Looking for a beautiful day hike in the Great Smoky Mountains?
This impressive national park is home to some of the best hiking in the Eastern US, so you're in the right place! With gorgeous mountain views, vast, peaceful forests, and stunning waterfalls, the Smokies are a great place for a full day of hiking.
To help you get the most out of your day-long hike, we've made this list of the 5 best day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Each of these hikes takes about a whole day to complete, so it's the perfect way to spend a day exploring the most beautiful sights in the Smoky Mountains!
Best Day-Long Hikes in the Smoky Mountains
1. Hike To The Jump Off & Charlie's Bunion
Round Trip Distance: 8.1 Miles
Highlights: Mountain Views, The Appalachian Trail
This popular day hike begins at the Newfound Gap Parking area and continues northbound on the world-famous Appalachian Trail through some of the most dramatic scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Though this trail can be rocky and challenging, The Jump Off and Charlie's Bunion are two spectacular overlooks that are well worth your effort. This ridge-top trail offers plenty of mountain views along the way, but your destinations have some of the best scenery of all.
At 2.7 miles in, you'll reach the junction with the Boulevard Trail. This trail leads to Mt. Leconte, but to reach the Jump Off, you'll hike a short distance further. On the right side of the Appalachian Trail trail, a small unmarked trail branches off to the right. You'll take this side trail another 0.2 miles to the overlook.
As the name suggests, this stunning overlook is perched above an incredible steep mountainside that plunges hundreds of feet to the valley below. The round trip hike to the Jump Off is just 6.5 miles if you need to cut your hike short.
To reach Charlie's Bunion, simply return to the Appalachian Trail and continue hiking northbound for another 1.25 miles. This overlook gets its name for its unique rock outcropping that resembles a bunion or large blister.
This overlook is one of the most photographed sights in the park and it features expansive views of Greenbrier and the Tennessee Valley.
2. Alum Cave Trail To Mt. LeConte
Round Trip Distance: 11 Miles
Highlights: Arch Rock, Alum Cave, Mountain Views
If you can only hike one trail in the Smokies, the Alum Cave Trail is arguably one of the most unforgettable hikes you can experience in the national park.
This 5.5-mile trail winds its way up mountain ridges to Mt. LeConte, the 3rd tallest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Along the way, this hike features some unique geologic formations like:
- Arch Rock – The trail passes through a large rock arch that has been formed by thousands of years of freezing and thawing.
- Inspiration Point – Near the halfway point of this trail, Inspiration Point is a stunning panoramic overlook that can inspire you to keep climbing higher into the mountains.
- Alum Cave – This trail's namesake. Alum Cave is an 80 ft tall overhanging cliff that's unlike anything else you'll see in the Smokies.
Additionally, this hiking trail passes through some of the most beautiful forests in the Smokies and it offers plenty of mountain views to enjoy along the way.
Though this trail is long and challenging, Mt. LeConte is a destination well worth your effort. Near the top of the mountain, you'll find LeConte Lodge, a backcountry lodge where you can buy lunch during the summer season and sit back on a rocking chair while you enjoy the mountain view.
Mt. LeConte is also home to two impressive overlooks, The Clifftops, and Myrtle Point that offer some of the most impressive views in the Smoky Mountains.
Needless to say, Alum Cave Trail easily makes our list of the best day hikes in the national park.
3. Spence Field
Round Trip Distance: 10.3 Miles
Highlights: Panoramic Views, High Elevation Mountain Bald
This excellent day hike begins in Cades Cove and climbs high into the to a mountain bald with beautiful mountain views.
To reach Spence Field, you can begin your hike at Anthony Creek Trail in the Cades Cove Campground. Follow this trail until you reach the Bote Mountain Trail. Take a right on Bote Mountain until you reach the Appalachian Trail. Spence Field will be located a short distance to the left of this trail junction.
Spence Field is known as a mountain bald, or a high elevation field and it's one of the most unique sights in the national park. In Appalachia, these high elevation balds are famous for being hotbeds for plant and animal life. Additionally, they offer stunning mountain views.
