National park supporters invited to Branch Out in Greater Smoky Mountains

For those who yearn to know more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a group setting, Great Smoky Mountains Association’s Branch Out programming is designed especially for you.

Pre-registration is now open for May’s slate of activities: 

  • Birding by Bus – Foothills Parkway West – Tennessee is set for Friday, May 3. Participants will meet and promptly board a comfortable transit bus to look for migratory species of birds at the scenic vistas, grassy slopes and forest edges along the newly opened section of Foothills Parkway West.
  • History Hike – Cades Cove – Tennessee is set for Tuesday, May 7. Learn about the lives of the settlers in this historically rich section of the Smoky Mountains. Participants will convoy to specific locations for a walking survey of homesites, cemeteries, farmlands and a visit to the location of Ekaneetlee Lodge, where Eleanor Roosevelt once stayed, as well as John D. Rockefeller. Other highlights of this trip include the potential for spotting wildlife, newly restored native grasslands, creeks and mountain scenes.
  • Bradly Fork Trail to Cabin Flats – North Carolina is set for Friday, May 10. Take a day hike along a scenic waterway, Bradley Fork of the Oconaluftee River. Hikers will travel up an old roadbed passing Chasteen Creek Trail intersection and continue to Cabin Flats Trail where they will enjoy a creekside lunch break at backcountry campsite #49. Observations made during the trip will include water scenes, old-growth forest, wildflowers and possibly mega-fauna such as elk, bear or other wildlife.
  • Birding – Deep Creek Waterfall Hiking Loop – North Carolina is set for Saturday, May 11. The Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its natural beauty. While hiking along the scenic Deep Creek and Indian Creek trails, participants will look and listen for a wide variety of migrants, including warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Acadian Flycatchers and more. The group will also take time to enjoy Juney Whank, Tom Branch and Indian Creek waterfalls.
  • Little River and Cucumber Gap Loop – Tennessee is set for Sunday, May 12. Enjoy a group outing along one of the finest day-hike loops in the park. Participants will start their day on an old logging road along the big waters of the Little River. After 2.5 miles the group will transition onto Cucumber Gap Trail, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Additional highlights include water scenes, wildflowers and the potential to spot wildlife.
  • Alum Cave Spring Migrants and High Elevation Species – Tennessee is set for Wednesday, May 15. Bird along one of the most exciting trails for spring migrants in all of the Great Smoky Mountains. More than 75 species have been observed on this trail during the month of May! Participants should begin hearing birds almost immediately as they travel along the trail toward the bluffs. The group will take time for a break at Inspiration Point where there’s the best chance for hearing and seeing Peregrine Falcons that have bred in the area for decades.
  • Collections Preservation Center – Tennessee is set for Friday, May 17. This facility tour will provide guests an up-close view of items worn, worked with and written by the people of Appalachia and the Great Smokies. Among the many items participants will see and learn about are the custom-fitted leather saddlebags worn by Smoky Jack, a retired police dog and companion of Paul Adams, the first caretaker at LeConte Lodge.
  • Birding Cove Hardwood Trail – Tennessee is set for Saturday, May 18. Take a walk in a rich forest of cove hardwood trees to look, listen and identify songbirds of the area. After birding the cove hardwood forest, the group will carpool/convoy to Newfound Gap with strategic stops along the way to observe additional species.
  • Birding Basics Workshop – North Carolina is set for Sunday, May 19. Spend a full day learning a wide variety of activities associated with the world of birding. Participants will begin the day with classroom instruction on how to bird anywhere, especially here in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The group will then put their new skills to the test while looking for birds along the Oconaluftee River Trail.
  • Be an Animal Track Detective! A Family Friendly Adventure – Tennessee is set for Saturday, May 18. Escape to the woods in the Smoky Mountains to learn the art of animal tracking. Tracking is a focus that enables one to be more aware, to experience and to see much more in the outdoor environment. You don’t need to see the animals to know their stories – there are many clues for where they were and what they were doing. Learn their stories from the traces they have left behind.
  • Birding by Bus – Cades Cove – Tennessee is set for Wednesday, May 22. Participants will meet and promptly board a comfortable transit bus headed for Cades Cove. The group will start with an easy walk to survey the birds around the campground and then board the minibus again to continue along the 11-mile, one-way loop road taking time to observe a variety of avian species that inhabit the grassy fields and forest edges. If time permits, the bus will make a stop at the facility ponds for the group to scan for waterfowl.
  • Hike the AT to Silers Bald and Back is set for Saturday, May 25. Sign up for a heart-pumping hike and enjoy the sweeping views and fresh air along a section of the Appalachian Trail. Participants need to bring a hearty lunch and enough water to enjoy a lunch break at Silers Bald shelter before the challenging return hike back to Clingmans Dome.

“When you Branch Out in the Greater Smoky Mountains with GSMA, you’ll have the option to learn more about Great Smoky M.ountains National Park and its surrounding ecosystems on four primary tracks,” said Dana Murphy, GSMA’s membership event specialist.

Branch Out program tracks are:

  • OAK (Observe. Ask. Know.) Programs: Participants can expect to learn more about our park’s and our region’s wondrous diversity of life through expert-led sessions focusing on naturally and culturally significant topics.
  • Hiking 101: Explore this Hiker’s Paradise. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known the world over as a paradise for people who like to walk in the mountains.
  • Backpacking: Discover the ‘Back of Beyond.’ Spend days and nights in the backcountry apart from worldly distractions. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors and deepen your connection to nature.
  • Acorn: Kids 14 years and younger, and one chaperone, can leave the distractions of daily life behind and escape to the Smoky Mountains for a professionally guided educational adventure.

While Branch Out fees vary depending on program length and complexity, GSMA members receive a discount as part of their membership benefits. Registration fee proceeds support GSMNP through a scope of work that concentrates on education, research and preservation efforts. Because most programs include participation limits, registration is required at or by phone at 865.436.7318, Ext. 349.

Great Smoky Mountains Association-sponsored Branch Out events are designed to enhance greater public understanding, enjoyment and appreciation of the national park. A national park partner, GSMA has provided more than $44 million to support the park’s educational, scientific and historical programs since its inception 66 years ago. For more information about GSMA, visit or call 888.898.9102, Ext. 222 or 349.


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