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

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.

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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

Image

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

Image

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!

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.

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.

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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!

7 Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails to Explore

There are 150 Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails from which to choose ranging from Clingmans Dome and the Deep Creek Loop to the infamous Appalachian Trail. While hiking has its own rewards one generally participates for some kind of payoff like a spectacular overlook, whitewater rivers or, our personal favorite, waterfalls. With so many Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails to choose from we focused mostly on waterfall chasing but also enjoyed a few hikes that provided a different experience.

Laurel Falls Panorama Great Smoky Mountains Waterfalls

The Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails cover over 800 miles (1,287 km) of territory, including 71 miles (114 km) for the Appalachian trail alone. There are highly strenuous hikes like those up to Mt. LeConte or more leisurely strolls like the Goldmine Loop. There are long hikes like Rocky Top (13.9 miles, 22.4 km), short ones like Spruce-Fir Trail (.4 miles, 06 km) or something in between like the Alum Cave Trail (4.4 miles, 7.1 km). Much like we experienced hiking Sedona, there are no bad views to be found while enjoying this magnificent park.

We’ll start with the Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails to the west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center then move east and south of downtown Gatlinburg including the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Map

Jump to a specific section.

Laurel Falls Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Laurel Falls Trail Facts

Laurel Falls Trail Trailhead

Laurel Falls Hike Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Laurel Falls

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Our first attempt to hike the Laurel Falls Trail was thwarted by a fallen tree that closed the trail for a day but we were successful on our second attempt a few days later. The hike to Laurel Falls is a 2.6 mile (4.2 km) loop that begins right next to the parking area just off Fighting Creek Gap Road. There is parking available in a small lot and on both sides of the street that can fill up very quickly. The entire trail is paved as it was originally created to allow fire crews access to the Cove Mountain area.

Laurel Falls Trail Path

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Forest

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Rock Clusters

Laurel Falls Trail Trees

The mountain inclines up to your right and sharply down on your left. You are surrounded by forests of pine-oak and cove hardwood that rise from the valley below searching for sunlight. There are wonderful rock clusters that are not only pleasing on the eye but can also serve as de facto benches for resting your legs. Surrounding the paved path you’ll see the signs of erosion and nature doing its best to survive.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Weeping Rocks

Views From Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

Laurel Falls Trail Rock Walls

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You’ll pass some large “weeping rocks” until you hit an opening where you get some clear views of the rolling southern mountains. Keep an eye out for trees that have become misshapen due to the high winds at this elevation as well as lighting strikes. Always be mindful of some very steep drop offs to your left.

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At about the 1-hour mark you’ll arrive at Laurel Falls. To learn more about the falls and see lots of great pictures, follow this link to Laurel Falls.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails View

Laurel Falls Trail Forest

Sunlit Trees Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

Tree Roots GSMNP Laurel Falls Trail

After exploring Laurel Falls you’ll begin your trek back down the mountain. While loop trails mean every step you hike is unique, out-and-back trails can take on a similar feel, especially if the trail is long. The direction and intensity of the sun can cause many things to appear different. Such is the case with all of the Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails and the Laurel Falls Trail is no exception. Our hike took about 90-minutes which included a 25-minute stopover at the falls.

Cove Mountain Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Cove Mountain Trail Facts

Cove Mountain Trail Start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Cove Mountain

Sycamore Tree Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

GSMNP Sawmill Branch

Next on our list of Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails was the Cove Mountain Trail. To the left of the Sugarlands Visitor Center main building you’ll follow the signs for Cataract Falls. This path will take you first on the Fighting Creek Trail, a relatively wide and flat walk surrounded by a forest full of sycamore and yellow-poplar trees. You’ll then cross over a rock-filled stream followed by a stretch filled with sweetgum and sassafras trees.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Cove Mountain Trail

GSMNP Natural Bridge

Cove Mountain Trail Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

Smoky Mountain Trail Bridge

The flat, easy to traverse and short (1-mile, 1.6 km) out-and-back trail eventually reaches the Cataract Branch River where large logs have fallen across the water forming a few natural bridges over to the other side. It’s a perfect spot for a picture or two. If you choose to stay on the south side path you’ll encounter a very cool knotted tree just before a bridge taking you over the water.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Fighting Creek

GSMNP Cove Mountain Trail

Cove Mountain Trail Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Cataract Falls

The path runs parallel to the water and contains some great twisted trees and thick moss-covered tree trunks. The path widens until you reach a rock base wooden overpass. After proceeding under the overpass you’ll see a small bridge to your left that leads to a slight uphill path. At the top of the hill follow the signs to Cataract Falls. Eventually you’ll hear the falls soon followed by a sighting through the trees.

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The 25’ (7.6 m) Cataract Falls are not as dramatic as on some other Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails but well worth the short trek. To learn more about the falls along with a few pictures, follow this link to Cataract Falls.