So what is this idyllic field doing at the top of a mountain that would otherwise be covered in trees?
Prior to the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, these fields were used as pasturage for livestock like sheep and cows. In fact, Spence Field is one of the last remnants of a large meadow that once stretched over 24 miles from Siler's Bald to Gregory's Bald. However, without regular grazing, these mountain balds are slowly becoming overgrown.
Please note, the hike to Spence Field is not particularly stunning, but it is a favored hike if you're looking for a workout. Sections of this hike, especially Bote Mountain trail are famous for providing a long, steady climb and a nice, burning sensation in your quads. Between the excellent views and the rewarding, physical challenge, the trail to Spence Field is easily one of the best day hikes in the Smokies.
By hiking further on the Appalachian Trail, you can also reach Rocky Top, another Smoky Mountain peak that boasts impressive views.
4. Ramsey Cascades
Round Trip Distance: 8 Miles
Highlights: Old Growth Forest, Large Waterfall
Ramsey Cascades is a 100-ft waterfall located deep within the forests of the Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In addition to being home to several historic structures, this peaceful part of the Smokies is also home to an old-growth forest that has never been logged. As a result, there are some truly massive old-growth Yellow Poplars, Birch, and Hemlock trees that are well over 100 years old. The largest of these trees is over 7-feet in diameter.
Prior to logging, the national park was filled with giant trees like this, but now there are only a few areas of old growth forests that remain intact.
After trekking through sections of old-growth forest and beautiful sections of mountain streams, you'll reach the waterfall. At the base of the falls, there is a nice pool that's perfect for soaking your feet in after a day of hiking.
Please note that climbing up the sides of these falls is very dangerous. Several hikers have fallen to their deaths at Ramsey Cascade when they ventured up to the top of this waterfall.
5. Mt Cammerer
Round Trip Distance: 11.1 Miles
Highlights: Mountain Views, Historic Fire Tower
In one of the least-visited areas of the park, you'll also find an excellent hike to one of the best overlooks in all of the Smokies!
The destination on this hike is the historic Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower, an old watchtower that was built to monitor the mountains for signs of wildfires.
Most fire towers in Appalachia are structures made of steel that are tall enough to peer out over the tree-line, but the Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower is western-style, which means that it is built low to the ground on a mountain ridge that provides visibility. This fire tower was built in the 1930s by the CCC and the stones used to make it were hauled from a nearby quarry only 100 yards away from the site of the present-day tower.
Thanks to its location on a ridge, the beautiful destination provides panoramic views. To the north, you can see the Pigeon River Gorge and I-40 winding through the mountains. To the west, you can see the expansive East Tennessee Valley. To the southwest, you can see the tallest peaks inside the national park.
Mt. Cammerer is easily one of the best hikes for enjoying mountain views.
The hike to Mt. Cammerer begins in the Cosby Campground area on the Low Gap Trail. Hike the Low Gap Trail until it makes a junction with the Appalachian Trail. To reach the fire tower, turn left on the AT to travel northbound. After 2.1-miles, there's a side-trail that branches off 0.5 miles to the Mt. Cammerer overlook.
Map of Best Day Hikes in the Smokies
About These Day Hikes
Each of these hiking trails is all about 8-12 miles in length, so they require most of a day to complete. Depending on your pace, these hikes can take around 5-7 hours to finish.
Because these hikes are long and sometimes strenuous, we recommend that you consider you practice caution and sound when hiking these trails.
For example, starting your hike early in the day is important for having enough daylight to finish your hike. Additionally, don't hesitate to turn around before reaching your destination if it means you'll get back before nightfall.
Before setting out on your day hike, we encourage you to read the National Park Service's guide to hiking safety in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The advice in this excellent resource can help ensure that you have a safe and relaxing day of exploring the Smokies!
If you have a whole day to hike in the Smoky Mountains, we hope these hiking trail suggestions can help you get the most out of your trip!
We'd love to know, what's your favorite day hike in the national park? Have you completed any on this list? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
Written by Mark Frazier