14 of the Best Hiking Trails in the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are 800 square miles of beautiful mountainous forests on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee in the southeastern United States. The Smokies got their name for the lingering morning fog on the mountain peaks that resembles smoke.

Home to nearly 20,000 species of plants, fungi, and wildlife, the Smokies are ancient mountains are known for their diverse flora and fauna. The park is also a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s considered one of the morse biodiverse ecosystems in the world.

The Great Smoky National Park is divided by the Tennessee-North Carolina border. There are visitor centers in each state, Sugarlands in Tennessee, and Oconaluftee in North Carolina.

There’s something for everyone to enjoy in this national park. Whether you’re looking for the best day hikes, multi-night backcountry camping adventures, waterfalls, or scenic drives, you will not be disappointed in the Smokies. it’s no wonder why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America!

Table of Contents

Popular Hikes in the Smoky Mountains

Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte smoky mountains

Image Source: Romantic Asheville

Location: Newfound Gap Road

Trail Length: 10.9 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Difficult

Estimated Time: Around 7 hours

The Alum Cave Trail is a challenging but well-maintained trail that features a cave and incredible panoramic views.

After 1.3 miles from leaving the trailhead at Newfound Gap Road, you arrive at Arch Rock. This is a unique rock formation and distinguishing landmark that you won’t want to miss. After about another mile of climbing, you’ll reach a great lookout, Inspiration Point. Shortly after is Alum Cave Bluff. This is a great photo op with amazing vista views and unique cave formations with orange clay.

After Alum Cave, the LeConte Lodge is located about 5 miles from the trailhead. It’s the only formal lodging in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you choose to stay overnight, you have options to stay in a primitive cabin or the lodge. Keep in mind that you’ll have to book reservations in advance as this stay is very popular.

Beyond the lodge, you’ll see Bull Head Trail which leads to Boulevard Trail. This is the trail you’ll take the remaining distance to the summit of Mt LeConte. At 6593 feet, this is the third highest peak in the Smokies.

If you want some gorgeous panoramic views without the summit, hike .2 miles beyond the LeConte Lodge to reach Cliff Top. This spot gives you 360 views of the Smokies. From this point, you can see Newfound Gap, Chimney Tops, and Gatlinburg on a clear day.

Cades Cove Nature Trail

Cades Cove Nature Trail smoky mountains

Image Source: Flash Packing America

Location: Cades Cove Loop Road

Trail Length: 2 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Loop

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Cades Cove is one of the best hiking spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It features beautiful meadows surrounded by tall mountains. This easy hiking trail is a perfect outing for an afternoon with the family. It’s also a great way for new hikers to get some experience!

The trailhead for this nature trail is about 7 miles into the Cades Cove Loop Road and 1 mile past the visitor center. While you may choose to take a scenic drive for great views around this road, hiking is truly the best way to explore this area. Along this easy day hike, you’ll come across the remains of an old chestnut grove. There’s a variety of large, stunning trees including oaks, dogwoods, and pine trees.

In the spring and summer months, you’ll be blown away by the plentiful wildflower blooms. Many hikers also report seeing bears and other wildlife in this area. At just 2 miles, it’s easy to fit in this can’t-miss day hike!

Chimney Tops Trail

Chimney Tops Trail smoky mountains hiking

Image: Pigeonforge

Location: Newfound Gap Road

Trail Length: 4 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Difficult

Estimated Time: 2-3 hours

The Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular day hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It may be a challenge, but it’s so worth it!

To hike this out and back trail, you begin at the Chimney Tops Trail parking area. From there, you begin the steep climb with 1,400 feet of elevation gain over two miles. The climb may not be long, but make sure to give yourself time to tackle this steep grade!

Along the way, you will meander through dense forest and cross the cascading West Prong Little Pigeon River on a footbridge three times. As you get close to the summit, the final 75 feet of ascent requires a bit of rock scrambling. These rocks can be slippery when wet or icy, so make sure to use caution here.

Chimney Tops is a bare rock summit. It’s a unique geological formation and a rare rock summit in the Smokies with steep cliffs on every side. Get ready for some pretty incredible panoramic views of mountain vistas that stretch for miles!