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Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Cataract Branch

Cove Mountain Trail Smoky Mountains

Upended Tree Root Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

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The trip back is highlighted by the rushing water of the Cataract Branch River, which at times appears on both sides of the path. When you cross the bridge don’t miss the massive uprooted remains of the “bridge” tree and appreciate the bright green forests that surround the trail back to the visitor center.

Gatlinburg Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Gatlinburg Trail Facts

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Gatlinburg Trailhead

GSMNP Cliff Branch River

Gatlinburg Trail Sitting Tree Smoky Mountains

Gatlinburg Trail Whitewater

The Gatlinburg Trail begins just outside of downtown Gatlinburg. As with many other Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails there is usually parking available along the side of the road. The 3.9-mile (6.3 km) out-and-back trail begins by running parallel to the Cliff Branch River on a wide flat path. A few minutes in you’ll find a perfect, albeit unusual, tree perfect for snapping a quick picture. The river provides a nice whitewater “soundtrack” that is equally pleasant to the ear as it is on the eye. The sound also serves to offset the unpleasant noise coming from the cars driving parallel along the US-441.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Gatlinburg Trail Footbridge

Gatlinburg Trail Old Homestead

Smoky Mountains Whitewater

GSMNP Gatlinburg Trail River

At around the ½ mile (.8 km) point there is one of the Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails longest footbridges that will take you onto the other side of the river and away from the US-441. Shortly thereafter, on your left, you’ll reach a slight incline and the remains of an old homestead featuring a chimney and some remaining foundation stones. Eventually you’ll see maintenance buildings on your right marking the best place to turn around and head back.

Gatlinburg Trail River

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Whitewater

GSMNP Gatlinburg Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Tributary

On your way back try and stay as close to the river shore as possible to really enjoy how the water shapes everything around it. Keep an eye out to your right for a few mini-cascades flowing down the hill feeding the river. One has two parallel flows while the other has a more steady trek and several layers. Along with degree of slope and rocks in the riverbed, the flow from these tributaries results in some fantastic whitewater.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails River Fork

Calm Water Along the Gatlinburg Trail

GSMNP Rapids River

Gatlinburg Trail Footbridge

There is one amazing area of note where a fork in the river is framed by a collection of interlocking exposed tree roots. Eventually the water calms down and the result is a shallow riverbed, which reflects the surrounding trees, but the serene views don’t last long as the whitewater returns. Eventually you hit a spot where you can no longer walk along the river’s edge. The rest of the hike back is highlighted by the footbridge and the wide, relatively flat, path. In all the hike should take about 1 hour to complete.

Noah ‘Bud’ Ogle Place Nature Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Noah

Trailhead Noah 'Bud' Ogle Place Nature Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Trees

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Bridge

Noah 'Bud' Ogle Place Nature Trail Tree Roots

One of the more popular stops along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is the Noah ‘Bud’ Ogle Place. It’s the pretty well-preserved remains of an operating farm built in the late 19-century. Just behind the main house is an unmarked nature trail. The path is easy to spot as it splits the woods on either side. You’ll have a small brook with stepping stones to cross first followed by an open patch that eventually leads to another brook with a somewhat more conventional “bridge” to get across. On the other side is a really cool collection of exposed tree roots and rocks.

Deer Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Ogle Tub Mill

Noah 'Bud' Ogle Place Nature Trail Dinosaur Egg Rock

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If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of some wildlife and keep an eye out for the “dinosaur egg” rock off to your right. It is massive with white speckled patterns all over its surface. One of the highlights of this Great Smoky Mountains hiking trail is the Ogle “tub” mill. It was once used as a gristmill (similar to nearby Cherokee’s Mingus Mill) to grind corn into meal for families and other settlers in the area. The mill was powered by water, diverted from the LeConte Creek, through an 80’ (24.4 m) log fume that turned the grinding devices well enough to crush the corn into meal. The LeConte Creek itself is amazing in this stretch producing fantastic whitewater.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Damaged Trees

Noah 'Bud' Ogle Place Nature Trail Stone Wall

GSMNP Nature Hike Bridge

Noah 'Bud' Ogle Place Nature Trail

Unfortunately there is a good amount of fire damage to many of the trees. It’s a natural occurrence, primarily due to lightning strikes, but a good reminder to be especially mindful of fire in the forests. Some of the paths back are especially rocky but one stretch has rock walls reminiscent of old New England. Eventually the loop trail meets up just before the wood bridge and then back to the “Bud” Ogle Place.

Rainbow Falls Trail

Smoky Mountains National Park Hiking Trails Rainbow Trail Facts

Rainbow Falls Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

The Rainbow Falls Trail is one of the more popular Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails. This moderately difficult hike is also one of the longer ones (5.4 miles, 8.7 km roundtrip) so we’ve given it its own post. To learn all about this Great Smoky Mountains hiking trail, including the epic Rainbow Falls, follow this Hiking to Rainbow Falls in the Smoky Mountains link.

