Best Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains: 9 You Don't Want to Miss

October 12, 2022

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker’s paradise! Trails lead explorers to spectacular forests, fields, and lake views.

Lace-up your hiking boots for the adventure of a lifetime! The Great Smoky Mountains is your one-stop shop for all the outdoor activities you can dream of. At the top of our list? Hiking! The list of best Smoky Mountain hikes is a long one.

No matter your skill level, one of the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains is for you. So, pack up your backpack with tasty snacks, plenty of H2O, and a camera to capture those unbeatable nature shots.

Wondering which trails to hit? Well, we recommend traversing more than a few if you have time. Use our handy guide to the best Smoky Mountain hikes below to start narrowing the options down!

Family Hiking at the Great Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USAEasy Hikes

If you’re new to this hiking thing (or just feeling lazy), these are the best hikes in Great Smoky Mountains for you. However, easier hikes don’t mean less impressive mountain views!

Additionally, keep these in mind if you’re bringing the kiddos! Little legs get tired quickly. These are among the best kid-friendly hikes in Smoky Mountain National Park. Pack up the entire crew for these best trails in Smoky Mountains for families!

Pro Tip: A great place to start before you set off is at a visitor center. There are several located throughout the national park. These offer plenty of information in the form of park maps, brochures, and knowledgeable staff. If you opt to visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center, a loop trail located behind the center takes you by the John Ownby Cabin.

Laurel Falls

Located just 30 minutes from Pigeon Forge, Laurel Falls is a hike with a refreshing, watery payoff: a towering waterfall. This makes it one of the best hikes in Smoky Mountain National Park! Additionally, Laurel Falls is on the list of kid-friendly hikes Great Smoky Mountains.

The short hike is 2.6 miles round-trip. It takes most hikers about an hour and a half to make it to and from Laurel Falls. The paved path means the hike will be smooth all the way! However, there are some steep drop-offs in certain places, so be aware at all times. This is one of the best easy waterfall hikes Smoky Mountains.

If you can’t get enough and want the hike to last even longer once you make it to the falls, hike an additional 2.7 miles to the old fire tower on the top of Cove Mountain. This will likely add about three miles to your trip, so plan accordingly! 

Photo Alert: Early morning or late evening are the best times to capture those social media-worthy shots. The lighting is supreme, and the crowds are thin at these times! So take a couple of videos and set them to inspiring music to make a TikTok that will rack in all the views.

Laurel Falls with autumn trees in the great smoky mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAElkmont Nature Trail

In the category of easy hikes in Smoky Mountains, this scenic trail is a great way to see some glimmering bodies of water. Cross a bridge over the Mids Branch River. Moreover, there is a small spring. Pine and laurel trees drench the area in tantalizing green!

Pro Tip: If you want the inside scoop on Elmont’s history, grab a brochure at the trailhead. There are 13 markers along the way that correspond with the brochure. This is a good Smoky Mountain kids trail for those who want to combine an outdoor excursion with a history lesson!

Keep an eye out for daffodils. These dainty yellow flowers are all that remain of a former homesite. Many homesites in the area are marked by such flowers, because previous homeowners planted them with the intention of making sure their exotic flowers stood out from native wildflowers. As a result, the flora of the area makes this one of the best hikes Smoky Mountains!

Wide shot of the empty cabins at Elkmont Ghost Town on a sunny day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Carl Bailey via Facebook

The Gatlinburg Trail

The Gatlinburg Trail is one of only two trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allow pets and bikes! Bring your furry friends along for the adventure. Also, bring the kiddos -- if you’re looking for kid-friendly hikes Smoky Mountains, this is a great one!

Pro Tip: Set on bringing fido? The other trail that allows dogs is the Oconaluftee River Trail! This trail and the Gatlinburg Trail are two of the best short hikes in the Smokies. The Gatlinburg Trail is one of the best short hikes in Gatlinburg specifically!

Beginning at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, this super easy hike is two miles long and takes you to the outskirts of Gatlinburg, making it one of the best Smoky Mountain hikes near Gatlinburg.

Enjoy misty riverside views during your hike as the trail runs along the Little Pigeon River. This is one of the great short hikes in Smoky Mountains!

The View from Charlies Bunion Trail inside The Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAModerate Hikes

If you’re wanting to up the ante, skip the leisurely walking trails and opt for something a little more rugged. However, if you’re still not fully confident in your hiking abilities, don’t stretch yourself beyond your ability! These moderate hikes in the park hit the sweet spot.

While these hikes may be a little more difficult, moderate hikes typically still fall in the category of family friendly hikes Smoky Mountains.

Abrams Falls Trail

This five-mile, round-trip hike starts out just past the tenth stop on Cades Cove Loop Road and serves as one of the best Smoky Mountain hikes. You’ll embark up and down ridges that make this hike a bit more strenuous than level paths. Abrams Creek is a cool stream that provides nature respite on this trail, which is one of the best hikes in Smoky Mountains!