Clingmans Dome Summit

Clingmans Dome Summit smoky mountains

Image: thesmokies.com

Location: Clingman’s Dome Road

Trail Length: 1-mile round-trip

Trail Type: paved loop

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time: 40 minutes

This popular hiking trail is fully paved. Although it is only a half-mile to the summit of Clingmans Dome, it’s a moderately difficult trail due to its steep grade and high altitude. While this trail may be strenuous, there are plenty of benches along the way to stop and rest.

You begin at the trailhead which is located at the parking area of the visitor’s center. At one point on your climb to the summit, the trail will intersect with Appalachian Trail. When you reach the top of the Clingmans dome, you’ll get panoramic views of the Great Smokies. There’s also an observation tower at the peak the provides particularly spectacular views.

The “dome” of Clingmans Dome is the mountaintop. While it actually lies within both Tennessee and North Carolina, this summit is the highest point in Tennessee! And at 6,643 feet, it’s also the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bring a picnic lunch to spend some time at the rocky top and enjoy stunning views!

Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail

Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail

Image: Pigeonfordge

Location: Newfound Gap Road

Trail Length: 8 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Difficult

Estimated Time: 5-6 hours

If you’re looking for a long, challenging day hike, this trail is for you! With an elevation gain of 1,640 feet, this trail hits multiple peaks including Mount Ambler and Masa Knob before it finishes at Charlies Bunion.

From the trailhead at the parking lot, follow the signs and the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail toward Icewater Spring. This section of the Appalachian Trail is a green tunnel covered in an old-growth forest with a few lookout points with gorgeous views along the way. During the spring and summer months, you’ll also be rewarded with a variety of high-elevation wildflower blooms. This trail is a great representation of the North Carolina high country!

About 4 miles from the trailhead, you reach your destination: Charlies Bunion. It’s a rugged rocky outcropping boasting spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. From the top of Charlie’s Bunion, you can see Mount Kephart to the west, Mt LeConte to the northwest, and Mount Guyot to the east.

From Charlie’s Bunion, you can take a short side trail to visit the Jump Off. Many hikers say that the stunning views from this additional one-mile round-trip are absolutely worth it!

Hidden Gem Hikes in the Smoky Mountains

Andrews Bald Trail

Andrews Bald Trail smoky mountains

Image: romanticasheville

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Location: Clingmans Dome Road

Trail Length: 3.6 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time: 2-3 hours

This moderately difficult hiking trail is a great day hike that provides great views on its way to one of the few balds within the Smoky Mountains. Balds are mountaintops that are covered by grasses, rhododendron, and mountain laurel.

This trail begins at the Clingmans Dome parking area. Look for a short descending trail that takes you to the Forney Ridge Trail. The first mile of this trail is steep and downhill. It can be quite rocky and difficult, so make sure to wear sturdy shoes!

Along the Andrews Bald Trail, you begin in Tennessee and eventually cross over into North Carolina. After the steep downhill, the trail then heads back uphill through a green tunnel forest to Andrews Bald, one of several balds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The panoramic views from the top of Andrews Bald are pretty incredible! And at 5,920 feet, Andrews Bald is the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Mt Cammerer via Low Gap Trail

Image: Alltrails

Mt Cammerer via Low Gap Trail

Location: Cosby, Tennessee

Trail Length: 11.1 miles

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Difficult

Estimated Time: 8-9 hours

If you’re looking for a longer challenging trail with relatively low traffic, this trail is for you! Some hikers choose to conquer this 11-mile out-and-back as a day hike, but many people also choose to turn It into an overnight backpacking trip.

The trail to the Mount Cammerer summit begins at the Low Gap Trailhead in the Cosby Campground. From there, you will climb to reach the junction of the Appalachian Trail through a canopy of dense hardwood forest.

At this point, the trail levels out to provide you with spectacular views of Cosby Valley, Snake Den Ridge, and Inadu Knob. From here, you continue along the rocky spur trail to Mount Cammerer.

The summit of Mount Cammerer is at an elevation of 4,928 feet. The panoramic views from this peak are incredible any time of year, but the colors of autumn are particularly stunning. While you’re up there, make your way to the fire tower for views of the Pigeon River Gorge, Snowbird Mountain, Mount Sterling, and the Smoky Mountains. There’s not much that can compare to the stunning nature of this summit!

