THE TOP 10 BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, and for a good reason! Discover the absolute best hikes in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and get ready to include some (or many) of these places on your bucket list to go hiking in the “Smokies”.
Hiking The Great Smoky Mountains is a magical experience as you are enveloped by the sights and sounds of nature.
On this Ultimate Guide on the 10 Top Hikes in the Smoky Mountains, you can explore many scenic driving road trips, with plenty of incredible viewing opportunities within only an hour’s drive of several major cities, with easy access from a number of airports.
Also, the Smoky Mountains park offers an opportunity to get closer to nature with lots of wildlife viewing opportunities, such as black bears, elk, otters, and many other animals.
The Smoky Mountains National Park has over 500,000 acres of land and it is one of the largest protected areas in the United States. It has over 850 miles and 150 hiking trails to choose from in a wide range of difficulty levels.
Now get ready to see the list of the best hikes in the Smokies, with a detailed description of each, to help you to find the perfect trail that is best for you.
Enjoy the top 10 must-hikes in the Smokies and safe travels!
- THE TOP 10 BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
- 10 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR HIKING IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
- WHERE IS SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
- ESSENTIAL GEARS FOR HIKING IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
- TENNESSE: BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
- NORTH CAROLINE – BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
- BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES
- WHAT IS NEXT
- Follow + Share
- Plan your Trip
- READ MORE
10 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR HIKING IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
- No Cell Phone Service: Cell phones do not work in most places in the backcountry and GPS is sometimes unreliable – Consider carrying a Satellite Phone with Maps and GPS Navigation.
- Carry a current park trail map: You can get the Smokies map at any visitor center
- Do not hike at night: If you are camping, plan to get to your campsite before dark.
- Difficult Hiking Trails: “Difficult Hiking Trails” are characterized by steep elevations, increasingly difficult terrain, and longer distances. Only experienced hikers should attempt these trails
- Be physically prepared: Many of these hikes are easy and can be done by anyone. A couple of the hikes are epic and I recommend following a Plan for Hiking Fitness preparation prior to attempting any long or challenging hike.
- Bring plenty of water: Remember you will be outdoors in the sun you will need to drink a lot of water. My LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle has been my lifesaver for all my trips. I can refill this bottle anywhere and it comes with a carabiner to connect it to my daypack.
- Be Aware of the Wildlife: Bears in the park are wild and their behavior is unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Treat bear encounters with extreme caution! It is recommended to carry Bear Spray with you.
- Check the Weather: Check the current weather forecast and be prepared for quickly changing conditions.
- Travel safe: Don’t forget to buy Travel Insurance. Considering that anything can go wrong with any trip, we don’t want to risk the fun, right?
- Leave no Trace: Be a responsible traveler, it is all about enjoying nature and ensure you help to preserve the environment.
WHERE IS SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Before you start planning your trip to go explore the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains National Park, it is important to decide what part of the park you want to visit.
Great Smoky is located in the eastern part of the United States on the Tennessee-North Caroline borders. Close to Gatlinburg, one of the most visited towns in America, with tons of things to explore.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a thickly forested area with a stunning bio-diverse collection of mountains, valleys, and rivers.
The Elevation ranges from 875 feet to 6,643 feet at Clingmans Dome – the highest point in the park.
The Smoky Mountain National Park is open all day, every day of the year, though some facilities and roads can shut down in the wintertime.
ESSENTIAL GEARS FOR HIKING IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
- Portable water bottle: Remember to bring and drink a lot of water and if you need to refill, have a LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle is the best option.
- First-aid kit: Always remember to pack a first-aid kit for your hikes.
- Day-Backpack: I love my day-backpack and it is very handy for any hiking.
- Headlamps: Carry a flashlight or headlamp even on a day hike. If you have trouble on the trail, darkness may fall before you can finish your hike.
- Wear sturdy shoes for hiking: The most important thing is to protect your feet and avoid twisting your ankle and get injured. I recommend investing in a good hiking boots brand such as Teva, Salomon, or even Keens.
- Moisture-wicking clothing: These clothes help to pull the sweat away from your body and stay cool and dry during your hiking such as light hiking pants & long sleeves shirts.
- Warm-Layers: Early morning or late night can get cold so it is important to bring layers, a lightweight puffy jacket is a must!
- Packing for winter hiking: During winter it is cold, so make sure to have a good quality hiking jacket and pack a warm pair of pants for your hike.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses: It is always important to protect yourself against the sun. Bring a hat with a good face cover like this one and don’t forget to pack a pair of polarized sunglasses
- Bring along some food or snacks: Eating on trails is prohibited (with good reason), but it’s a good idea to pack trail mix or cereal bars to munch on at visitor centers or in the car.
