Epic Trails Ahead: The Top 9 Hikes in the Smokies You Need to Experience

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 Mountainsis 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 are the best hikes Great Smoky Mountains? 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! But first, let’s answer some commonly asked questions.

How many hiking trails are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are around 150 hiking trails for you to explore. This means whether you’re into easy strolls, challenging climbs, or something in between, there’s a trail with your name on it.

Each one offers a unique way to experience the park’s stunning beauty, from breathtaking mountain views to serene forest paths. So, lace up your boots and get ready for some unforgettable adventures!

What is the busiest season in the Smoky Mountains?

The busiest season in the Smoky Mountains is definitely summer. From June to August, the park fills up with visitors looking to take advantage of the warm weather, lush green landscapes, and a ton of outdoor activities like hiking, picnicking, and wildlife watching.

It’s a great time to explore the beauty of the Smokies, but be prepared for more company on the trails and at popular spots.

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

Easy Hikes Smoky Mountains

If you’re new to this hiking thing (or just feeling lazy), these are the best hikes in the 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 the Smoky Mountains for families!

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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 at 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Rd, 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 at Little River Road 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 in the 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 in 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, USA

Elkmont Nature Trail

In the category of easy hikes in the 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!

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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 kid’s 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 fascinating flowers stood out from native wildflowers. As a result, the flora of the area makes this one of the best hikes in 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 Trailhead at 916 River Rd is one of only two trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allow pets and bikes! It’s one of the best hikes in the smoky mountains near Gatlinburg for this reason.

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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 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 hikes near Pigeon Forge!

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

Moderate Hikes

If you want 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, USA

Rainbow 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 and Mountain! Vibrant wildflowers dot lush greenery on the sides of the trail.

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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, USA

Clingmans 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 from the trailhead, 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 an expert with plenty of mountain hiking experience, and you’re not wasting your time on amateur hiking trails covered in asphalt.

Fun Fact: Wondering what mountain range runs through Tennessee?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’s best hikes! The Alum Cave trailhead (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 from the trailhead 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.

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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, USA

Ramsey Cascades Trail

This eight-mile, round-trip trail from Ramsey Prong Rd 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, USA

What is the most difficult hike in the Smokies?

The Baxter Creek Trail is known as one of the most challenging hikes in the Smokies. Stretching over 6 miles one way, it takes you on a steep ascent to the top of Mt. Sterling, gaining about 4,200 feet in elevation.

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This trail isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the challenge, the reward is a stunning panoramic view from the fire tower at the summit.

Embark 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 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?

Share with us below trails we might’ve missed below! We’d love to hear ones about Pigeon Forge hiking trails or anything else you’d like to suggest.

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