Mt. Sterling Summit via Mt. Sterling Gap

Mt. Sterling Summit via Mt. Sterling Gap hike

Location: Mt. Sterling Gap

Trail Length: 5.6 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Difficult

Estimated Time: 3 hours

This trail is moderate in both length and difficulty which makes it perfect as a rewarding day hike.

The Mt. Sterling area is known as one of the more historic places in the Smokies. In this quiet, lesser-known area, the valleys around the base of this remote mountain were common hideouts for deserters during the civil war.

You begin at the trailhead alongside Mt. Sterling Road. It’s a fairly steady climb from the beginning. The ascent to Mt. Sterling Summit isn’t easy, as you climb 2,000 feet in just under 3 miles. But the steady climb up the trail is well-maintained.

Along the trail, you will hike through a beautiful old-growth forest. You will continue climbing switchbacks that offer spectacular views of the Little Cataloochee area. As you gain elevation, the greenery changes from hardwood forest to fir and spruce.

At about 2.6 miles, you will reach the Mt. Sterling Trail Junction. Turn right at this junction to continue another half-mile to reach the 5,842-foot summit of Mt. Sterling. When you reach the peak, you’ll see the 60-foot fire tower that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. This is the highest elevation fire tower in the eastern United States!

You will without a doubt love the stunning panoramic views from the fire tower. On a clear day, you can see vistas from landmarks Mt. Guyot, Mt. Cammerer, and Max Patch.

Hikes with Waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains

Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls trail


Location: Cades Cove

Trail Length: 5.2 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time: 2-3 hours

This moderately difficult trail features a can’t-miss waterfall in the beautiful Cades Cove area. Keep in mind that hikers get injured on wet slippery rocks around the falls, so use an abundance of caution. There are also strong currents in the pool at the base of the falls, so swimming in this pool is strongly discouraged.

This trail begins at the Abrams Falls trailhead. The trail from Cades Cove to Abram Falls weaves around mountain ridges while following the babbling Adams Creek. It takes you through a green tunnel of a stunning pine-oak forest. As you get closer to the falls, you will pass through more unique rhododendron and hemlock forests. It’s no wonder why this trail is called one of the most scenic forest hikes in the Smokies!

After about 2.5 miles of hiking through the forest, you will reach a short side trail leading to Abrams Falls. This is a beautiful cascading waterfall is a great place to stop and have a picnic lunch. While the falls are not super tall at just 20 feet high, the large volume of water makes them so impressive.

Grotto Falls Trail

Grotto Falls Trail hike


Location: Roaring Fork Nature Trail

Trail Length: 2.6 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

This family-friendly moderate hike is well-shaded and perfect for a hot sunny day!

The trail begins at the marked trailhead in the parking lot for the Trillium Gap Trail. You’ll walk through a stunning old-growth forest with large hemlock trees. If you hike this in the spring, you’ll see a beautiful wildflower bloom.

Along the trail, you’ll cross four streams before finally coming to a cascade where upstream Grotto Falls will come into view.

As you approach the falls, you’ll begin to feel the cool mist coming off of the water. Make sure to bring your camera to get shots walking along the small walking trail behind the falls! Grotto Falls is the only falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that has a walking path behind it. You won’t want to miss this incredible waterfall hike!

Porters Creek Trail

Porters Creek Trail smoky mountains

Image: Flikr

Location: Pigeon Forge

Trail Length: 4 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

This moderate family-friendly hike is a great hike all year-round. But in the spring and summer. months, you’ll encounter some particularly scenic wildflowers.

To hike this trail, you begin at the marked trailhead and follow a gravel road for the first mile. As you hike, the trail follows alongside Ports Creek. From there, you will come across the remains of an old farmstead and cemetery.

Go left at the fork to continue on Porters Creek Trail to reach the falls. The gravel road then turns into a trail as you enter a green tunnel of old-growth forest. The trail comes to an end at the 60-foot Fern Branch Falls. With the shade of the trees and the cool mist coming off of the falls, this is the perfect resting spot on a hot summer day!