- Bring your Camera: The Smoky Mountains is so unique and incredible, so don’t forget your camera, or check some great value options here
PACK SMART ALERT!
If you are planning to carry a backpack during your hiking in the Smoky Mountains, I have compiled a very detailed review of the Best Backpacks for Travel in the market today – Also, it doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter, you will need a good jacket to go hike in the Smoky Mountains, so check my complete review guide on the Top Jackets for Travel and pack smart!
TENNESSE: BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
1 – ROCKY TOP TRAIL
- LOCATION: Blount County, Tennessee
- STARTING POINT: Cades Cove Picnic Area
- LEVEL: Difficult
- DISTANCE: 13.9 miles roundtrip
- BEST FOR: Views and wildflowers
CONTRIBUTED BY: Robin from Road Affair
The Smoky Mountains is considered one of the best National Parks in the USA, and it offers incredible hiking opportunities.
The scenic Rocky Top hike on Thunderhead Mountain has most hikers huffing and puffing, but the view is definitely worth it! The elevation gain is almost 4,000 feet and the hike takes most people between 7 – 9 hours to complete.
The trail is suitable for horseback and after a short walk, the Anthony Creek Horse Camp will appear. (Be sure to watch your step for anything left behind by the horses). About 2 miles in following the Russell Field Trail. Around mile 3.5 Anthony Creek Trail will join with Bote Mountain trail and the elevation will begin to increase.
A little after 5 miles Spence Field offers a beautiful reprieve. On a clear day, the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains is visible. The meadows and hillsides are decorated with flowers in the summer. After Spence Field hike east.
Thunderhead Mountain has 3 summits, the first is Rocky Top. As yes, it’s said to be the inspiration of the University of Tennessee’s fight song.
Rocky Top is a little more than a mile from the Appalachian Trail / Bote Mountain junction and requires a pretty steep climb (more than 550 feet), but it truly has some of the best views in all of our national parks.
2 – GROTTO FALLS TRAIL
- LOCATION: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- STARTING POINT: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- LEVEL: Easy
- DISTANCE: 2.6 miles
- BEST FOR: Waterfalls, wildlife and, if you’re lucky, black bear
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jarrod from Ramble Around the World
Grotto Falls Trail, located on the inner edge of the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the bustling town of Gatlinburg, is one of the most highly rated and heavily hiked trails inside the Smokies — and for good reason.
The 2.6-mile hike is relatively easy with small inclines throughout, but the payoff views are what hikers seek. After traversing 1.3 miles among serene nature from the trailhead off Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, hikers are greeted by the Roaring Fork River living up to its name.
Once you reach the river, hikers are met by Grotto Falls, which stands about 15 feet high and is perched far enough from its natural rock wall that they can walk behind it without getting wet. But while the namesake Grotto Falls is typically packed with people waiting to snap pictures, hikers can check out the many miniature waterfalls downstream.
The downstream falls, often unnamed and unvisited, feature beautiful moss-covered rocks, fallen trees that have been smoothed by the flowing water, and some of the most serene waterfall sound in the park. However, this trail gets pretty packed and there’s limited parking at the trailhead, so you’ll want to arrive before 9 a.m. to ensure a good spot and an uncrowded trail.
Plus, you’ll get to experience all the wildlife just rising for the day — and maybe spot a few black bears roaming the woods.
3 – BLUE HOLE AND GREETER FALLS HIKE
- LOCATION: Cumberland State Park
- STARTING POINT:
- LEVEL: Moderate
- DISTANCE: 3.5 miles | 5.6 km
- BEST FOR: Waterfall views and swimming
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mike from FivePax Family Travel
Some of the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains are located just east of the National Park in Tennessee.
The Blue Hole and Greeter Falls hike in Cumberland State Park highlights both a stunning 50-foot waterfall as well as a beautiful swimming hole at the base of smaller falls a bit upstream.
The trail immediately splits from the parking area so a pro tip is to hike to Greeter Falls first to work up a sweat and then take a dip in the Blue Hole. The hike itself is moderate, certainly doable as a family hike, but definitely not accessible.
The descent to the base of Greeter Falls features a steep spiral metal staircase and slippery rock from the mist. For that Instagram-worthy photo, it is best to arrive early in the morning or on weekdays because both locations are popular for swimming. Beyond the two centerpieces, the hike continues through the lush hills with emerald green vegetation and the chance to see wildlife.
There is a parking lot at the trailhead that technically does not open until 8:00 am, but people have been known to arrive a bit early.
