Great Smoky Mountain National Park Trails
Listed below are several Smoky Mountains National Park trails placed in order by the level of challenge and other hiking factors.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers over 850 miles of maintained trails ranging from easy to strenuous. Hikes are a great way to experience the park's biodiversity and ever-changing environment. Foremost enjoy your hike, but please remember to keep groups together, stay on the trails and leave no trace hiking tips.
Great trails for families lasting as little as 15 minutes to several hours or more. Hint: If you haven't hiked recently five miles round-trip is a good maximum distance for novices and starting back up for the hiking season.
The trail travels 1.9 miles one-way from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of the city of Gatlinburg, TN. It is relatively flat and runs through the forest along side the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. The trail is a favorite with visitors with mobility and sensory impairments as well as with older visitors and families with children in strollers. The trail offers beautiful views of the river, which at one point is crossed by a pedestrian foot bridge. Foundations and chimneys of several old homesites are visible along the trail. 3.8 miles round-trip and considered easy.
Cataract Falls Trail
From the Park Headquartes this trail is an Easy, .20 mile round-trip to the impressive falls of Cataract Creek. A highly recommended hike for older visitors and families with small children.
Laurel Falls Trail
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations in the park and parking at the trail head is limited. The area is especially busy on weekends year-round and on weekdays during summer. Laurel Branch and the 80-foot high Laurel Falls are named for mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub which blooms along the trail and near the falls in May. The trail is 2.6 miles round-trip and considered moderate in difficulty. The trail is paved and is suitable for strollers and reccommended for even smaller children under parental supervision.
Trailhead: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn toward Cades Cove on Little River Road and drive 3.5 miles to the trailhead where there are parking areas on both sides of the road.
Trillium Gap Trail - Grotto Falls
Trillium Gap Trail meanders through an old-growth hemlock forest and actually runs behind the 25 foot high waterfall. The cool, moist environment near the falls is ideal for salamanders and summer hikers and is popular for families. The hike is 3 miles round-trip and considered moderate in difficulty.
Trailhead: From the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in winter ) to stop #5 where there is a large parking area.
Clingman's Dome - Newfound Gap Trail
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at 6,643 feet. The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360E views of the Smokies and beyond. A paved half-mile walk to the tower, it's considered a moderate hike due to the high elevations and steep grade.
Trailhead: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, Follow US-441, Newfound Gap Rd. Turn off Newfound Gap Road 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap and follow the 7-mile-long Clingmans Dome Road to the large parking area at the end.
Alum Cave Bluffs Trail
Panoramic views of the Smokies, this trail is one of the more popular view hikes. This moderate hike is 4.6 miles round-trip and is great for children or hikers seeking a trail that is not too difficult.
Trailhead: From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, drive 8.6 miles east on Newfound Gap Road. There you will find two parking areas, where a gravel path leads to The Grassy Patch and beginning of the 2.3 mile hike to Alum Cave Bluffs.
Self-Guided Nature Trails
There are several sel-guided nature trails throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Marked by roadside signage, these nature trails are usually less than one mile of gently graded footpaths offering easy access to glimpses of the Smoky Mountains backcountry.
These trails are slightly more strenuous and require more trail experience and planning. Not recommended for small children.
Abrams Falls Trail
Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet high, the large volume of water rushing over falls more than makes up for its lack of height. The long, deep pool at its base is very picturesque. The waterfall and creek are named for Cherokee Chief Abram or Abraham whose village once stood several miles downstream. Due to strong currents and an undertow, swimming in the pool at the base of the falls is extremely dangerous. The trail to the falls traverses pine-oak forest on the ridges and hemlock and rhododendron forest along the creek. The hike is 5 miles roundtrip and considered moderate in difficulty.
Trailhead: The turnoff for the trailhead is located past stop #10 on the Cades Cove Loop Road. Look for the signs.
Rainbow Falls Trail
A rainbow produced by mist from this 80-foot high waterfall is visible on sunny afternoons. During extended winter cold spells, an impressive ice formation builds around the falls. Between the trailhead and the falls, Rainbow Falls Trail gains about 1,500' in elevation. The 5.4 mile roundtrip hike is considered moderate in difficulty. The Rainbow Falls Trail continues for approximately 4 miles beyond the falls to the summit of Mt. Le Conte.