Rainbow Falls Trail

Rainbow Falls Trail hike

Image: PigeonForge

Location: Roaring Fork area near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Trail Length: 5.4 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time: 4-5 hours

This moderate hiking trail is a rewarding hike the entire way to the falls.

You begin at the Rainbow Falls parking area within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is rated a moderately difficult trail due to the rocky terrain in sections and the 1,500 feet of elevation gain.

You’ll hike through a lush green forest as the trail runs alongside LeConte Creek. After one mile, reach an overlook that provides stunning views. As you continue along the trail, you’ll cross a few bridges before the first views of the falls.

The trail eventually brings you to Rainbow Falls. This stunning waterfall is 80-feet tall. The falls get their name from the rainbows that can be seen in the mist on sunny afternoons. Use caution around the rocks of the falls as they are slippery and can be dangerous.

Dog-Friendly Hikes in the Smoky Mountains

Gatlinburg Trail

Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Trail Length: 3.9 miles round-trip

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Estimated Time: 2 hours

This is an easy, well-graded gravel trail that is conveniently located. This family-friendly trail is one of only two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is both dog-friendly and bike-friendly.

This trail links the busy Sugarlands Visitor Center with the bustling town of Gatlinburg. Begin the Gatlinburg Trail at the trailhead off of the visitor’s center. As you continue along the trail, you will follow the West Prong of the Little River through a stunning hardwood and rhododendrons forest.

Keep in mind that you will be sharing the trail with bicyclists. Remember to be courteous!

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Oconaluftee River Trail

Oconaluftee River Trail smoky mountains

Image: Flikr

Location: Cherokee, North Carolina

Trail Length: 3 miles

Trail Type: Out & Back

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

This easy, family-friendly trail offers some history and is perfect for an afternoon day hike! This is one of two hiking trails that is both dog-friendly and bike-friendly within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

You will find the trailhead at the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center just outside of Cherokee, North Carolina. The trail begins through the open-air Mountain Farm Museum, which is a collection of log buildings from around the park. This trail is aptly-named “Oconaluftee” comes from a Cherokee word that means “by the river”.

This trail is relatively flat with some small hills along the way. As you continue hiking through the green tunnel forest, you will walk alongside the Oconaluftee River. This old-growth forest is diverse with trees like hemlock, maple, and dogwood, among others.

This trail offers beautiful views all year round. In mid to late spring, you will find plentiful wildflowers blooms of more than 40 species. And if you hike during autumn, you will see the beautiful aster bloom. To complete this trail, you will turn around where the trail ends at the national park boundary in Cherokee and hike back to the trailhead.

7 of the Best Smoky Mountain Hiking Trails [Easy to Moderate]

No matter what the calendar says, hiking in the Smoky Mountains remains nearly everyone’s favorite activity.


Smoky Mountains

Even when the occasional snow falls in winter, most of the Smoky Mountain trails that crisscross the GMSNP remain open. So even if you are planning a winter visit to the area, a hike can remain on your list of must-dos.

The best Smoky Mountain hiking trails aren’t necessarily the toughest or the longest. If you’re looking for Smoky Mountain hikes that suit any fitness level, you certainly won’t have trouble finding several that will still afford outstanding picture-worthy scenery.

Consider these seven Smoky Mountain hiking trails when you want to go on a trek suitable for almost everyone in your traveling party…

Andrews Bald

Bryson City, North Carolina

On this quick but breath-stealing 1.8-mile hike, you’ll begin at the Clingmans Dome parking lot. It also is a bit deceptive – you’ll begin by descending on the trail, crossing a ridge, then climbing the final portion to get to the “bald,” or open meadow.

The trail itself is also a bit rugged with small boulders and rain runoff. But once you get to the top, take a moment to rest and absorb the beautiful Smoky Mountain views surrounding you.

What an incredible 1.8-mile hike in and another 1.8 miles out. This trail has it all with beautiful wood frame squares that look like stairs but with the natural trail still below your feet. These eventually tapered off and you are left with a lot of downhill hiking on a rugged path.

Make sure to stop along your hike and listen to the silence of the forest that is occasionally broken by the sounds of nature. This trail will leave you tired if you’re a casual hiker but it will also offer you exactly what you’re looking for when you imagine hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains!