4 – SAVAGE GULF OVERLOOK HIKE
- LOCATION: Cumberland State Park
- STARTING POINT:
- LEVEL: Easy to Extreme
- DISTANCE: 1 Mile (1.6km) to 26.2 Miles (42km)
- BEST FOR: Stunning views
This is one of the most unique hikes in the Smokies. Even without the stunning views, whoever named the town “Beersheba Springs,” the hike “Great Stone Door,” or the “Savage Gulf Overlook” was really doing a favor to visitors looking to write home with something that at least sounds out of this world.
The fact is that the hike features views overlooking the rolling mountains from a ledge that actually are out of this world in one of the best trail systems in the state of Tennessee.
The beginning of the trail is heavily trafficked for good reason. The lookout is an easy 1 mile (1.6km) hike from the rather large parking lot, but for those looking to log a workout, the hike can be extended to a difficult and moderately trafficked 8.7 miles (14km).
For fitness-focused hikers, there is even a literal marathon trail at 26.2 miles (42km). Just be sure to check with the ranger before embarking on the longest trail because apps like AllTrails are a bit sketchy with the map.
The small surrounding towns do not inspire the taste buds, but after a holdover with trail snacks, Nashville-style Hot Chicken at Champy’s in either nearby Chattanooga or Murfreesboro will more than satisfy.
5 – LAUREL FALLS HIKE
- LOCATION: Near Gatlinburg
- STARTING POINT: Little River Road
- LEVEL: Easy to Moderate
- DISTANCE: 2.6 Miles
- BEST FOR: Waterfall views and wildlife
CONTRIBUTED BY: Cee from Itz a Family Thing
One of the best and kid-friendly hikes in the Great Smokies is Laurel Falls. What makes this hike perfect for everyone is the slight incline and paved walking path. There isn’t difficult terrain to maneuver, so it is just a nice brisk walk up the mountain.
You will see everyone on the trail from toddlers who are barely walking to the young at heart. The total length of the trail is only 2.6 miles, so it can be done in less than 2 hours, depending on how long you stay at the waterfall.
When you get to the top of the mountain, you will be rewarded with a picturesque view of the waterfalls. To get an amazing view, you can carefully climb to the bottom of the falls.
Keep in mind, although this is a popular trail, you will be in the territory of bears. Black bears frequent this area, so keep an eye out. You may be able to spot a bear or a cub along the way. Remember, do not leave trash along the trail, this is dangerous for the wildlife, and has lead to the death of several black bears.
It is better to arrive early, as the hike gets crowded throughout the day. The good thing is that most of the hike is shaded by trees, so the hike isn’t too hot. There are markers along the trail, the waterfalls are after the10th.
6 – CLINGMANS DOME LOOKOUT HIKE
- LOCATION: Gatlinburg
- STARTING POINT: Dome Road to the large parking area at the end
- LEVEL: Easy
- DISTANCE: 1 Mile
- BEST FOR: Panoramic views of the Smoky Mountain National Park
CONTRIBUTED BY: Val and Nick from Wandering Wheatleys
One of the best things to do when you are visiting Gatlinburg is to hike the Clingmans Dome Lookout. The Clingmans Dome Lookout hike is a relatively easy hike in the Smoky Mountains for any experience level. It’s just .5 miles each way and it’s paved the whole way so it’s accessible to all.
Expect to spend about an hour hiking out and back which also allows for some time to soak in the views at the top. You’ll begin the hike at the Clingmans Dome Parking Lot which is very small given the popularity of this hike so be sure to arrive early to score a spot.
There’s a visitor center at the parking lot in case you need to stock up on water or snacks before you start. At the end of the hike is a large concrete structure that allows visitors to climb above the trees for spectacular and unobstructed views of the park. This is the highest point in all of Tennessee, with 6,643 feet so it’s not to be missed during a trip to the Smoky Mountains!
On a clear day, the views expand over 100 miles. Although Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is open year-round, the road leading to it is closed seasonal typically from early December through late March, and whenever weather conditions require.
7 – ABRAMS FALLS HIKE
- LOCATION: Gatlinburg
- STARTING POINT: Hike starts from the Abram Falls Trailhead, on the western end of Cades Cove
- LEVEL: Moderate
- DISTANCE: 5.5 Miles
- BEST FOR: The waterfalls views
One of the best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains is Abrams Falls, located near Cades Cove. It is around 5.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 629 and is rated as moderate. This phenomenal trail features a 25-foot waterfall, considered one of the most voluminous waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it is incredible to visit in the Fall.
The tantalizing view of the pool and waterfall behind it may be hard to resist, but park officials urge hikers to show restraint for safety purposes. It is extremely dangerous to swim here due to the unexpected strong currents.