Trailhead: From the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue past the Noah "Bud" Ogle homesite to the clearly signed Rainbow Falls parking area.
Hen Wallow Falls Trail
Hen Wallow Falls is a moderate trail, great for a short day hike. The main trail leads to the top of the falls; a steep, narrow side trail leads to the bottom. Elevation gain is 520 feet. This trail is 4 miles round trip.
Trailhead: Before the picnic area on the road to Cosby Campground.
One of the more popular all-day-hike's. Usually attempted by experienced hikers, due to the various terrain, you should allow a full day to complete or make arrangements for overnight accommodations. Contact the National Park Office for more information on overnight stays.
Fire clearings above steep mountain slopes afford spectacular views to peaks and valleys below. This 8 mile round-trip hike is considered moderate.
Trailhead: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, Follow US-441, Newfound Gap Rd. The traihead is on the North side of the dedication area.
Ramsey Cascades Trail
Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park and one of the most spectacular. Water drops 100 feet over rock outcroppings and collects in a small pool where numerous well-camouflaged salamanders can be found.
The trail to the waterfall gains over 2,000' in elevation over its 4 mile course and the 8-mile roundtrip hike is considered to be strenuous in difficulty. Following rushing rivers and streams for much of its length, the last 2 miles pass through old-growth hardwood forest with large tuliptrees, basswoods, silverbells, and yellow birches.
Trailhead: Drive six miles east of Gatlinburg on Highway 321 and turn at the Greenbrier entrance to the park. Follow the signs 4.7 miles to the trailhead.
Chimney Tops Trail
In addition to the spectacular views, abundant wildflowers, streams and large trees, many feel a hike up to "the chimneys" is well worth both effort, making Chimney Tops trail one of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park's most popular trails. Although only two miles to the summit, this trail is not recommenced for small children or the novice hiker. The trail is steep, rising 1,300 feet from the trail head to the chimney-like pinnacles which give this trail its name. Four miles round-trip, this trail is considered strenuous.
Access: From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, continue 6.7 miles until you reach the parking lot at the Chimney Tops trail head
Deep Creek Trail
This stream side trail is an all-day hike descending over 1900 feet into the scenic valley through diverse forest marked with an impressive display of large trees and creek crossings. This trail is for experienced hikers. You should allow a full day to complete this hike or make arrangements for overnight accommodations. Contact the National Park Office for more information on overnight stays. At 14.2 miles one way, with a trail rating of moderate to strenuous, it is suggested to use the vehicle shuttle from the Deep Creek Capmground.
Access: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, Follow US-441, Newfound Gap Rd. 1.7 miles south to the parking area. Ends Deep Creek Capmground.
The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail (or AT as it' called) includes a section 69 miles long in the Great Smoky Mountains that serves as a boundary for Tennessee and North Carolina. Portions of this trail can be enjoyed by Smokies visitors in smaller less challenging lengths accessible from a few various hiking trails that connect to the Appalachian Trail. Some of the trail connections include Charlies' Bunion, Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail, and Gregory Bald Trail.
About every eight miles or nearabouts, the National Park Service erected overnight shelters with primitive bunks for sleeping along The Great Smoky Mountains National Park portion of this trail. These shelters are covered by wire screen on one side, to keep the bears at bay, and stays are limited to one night. A reservation or backcountry permit is required.
Access: A popular acces point is from the Newfound Gap parking area. From the parking area you can hike modest portions north and south on the trail.
Leconte trails have several approaches. Hikers gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation by the time they reach Mt. LeConte's summit. The hike can be completed as a day hike, but allow a full day. Several trails intersect through this hike and it's easy to get turned around. Make sure to carry a trail map and compass. Alum Cave trail is a moderately difficult hike is 5.1 miles one way to LeConte Sumit. The Alum Cave trail is the most popular and well-known route to Mount Le Conte. Rainbow Falls trail is fairly challenging if completing all 6.5 miles one-way to Mt LeConte.
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Written by Brittany Tipton