Count on about an hour in and an hour out and if you’re slow like me an hour and fifteen each way!

– Kristine B.

sign on the Andrews Bald trail

Andrews Bald

Kephart Prong Trail

Bryson City, North Carolina

One of the most family-friendly Smoky Mountain hiking trails, Kephart Prong runs approximately 2.0 miles to a shelter. It crosses the creek four times over sturdy log bridges and offers several fascinating historic sites along the way.

In addition to the shelter at the trail’s end, you’ll also notice what remains of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ Depression-era camp and old fish hatchery.

Love Kephart Prong. It is a gorgeous 4-mile round trip hike with the best of everything the Smokies has to offer; roaring mountain streams, CCC history, and quaint footbridges. It is a moderate mountain trail, but a bit rocky…

This is a great trail if you have already done a bunch of strenuous hiking and just want some simple nature time. If you want zen this trail is it!

– Amy

Kephart Prong Trail - Bryson City, North Carolina - Hiking Trails

Kephart Prong Trail | photo via @subwoofa

Porters Creek Trail

Another one of the most popular hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that is suitable for all ages and abilities, Porters Creek shares a similar settlement history to Cades Cove. The difference here is you’ll see mostly remnants of homesteads as well as an old cemetery.

The brief 1.0-mile trail begins at the Greenbriar Cove and winds through the cove hardwood forest and ends at a cantilevered barn and cabin, giving visitors a good representation of how life was in the 19 th century.

I have been through the Smokies about 30 times in my life. But this was my first time on this trail. I will come back often! It is past the Greenbriar picnic area (a gem in itself!) The trail will follow Porters Creek.

Take a detour to some historic log cabins, one of which sheltered the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club. Other log edifices include a homestead and a cantilevered barn. At the 2-mile mark, you will reach Fern Branch Falls, a 60-foot cascade.

– Kathy D.

Porters Creek Trail - Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Hiking Trails

Porters Creek Trail | photo via @bradleyewoods

Charlies Bunion

Part of the famed Appalachian Trail, this trek begins with an immediate ascent from the Newfound Gap parking lot.

About 4.0 miles later, it ends up along a high elevation ridge that takes you to a distinctive rocky outcropping named after an actual man named Charlie Conner who had a real bunion that looked like the rocks.

His companion made sure that the area formerly known as Fodderstack could be rechristened in his friend’s honor.

The view is worth the hike. It took us about 3.5 hours out and back and we spent about 45 minutes eating lunch and enjoying the view. This is a fairly easy to moderate hike. Conditions are wet and muddy. You will be rewarded with 250-degree views of the Smoky’.

Go straight up the Appalachian Trail. Typical terrain for AT – rocky and wet. We arrived at 830 and there was plenty of parking. Take your pic at the Tennessee North Carolina border.

– Marie

Charlies Bunion - Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Hiking Trails

Charlies Bunion | photo via @miller.parker

Rainbow Falls Trail

Another of the most popular trails in the Smoky Mountains that eventually leads to Mt. LeConte, you’ll find what’s almost the rainbow’s end here, or at least its waterfall equivalent.

Crossing several bridges over LeConte Creek, it then ascends through a series of switchbacks and an elevation gain of 1,700 feet.

While that may sound daunting, the view of the 80-foot Smoky Mountain waterfalls will be worth the effort. In winter, they may also take on an hourglass shape when frozen.

It took our family of 4 (2 kids ages 5&8) about 4 hours round trip. We actually got engaged at Rainbow Falls 12 years prior and wanted to hike it with our kids. It’s a nice trail, but without much spring color and lots of dead/downed trees.

The waterfall is spectacular. The trail is uphill pretty much the whole way in, so we came prepared with lots of water, candy, & snacks for the kids.

– Sara B.

Rainbow Falls Trail - Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Hiking Trails

Rainbow Falls Trail | photo via @djmikeonamic

Chimney Tops Trail

The “chimneys” here are pinnacle rocks that are the reward for a steep 2.0-mile climb with a clear view of Mount LeConte. The trailhead is located about 6.7 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

After crossing some fast-moving streams several times, you’ll climb a total of 1,400 feet to the view mentioned above. Be sure to take caution on the trail, which can be slippery when icy conditions exist.