The falls are only 20 feet tall, but this doesn’t take away from the rushing roar! In fact, Abrams Falls has the highest volume of water compared to all of the other waterfalls in the park.

Pro Tip: The power of Abrams Falls makes this a dangerous place to swim. It may be tempting to take a dip in the shimmering pool, but steer clear! Swimming is not allowed.

Abrams Falls Surrounded by Forest in The Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USARainbow Falls Trail

The search for the best trails in Smoky Mountains National Park continues! On this hike, make the uphill trek through a shady forest canopy and cross multiple log footbridges until you finally reach the esteemed destination: Rainbow Falls. Named for the captivating multi-colored light rays created by the falls in the sunlight, this waterfall is a true stunner.

Switchbacks are characteristics of the trail. It also boasts sights of Le Conte Creek! Vibrant wildflowers dot lush greenery on the sides of the trail. 

Two different parking areas near the trailhead mean you’ll have a better chance of finding a good parking lot spot at this popular hiking trail, even on crowded days! Add this to your list of best Smoky Mountain trails.

Pro Tip: Three other moderate hikes worth checking out are Middle Prong Trail, Big Creek Trail, and Andrews Bald Trail! There are many more trails in the Smokies to choose from.

Rainbow Falls surrounded by forest in the Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USAClingmans Dome 

As a one-mile round-trip, this is one of the short hikes Smoky Mountains -- but it’s a steep one. That’s because it leads to the highest point in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The summit reaches an impressive 6,643 feet in the air, and you better believe the views are unrivaled. As a result, there is quite an elevation gain as you make your way up.

Pro Tip: Even though this hike is a little steep, it’s still one of the best family hikes Smoky Mountains. The view at the top is a must-see on your trip!

The trail is made of smooth pavement and features benches every tenth of a mile. So, there’s no need to worry if you get weary on the way!

Photo Alert: Make sure you have a camera on hand for this one! Put your phone in panorama mode to capture the 360-degree view of treetops dusted in green or vivid fall colors. Visibility can reach up to 100 miles on clear days!

Forest and Mountains at Clingman’s Dome in The Great Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: MobileBrochure via Facebook

Difficult Hikes

Pro hikers probably skipped to this section right away! You’re a guru with plenty of mountain hiking experience, and you’re not wasting your time on amateur hiking trails covered in asphalt.

Fun Fact: The Appalachian Trail is a difficult trail that runs all the way from Georgia to Maine! Part of the trail runs through Tennessee and North Carolina in the Great Smoky Mountains. Charlie's Bunion is a rock formation many people hike to from this trail.

Alum Cave to Mount LeConte Trail

This nature trail starts easy and gets harder as it goes. It’s one of the Smoky Mountain National Park best hikes! The Alum Cave trail (the first portion of the trail) runs along Alum Cave Creek and is pretty flat. You’ll encounter the Arch Rock before reaching Alum Cave! This rocky spectacle is a cool break during the summer months.

It’s only uphill from here! Making your way to the top of Mount Leconte is no small task. The trail will gradually get more steep and narrow, but there are handrails available to offer support. Once you finally reach the top, LeConte Lodge is waiting for you! This lodge is only accessible by foot. Take a breather here before heading back down the mountain. 

Pro Tip: Hiking in the winter? Beware of potential slippery ice! Water run-off from rock formations can make for slick pathways in the colder months.

alum cave view of smoky mountains

Alum Cave Trail: Flickr/Daveynin

Chimney Tops Trail

The Chimney Tops Trail follows suit in that it starts out easy but gets more and more difficult as you go on. If it feels too easy for your expertise at first, don’t be fooled! Once you reach the trail junction at Beech Flats, you’ll begin a 700-foot ascent that occurs over the course of just two-thirds of a mile.

However, the challenge pays off! A 360-degree view at the summit is a great vantage point to gaze in awe at views such as Mount LeConte, Mount Kephart, and the Sugarlands Valley.

Chimney Tops Surrounded by Forest in the Great Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USARamsey Cascades Trail

This eight-mile, round-trip trail has a few different points of interest! For one, Ramsey Cascades Trail passes through the largest old-growth forest in the entire national park. Before the park was established in 1926, mass logging occurred. This forest, however, avoided the damage.

A stream characterized by multiple gorgeous waterfalls and riveting ripples runs by the trail. The real star of the show, however, is Ramsey Cascades: a 50-foot waterfall!

Ramsey Cascades in The Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAEmbark on One of The Best Smoky Mountain Hikes for a True Taste of Adventure!

Can you smell the fresh air and feel the leafy crunch beneath your feet? The great outdoors found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park shows off with breathtaking sights! Revel beneath the treetops and spacious blue sky.

When you’ve had your fill of nature on these Smoky Mountains hikes, make the journey back to civilization. Nearby cities Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer hotels with all of the amenities and plenty of things to do, so your vacation itinerary is full!

Which Smoky Mountain Trail is Your Favorite?

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Written By Michaela

Michaela is a journalist who views every story she writes as an adventure, leading her to explore new places and meet new people. She is based in the Midwest ...

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