Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Escape from the bright lights and city hustle and bustle to the soul-soothing hiking trails throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking is a great and fun way to get your blood pumping, build muscle strength, and gain stamina while you spend quality time in the great outdoors with friends and family. Plus, with busy schedules during the year, stopping to smell the wildflowers (literally) is a great pick-me-up for your mental health.

Trekking beneath tall evergreens, over babbling brooks, and around million-year-old stones can offer peace and tranquility — a quiet time to breathe in fresh air, forget your worries, and collect your thoughts. And when you hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find even more natural perks along the 150 trails totaling more than 800 miles in the park! Stumble across passing wildlife, stroll by rushing rivers, rest beside cascading waterfalls, photograph vivid blooms, and explore preserved historic sites along hiking trails in the Smokies.

 

Trek Popular Hiking Trails

While there are 17 peaks that rise over 6,000 feet, you don’t have to be an avid or experienced hiker to enjoy what the national 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 in the Smokies!

 

Andrews Bald | Easy to Moderate
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.

 

Appalachian Trail | Strenuous
Spanning more than 2,000 miles in its entirety, the Appalachian Trail (AT), runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the way. As this is a 72-mile, long-distance hike that can take up to 7 days, the difficulty level is generally considered strenuous, even though parts of the trail are easy to moderate.

 

Alum Cave Bluff Trail | Moderate
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.

 

Charlies Bunion | Moderate
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.

 

Gregory Bald | Strenuous
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 the cove, Fontana Lake, and the eastern part of the Smokies. Spring is especially beautiful with lush wildflowers at the summit.

 

Mt. LeConte | Strenuous
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.

 

Porters Creek | Easy
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.

 

Rocky Top | Strenuous
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.

 

Stroll to Picturesque Waterfalls

Some of the most popular hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains lead to gorgeous waterfalls. Plan your hike around seeing one of these wonders for a truly memorable experience. Trail maps at any of the visitor centers in the park offer guidance and more information on waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along your travels, you may come across quiet mountain streams, critter-filled creeks, and lively rivers.

Waterfall Trails

  • Abrams Falls | Moderate
  • Grotto Falls | Easy to Moderate
  • Hen Wallow Falls | Moderate
  • Indian Creek & Toms Branch Falls | Easy
  • Juney Whank Falls | Easy
  • Laurel Falls | Easy
  • Mingo Falls | Moderate
  • Mouse Creek Falls | Moderate
  • Rainbow Falls | Moderate
  • Ramsey Cascades | Strenuous

 

Find Fascinating Flora & Fauna

Wildlife abounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and one of the best ways to experience the natural flora and fauna is hiking. Several species of wildflowers, flowering shrubs, and trees are found only in the Southern Appalachians, so the sights here are truly unique.

Furthermore, the park has helped reintroduce several animal species, including elk, river otters, and peregrine falcons, which add to the existing diversity. View grazing white-tailed deer in a meadow, sneak a peek of frolicking black bear cubs (from a safe distance), breathe in the heavenly scent of blooming buds, snap a shot of flying squirrels, watch schools of fish on a voyage, and stroke the hardy bark of old growth trees along Smoky Mountain trails.

Native Flora & Fauna

  • Black Bear
  • White-tailed Deer
  • Groundhog
  • Raccoon
  • Brook Trout
  • Spotted Salamander
  • Barred Owl
  • Turkey
  • Coyote
  • Eastern Box Turtle
  • Carolina Silverbell
  • Dogwood
  • Magnolia
  • Yellow Birch
  • Hobblebush
  • Lady Slipper Orchid
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Wide-leaved Sunflower
  • Flame Azalea

 

Explore Historical Sites

More than 90 historic buildings, including churches, schools, barns, outbuildings, mills, and log cabins, have been preserved (or restored) within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Learn how people from the past lived by exploring these remarkable structures found along hiking trails. And one of the best places to discover these sites is Cades Cove, a valley area with an 11-mile, loop road plus trails leading into the forests (one ending at the 20-foot-high Abrams Falls). Find rehabilitated buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, consisting of a working grist mill, 3 churches, houses, barns, and more, at this scenic cove in the Smokies.

 

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 and put safety first. 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. Should you come across a wild animal, keep your distance, don’t make sudden movements, and back away slowly; this will give them space to pass. Most importantly, remember to have fun! The waterfalls, wildlife, and natural surroundings you’ll see will provide memories to last a lifetime — enjoy your hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!