The Chimney Tops Trail is perhaps, my favorite trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The river views from the bridges at the trailhead are amazing, but they are only the beginning of the beautiful adventure that awaits all who dare to traverse the challenging climb to the top.

The views at the top literally take your breath away and the journey to get there is one that you will never forget.

– Alli

Editor’s Note: Due to fires in recent years, the rock on the top of the chimneys has become unstable. Please check the GSMNP website for the most up-to-date trail conditions and practice safe-hiking protocol.

Chimney Tops Trail - Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Hiking Trails

Chimney Tops Trail | photo via Tim Lumley

Alum Cave Trail

This trail represents the beginning of the more difficult Mt. LeConte trail and runs 2.5 miles from the trailhead to the Arch Rock and the famous cave bluffs.

If you visit this popular destination during the winter, you’ll probably witness some spectacular icicle formations draped on the bluff’s ledges. However, take caution that these icicles can fall at any time.

Be sure to bring a camera along to capture the fabulous Smoky Mountain view at Inspiration Point.

This is a popular hike for a good reason. It is a beautiful hike up and you can even continue to Mount LeConte. I tried to make it to LeConte but it was foggy as I went higher. I did not want to go all the way up and be unable to see anything. Nevertheless, I was able to get nice views from Alum Cave Trail. The walk along the stream was pleasant.

Go early because when I came back to my car there was no parking left. This was a cloudy and rainy day too, so I could only imagine what a sunny day is like. Alum Cave Trail is worth it and it is a moderate hike, in my opinion. If you do not have a lot of hiking experience it could be challenging.

– John B.

best smoky mountain hiking trails

Alum Cave Trail

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Interactive Map of Smoky Mountain Trails

Click on the interactive map of Smoky Mountain trails below to find the best Smoky Mountain hikes near you!

interactive map of smoky mountain hiking trails

More Adrenaline-Pumping Things to Do in the Smokies

When you’ve conquered the best Smoky Mountains hikes, don’t miss the other adrenaline-pumping things to do in the Smokies! Add white water rafting, horseback riding, and more to your Smoky Mountains getaway.

Smoky Mountain hiking trail reviews from TripAdvisor and Google

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The 7 Best Trails to Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains

By Vicky Reddish – August 5th, 2019

Encompassing some of the highest mountains in the eastern U.S. as well as some of the most bio-diverse temperate forests in the world, the Great Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee-North Carolina line are a hiker’s paradise. Mostly encompassed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this most famous range of the Southern Appalachians rewards those willing to lace up and leave the asphalt behind with luxuriant temperate rainforest, roaring waterfalls, and no shortage of soul-stirring mountain-upon-mountain vistas.

With such an abundance of world-class hiking, it’s not easy whittling down the very best trails in the Great Smokies—but we’re giving it a go here!

Rainbow Falls Trail

This 5.4-mile (R/T) trail off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail accesses the tallest single-drop waterfall in the national park. At 80 feet, Rainbow Falls is quite the payoff for a fairly demanding hike covering some 1,500 feet of elevation gain and requiring for most people three to four hours in total. The rough, occasionally rocky trail shadows LeConte Creek, which flows off the northwestern shoulders of Mount LeConte—the third-highest peak in the Great Smokies—and takes that awesome free fall along the way. Rainbow Falls gets its name from the rainbows commonly appearing in its shimmering mist in the afternoon, especially in the summertime.

If your hiking boots are still itchy after soaking up the splendor of Rainbow Falls, you can continue along the trail another four miles or so to the crown of Mount LeConte.

Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte
mountain view on a sunny day with blue skies y

The Alum Cave Trail reaches Mount LeConte from the other side of this mighty summit, and offers up some of the most intriguing geology and stirring scenery in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as it does. About 11 miles round-trip and incorporating 2,700 feet of elevation gain, this is an all-day sort of trail, but you’ve got many natural rest stops along the way and the kind of sights that’ll keep the old hiking muscles firing.