Trillium Gap Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Trillium Gap Trail Facts

Trillium Gap Trailhead Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Trillium Gap Trail

GSMNP Trillium Gap Trail

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Continue driving on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail for about 6 minutes and you’ll see a sign for the Grotto Falls Parking Area. Unless you arrive early in the morning expect to continue past the parking lot until you can find somewhere off the side of the road to safely park your car. It can be a bit chaotic but everyone figures it out. The Trillium Gap Trail totals 13.9 miles (22.4 km) but we chose to go only as far as the Grotto Falls, a 3-mile (4.8 km) out-and-back trek. The day we hiked was overcast and very misty, a common occurrence when walking the Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails, which created a very cool, almost mystical, atmosphere.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Trillium Gap Trail Sign

GSMNP Trillium Gap Trail Cascade

Foggy Trillium Gap Trail Smoky Mountains

Hemlock Forest Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

About 4 minutes in you’ll see a sign with options . . . proceed east to Grotto Falls. You quickly come upon a nice small cascade falls that stretches above and below as far as your eyes can see. The trail is mostly flat and relatively wide surrounded by upward slopes to your left and thick vegetation in hemlock forests dropping down to your right.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Tree Roots

GSMNP Trillium Gap Upended Tree Roots

Misty Morning Trillium Gap Trail Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

Misty Forest Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

There is the usual assortment of uncovered tree roots and fallen hardwoods including one massive uprooted eastern hemlock exposing its entire root structure. While our long distance views were obscured by the foggy mist, beautiful images still appeared, though difficult to completely capture with mere pictures.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Tree Stump

Small Cascade Trillium Gap Trail Smoky Mountains

Misty Woods Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

06d_04_great_smoky_mountains_hiking_trails_trillium_gap_trail_foggy_trees

The remnants of one destroyed tree produced a colorful jagged stump that closely resembled a piece of modern art. Continuing on, you begin to encounter a series of small crossing cascades that cut across the trail and, the further up the mountain you go, the mist actually lends additional visual depth to the surrounding forest.

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls is a 25’ (7.6 m) single-drop falls that has the distinction, much like the Moore Cove Falls in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest, of being the only waterfall among our Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails that you can actually walk behind. To learn more about the falls along with a multitude of pictures, follow this link to Grotto Falls.

Green Mist Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

Massive Tree Root Trillium Gap Trail GSMNP

Chess Pieces Trillium Gap Trail Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Foggy Path

On the way back down the mist continues to produce beautiful images, albeit somewhat eerie. You also get an even better look at the fallen eastern hemlock’s exposed root structure referenced earlier. There is one particular clump of destroyed tree stumps that take on the look of chess pieces from the descending angle, particularly against the misty backdrop. The entire out-and-back hike, including a 25-minute stop at the falls, took only 90 minutes to complete. The trail itself is not very challenging and the falls are well worth seeing.

Alum Cave Bluffs Trail

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails Noah

Alum Cave Bluffs Trail Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

The Alum Cave Bluffs Trail is a magnificent 4.4 mile (7.1 km) out-and-back Great Smoky Mountains hiking trail that pays off wonderfully with an 80’ (24 m) high arching rock called the Alum Cave Bluffs. The hike also features a natural rock arch you can walk through and its own inspiration point. There is so much to talk about on this hike that we’ve made it its own post, Hiking to the Alum Cave Bluffs in the Smoky Mountains. Click through to learn all about the hike and the bluffs.

Trillium Gap Trail Panorama

Final Thoughts

Hiking is a wonderful passion that extends beyond just the benefits of healthy exercise. It also allows you to see, in person, some of nature’s most amazing displays like overlooks and waterfalls in addition to the smaller wonders like moss growing on a huge boulder or tree limbs against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. Nature never disappoints and the Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails are no exception.

Please let us know of your favorite hiking trails or any of your experiences visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. For more Smoky Mountain fun be sure to check out our 7 Great Smoky Mountains Waterfalls to Explore.

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This is The GloveTrotters website (Stuart, Ramie, Sean & Tiana)! As our kids get older opportunities to all travel together are becoming rarer. Stuart & I continue to travel on many trips by ourselves and have become active boomer travelers.

Right now we’re focusing on exploring our great home state of North Carolina. While many of our articles do focus on the Tar Heel state, we also love visiting National Parks, day hiking and our adventurous spirits have found us swimming with the manatees in Florida, bicycling Assateague Island in search of Virginia’s wild ponies and canyoneering the narrows of Utah.

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Source https://trailplace.com/best-hikes-smoky-mountains/

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

Source https://theglovetrotters.com/destinations/hiking/smoky-mountain-hiking-trails/

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