Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Not only is hiking an escape from the bright lights and the bustle of a busy city, but it’s also great exercise. It’s a way to get your blood pumping, build strength in your muscles, and gain stamina while you spend quality time in the great outdoors with friends and family. With the busy schedules many people have today, there is often little time for stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. Hiking can offer peace and tranquility – a quiet time to breathe in fresh air, forget your worries, or collect your thoughts. And when you hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find that there are even more perks. As you hike along the 150 trails totaling more than 800 miles in the park, you’ll come across wildflowers, a large diversity of trees, an abundance of wildlife, quiet mountain streams, cool rushing waters, flowing waterfalls, and preserved historic sites.

Several species of wildflowers, flowering shrubs, and trees are found only in the Southern Appalachians, so the sights here are truly unique. While there are 17 peaks that rise over 6,000 feet, you don’t have to be an avid or experience hiker to enjoy what the park has to offer. Trails in the Smoky Mountains range from wide and flat easy trails to narrow and steep difficult trails. Some are easy enough for kids and seniors, while others would be better suited to adults and experienced climbers.

There’s really a trail for almost everyone, so grab your water bottle, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready for awe-inspiring views and exciting new adventures!

Popular Hiking Trails
Andrews Bald – Hike 1.7 miles from the Clingmans Dome parking lot along the rugged Forney Ridge Trail. Roundtrip, you’ll rise 900 feet in elevation and pass acres of grassy meadows before ending at the scenic Andrews Bald overlook.
Trail Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Appalachian Trail – Spanning more than 2,000 miles in its entirety, the Appalachian Trail (AT) runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the way.

Alum Cave Bluff Trail – Climb 1,125 feet to reach the 80-foot high, 500-foot long bluff at the end of this 4.4-mile roundtrip hike. Look to the east at the Eye of the Needle and you may see peregrine falcons nesting on a rock.
Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Charlies Bunion – Hike 4 miles along the Appalachian Trail (east from Newfound Gap parking lot), climbing 1,640 feet roundtrip. When you reach an altitude of 6,000 feet, you’ll have fantastic views of the Smoky Mountains.
Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Gregory Bald – Enjoy stunning views year-round at the 10-acre summit of this 5.6-mile trail. You’ll climb 3,000 feet from Cades Cove before finding amazing views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and the eastern part of the Smokies. Spring is especially beautiful with lush wildflowers at the summit.
Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

Mt. LeConte – Climb 2,763 feet along the 5.5-mile Alum Cave Trail to reach the summit of Mt. LeConte. Once there, pat yourself on the back for reaching the third highest peak in the Smokies. Take in the sights of Inspiration Point, Eye of the Needle, Alum Cave, and Clingmans Dome.
Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

Porters Creek – Stroll this 4-mile roundtrip trail that will take you along cascading streams, old-growth forest, and historic buildings. A waterfall is a treat at the end of the trail, and the wildflowers are especially magnificent along this trail in spring.
Trail Difficulty: Easy

Rocky Top – The inspiration for the song “Rocky Top,” the views at the summit of this 12.5-mile hiking trail are worth the work. Start at Anthony Creek in the Cades Cove picnic area and gain 3,600 feet in elevation along the way. At the peak, you’ll find grassy meadows, wildflowers, and views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, Townsend, Maryville, and North Carolina.

Waterfalls in the Smokies
Some of the most popular hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains lead to gorgeous waterfalls. You may even want to plan your hikes around seeing one. Trail maps at any of the visitor centers in the park will offer guidance and more information on waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along your travels, you may come across…

  • Abrams Falls
  • Grotto Falls
  • Hen Wallow Falls
  • Indian Creek and Toms Branch Falls
  • Juney Whank Falls
  • Laurel Falls
  • Mingo Falls
  • Mouse Creek Falls
  • Rainbow Falls
  • Ramsey Cascades

A Few Hiking Tips
Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can provide a day of fun, but it’s also important to take precaution. Particularly in the backcountry, trail conditions change often depending on the weather. Always check online before your hike to be sure the trails you want to visit are open and safe. Get a map in advance so you’ll be prepared, and choose a hike that matches your skill level. If it’s your first time hiking, or if you’re bringing along small children, don’t choose the most strenuous trail. Most importantly, remember to have fun! The waterfalls, wildlife, and natural surroundings you’ll see will provide memories to last a lifetime. Enjoy it!