An early attraction on the Alum Cave Trail is Arch Rock, a slate portal you’ll pass through via rock stairs. At about the two-mile point, Inspiration Point is indeed inspiring with its long mountainscape vistas. A bit before the halfway mark, you’ll reach Alum Cave Bluff: a gigantic alcove on the flanks of Peregrine Peak that offers a shady stopover. The trail steepens beyond Alum Cave Bluff and the views continue to broaden as you hoof it to the 6,593-foot summit of one of the grandest peaks in the Great Smokies.

Mingo Falls
people standing at wooden bridge in front of mingo fall

Situated in the Qualla Boundary lands of the Cherokee people right outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mingo Falls ranks among the tallest waterfalls in the entire Southern Appalachians: a gorgeous 120-foot horsetail drop. “Mingo” in Cherokee means “big bear,” and the “Big Bear Falls” lie just upstream of where Mingo Creek merges into the Raven Fork of the Oconaluftee River.

Reaching Mingo Falls requires only a ¾-mile walk, though that walk begins with 160 or so stairs to get the heart rate going. If you’re strapped for time, you can bang this out in maybe a half-hour or so, but take it from us: You’re going to want to linger at Mingo Creek’s magnificent tumble.

Laurel Falls Trail

The 80-foot, double-decker drop of Laurel Falls is one of the most popular attractions in the Great Smokies, and the trail reaching it is, at 2.6 miles, the longest fully paved path in the national park. You’ll gain about 314 feet on the moderately difficult there-and-back hike along the Laurel Branch, which usually takes about two hours unless you decide to bask awhile in the beauty of the falls—not a bad idea.

The trail culminates in a walkway between the upper and lower falls, which needless to say translates to some awesome photo ops.

Clingmans Dome Hike
clingmans dome above green trees and cloudy blue skies

The pinnacle of the Great Smokies, 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome also ranks as the third-highest mountain in the eastern U.S. Its parking area offers far-reaching views, but there’s an even more stunning panorama awaiting those who slog up the steep paved path a half-mile to the observation tower at the summit. When conditions are clear, the sightlines from the top of Clingmans Dome extend 100 miles: an unforgettable vista, for sure.

The footpath up isn’t long, but the grade will have you huffing and puffing a bit, and remember to have a jacket or pullover with you even on a summer’s day: It’s typically significantly cooler and damper here at the conifer-cloaked high point of the Great Smokies than the lower elevations.

Chimney Tops Trail

The raw slate spires of the Chimney Tops create some of the most dramatic topography in the Great Smokies and also serve up some of the most dazzling scenery. No surprise, then, that the 3.8-mile (R/T) Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s certainly not among the easiest: There’s close to 1,500 feet of elevation gain, though the hard grade’s eased a bit by stairs in places.

The observation platform at the end of the trail—opened in 2017 after a wildfire made the original turnaround point at the Chimney Tops too unsafe—provides awesome views not only of the slate crags themselves but also the magnificent loom of nearby Mount LeConte.

Trillium Gap Trail to Mount LeConteforest of trees with thinner branches with gravel path below

A number of different paths access the third-highest peak in the Great Smokies, and one of the all-around best is the Trillium Gap Trail. Close to 14 miles round-trip, this route spreads out the 3,401 feet of elevation gain for a gentler ascent than, say, the Rainbow Falls Trail, and along the way, it passes behind the remarkable 25-foot liquid curtain of Grotto Falls.

You’ll have access to multiple world-class vantages on Mount LeConte, most notably Myrtle Point, and you might be lucky enough to run into one of the llama pack strings that haul supplies along the Trillium Gap Trail to LeConte Lodge.

Start Your Hiking Experience Today!

All in all, you can never go wrong with a hiking experience while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you’re in for an easy trail and hiking experience or you’re looking for incredible challenging hikes that lead you to a great summit, you won’t be disappointed by these top trails!

Source https://trailplace.com/best-hikes-smoky-mountains/#:~:text=Cades%20Cove%20is%20one%20of%20the%20best%20hiking,perfect%20outing%20for%20an%20afternoon%20with%20the%20family.

Source https://www.wanderingsmokymountains.com/7-best-smoky-mountain-hiking-trails-all-skill-levels/

Source https://smokymountains.com/park/blog/7-best-trails-hike-great-smoky-mountains/

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