The upper part of Forney Creek Trail was "under construction." The completed parts were extremely well graded and had nice steps despite the sometimes steep descent - I was very impressed with their work! Wow! After about a mile or so, the trail turned into a "normal" trail and we saw less and less dayhikers. Campsite 68 actually has 2 separate sites - one of them is located closer to the "falls," which is more of a rock slide than a vertical falls. We saw a few people camping there. About .3 miles further downstream, we came to the "lower" site 68. It was a fairly nice site right on the stream. No complaints about 68.
June 4: Forney Creek Trail, which is HORSE FREE above campsite 70. Trail was in great condition, but as you get to lower elevations, you definitely see more evidence of people and horses. A few potentially wet stream crossings below 69. Campsite 69 seemed OK, 70 seemed a bit more trashed by people and horses. Campsite 71 was huge and had a usable chimney and fireplace - remnants from an old cabin. 71 was a large spot and fairly flat - it had a few nice areas out towards the margins. Unfortunately, there were plenty of random piles of horse crap all around the fireplace area. Below 71, the Forney Creek Trail was essentially an old roadbed but in great condition with a very shallow and easy grade. We spent the night at 74, which was actually pretty nice despite its close proximity to a trailhead. We even had an old picnic table which was a welcome extravagance.
June 5: 74 to the "Tunnel" and a waiting car / resupply. The Tunnel was cool despite all the graffiti. Saw a lot of motorcycles drive through the tunnel despite the "closed" road. Saw even more horse crap. We resupplied and backtracked via the Lakeshore Trail. The Lakeshore Trail was fairly easy - a few short climbs but nothing too bad or long. We passed by 74 again, went north along the Forney Creek Trail, then went NW on the Bear Creek Trail. It's technically a horse trail, but didn't see quite as much horse crap. Spent the night at Campsite 75, which was our favorite site during the trip. It's a smaller site, located right next to the stream, but it's not really all that difficult of a climb from the Tunnel. This was the ONLY SITE that we actually saw the HORSE CRAP CONTAINED IN THE HORSE "STALLS" AND NOT AROUND THE CAMPFIRE! Thank you to the responsible horse campers who kept their horses in designated areas!
June 6: continued up the Bear Creek Trail, which was a moderately difficult climb but the trail was in good condition. Joined the Welch Ridge Trail and hiked towards High Rocks. This section of the Welch Ridge and High Rocks Trails were somewhat overgrown with knee and waist high grass. Lots of grass but no problems with briars or blowdowns. High Rocks was very interesting and has the remnants of an old cabin. The cabin does have a concrete cistern that collects rainwater, but I WOULD NEVER DRINK THIS. It was oily, disgusting smelling, and filled with mosquito larvae and dead floating rats. YUCK. After High Rocks, we went down the Cold Spring Gap Trail. This was probably the most difficult trail we encountered - most of the upper sections involved a steep and rocky descent down what appeared to be a somewhat dry creek bed. It was a fairly slow-going descent, and I can imagine that the climb up the trail would be pretty tough. There was one potentially wet stream crossing along the Cold Springs Gap Trail - about .2 miles from its western terminus with the Hazel Creek Trail. We didn't have any issues rock hopping across, but I imagine that it might be more difficult after a heavy rain. The Hazel Creek Trail was pretty much an old roadbed and had a lot of driveway-type stone which was slightly annoying. Going north towards 82 involved a few short climbs. Campsite 82 SUCKED - man, it was absolutely trashed. Old underwear, multiple old propane bottles, and some jerks decided that it was their civic duty to hoist several bags of trash up the bear cables instead of packing it out. Gnats, bees, and flies everywhere. Horse crap everywhere. There was even hay (assuming for feeding or bedding down horses) right in the middle of the camp and not in designated horse areas. It also appears that someone chopped down several smaller trees to use for firewood - these trees were cut at about 3 - 4 feet above the ground and the stumps seemed to be perfectly healthy.
June 7: Hazel Creek Trail to its southern terminus, then Lakeshore Trail to 88. This section of Hazel Creek Trail was very easy and fast walking - flat, wide road bed but still had some driveway stone. We took a side trip up Bone Valley Trail, which involved 5 wet stream crossings each way. The crossings were all very easy - about 12-18 inch deep water, but not enough stones to really rock hop. But it was an easy hike and well worth it - the cabin was in surprisingly decent shape considering its ease of access. Campsites 83 and 84 were both closed due to bear activity. In all honesty, judging from how bad 82 was, it seems more likely that they were closed due to IDIOTIC HUMAN BEHAVIOR. We took a side trip to investigate the old remains of Proctor and ran into a mother bear and 2 cubs. She was about 40-50 yards away up the hill and watched us as we walked away. We continued to Campsite 86, which was a huge site - lots of flat areas, but not many "seat" logs. There seemed to be a lot more cleared out sites than there were bear cables. We were going to stay here, but it was still early so we decided to head towards 88. 88 was a very small site, and this section of the Lakeshore Trail had a few blowdowns. 88 also was about .25 uphill from a small stream. Lots of poison ivy around the campsite, and not a lot of level sites - maybe enough room for 3 tents. Thank goodness for my hammock!!!
June 8: Lakeshore trail to Fontana Dam. Lots of tedious climbs and descents and not a lot of great views. We did see a couple of old rusting cars, which was pretty cool. My opinion: save the Lakeshore trail for early spring or fall when it's cooler outside. Campsite 90 seemed fairly nice but had a lot of people staying there. Fontana Dam was a welcome site - there's a public shower right next to the visitor's center down by the dam. The Lakeshore Trail doesn't seem like much of a destination by itself, especially in the hot, humid, and buggy summer.