Work began May 8 to rebuild the heavily used 6-mile trail, which ends at Mt. LeConte. By the time the project wraps up in November 2018, crews will have gone over every inch of the trail to improve drainage, reduce trail braiding and address overall trail safety and natural resource protection.
While work continues, the trail will be closed from 7 a.m. Mondays through 5:30 p.m. Thursdays. However, the trail will be open on weekends and federal holidays, with work ending for the season on Nov. 16.
For now, the trailhead parking lot is closed as well, set to reopen June 15. In addition to the Rainbow Falls Trail, the parking lot serves the Old Sugarlands, Trillium Gap and Bull Head Trails. Currently, Soehn said, it can be confusing to figure out which of the four trails starts where, but the trail project will include changes designed to make it easier for visitors to orient themselves.
“One of their goals is to help define those different starting points so people don’t get lost trying to start their hike,” Soehn said.
Ramsey Cascades Trail: Until its reopening April 27, the Ramsey Cascades Trail had been closed since August due to a fallen tree damaging a creek crossing.
The popular 4-mile trail is located in the Greenbrier section of the park and leads to the park’s tallest waterfall, 100-foot Ramsey Cascade. The fallen tree damaged a foot log crossing Ramsey Prong, which is too swift and deep for hikers to safely rock hop.
When spring came, park crews got to work installing a new foot log, making the crossing safe once more.
Indian Creek Falls Trail: Offering views of two spectacular waterfalls with just a 2-mile roundtrip, Indian Creek Falls is a popular destination for all types of visitors, but such heavy use can result in trail degradation. So, this winter park crews went to work rebuilding deteriorated trail and removing hazard trees.
“It’s a very crowded trail, and the improvements they made I think are going to make it an even better family-friendly experience,” Soehn said.
Work began in January and wrapped up in March. Crews removed 15 hazard trees — most of them dead hemlocks — replaced uneven log steps with user-friendly locust box steps, constructed a stone retaining wall and addressed trail safety issues such as erosion and exposed roots. The falls viewing platform, which also had erosion and trip hazard issues, got an upgrade too.