It takes about 3-4 hours to hike to the waterfall and back. Please remember that if you begin your hike late in the afternoon, you may have to return in the dark! Since this trail is located in Cades Cove, one of the most popular places to experience during sunrise due to the foggy feel, it is recommended to hike this trail right after you explore Cades Cove.
The crowds are low due to it being so early in the morning, and you have a chance to have the waterfall all to yourself.
The park closes the Cades Cove Loop Road to motor vehicle traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m., between early May and late September of each year, to allow cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the cove.
Courtyard By Marriott Gatlinburg Downtown: A great place to stay near the waterfall. The hotel is modern, and the staff is amiable, and the hotel is a walk away from the main street.
Rast Court Cabin 1016: This is a fabulous rental home with a hot tub and mountain views. You can also play tennis at the property and this area is popular for golfing and biking.
NORTH CAROLINE – BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
8 – DEEP CREEK
- LOCATION: Near Bryson City, North Carolina
- STARTING POINT: When you get close to Bryson City, follow the signs. Hiking starts on the right at the parking
- LEVEL: Mostly easy with one moderate but short uphill climb
- DISTANCE: 2.4 miles round trip
- BEST FOR: During the hike you will pass 3 waterfalls
CONTRIBUTED BY: Karen from Somewhere Down South
One of the most beautiful parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to go hike is the easily accessible Deep Creek. This is an area just outside of the lovely town of Bryson city that is predominantly known for tubing. However, there are also three short hikes that will take you to three different waterfalls.
These can be done as one loop and are perfect hikes for families with children or when you only have a short time to walk. You can see all three fall within a couple of hours depending on how long you linger at each.
Trails to the waterfalls start from the large parking area at the end of Deep Creek Road across the street from the camping area. Shortly after you begin walking down the wide, well-trodden trail you will see a sign pointing uphill to Juney Whank Falls.
Take this short but steep spur to see this first of the three falls. Juney Whank Falls even has a bridge that allows you to stand directly in front of the waterfall to view it. Come back down to the main trail and turn left to continue on to Tom Branch Falls. You can’t miss it.
You will see it tumbling down the mountainside and splashing into the creek below. It is stunning! There are some benches at this location in case you want to sit and enjoy the view for a bit. Now continue on down the trail. You will be walking alongside the creek, then cross over on a wooden pedestrian bridge.
The trail heads uphill, but not too steeply until you see a sign for Indian Creek Falls. Follow the sign to the last waterfall on this loop. After viewing the pretty Indian Creek Falls simply retrace your steps back to your car. This is a short and simple, but absolutely gorgeous hike!
9 – SHUCKSTACK FIRE TOWER HIKE
- LOCATION: Fontana Dam, NC
- STARTING POINT: The trail to Shuckstack begins about 0.6 mile from the Fontana Dam
- LEVEL: Difficult
- DISTANCE: 7 miles round trip
- BEST FOR: Views of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
CONTRIBUTED BY: Gaby from Journey to the Destination
The Shuckstack Fire Tower is strenuous hiking in Smoky Mountain, but it offers the opportunity for great views along the way, and the view from the tower is immaculate.
In the 1930s, several different fire towers were constructed in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to watch for wildfires. The Shuckstack Fire Tower is one of the few remaining towers and it has amazing views of the National Park!
To get to the Shuckstack Fire tower, start on the Appalachian trail after crossing Fontana Dam. While Shuckstack Fire Tower is only a 3.5-mile hike from the starting point, it is a difficult hike. Expect to gain over 2,000 feet in elevation in those 3.5 miles!
Even though it is a difficult hike, the views are well worth it. Just be aware that the Shuckstack Fire Tower is no longer maintained by the National Park Service and may not be safe to climb.
This trail is used for hiking, camping, horses, and backpacking and it is best used from May until September.
10 – FIRES CREEK FALLS TRAIL
- LOCATION: North of Hayesville
- STARTING POINT: trail begins at Fires Creek Picnic Area
- LEVEL: Moderate
- DISTANCE: 7.6 Miles
- BEST FOR: Waterfalls, picnic area and tranquil views of the forest | This trail is dog-friendly
One of the hidden gem hikes in the Smoky Mountains is the Fires Creek Falls trails. The Fires Creek Recreation Area is part of the Nantahala National Forest, this remote area offers great hiking trails, waterfalls, picnic areas, and options to go fishing.
The main trail is a 7.6-mile hike. The area offers a number of excellent trails, including a designated horseback trail and horse camp. Clover Loop is an easy 0.3-mile trail that is handicap accessible. Other popular foot trails include Leatherwood Loop Trail (0.7 miles), Leatherwood Branch Access (3.5 miles).
The 25-mile Rim Trail in the Fires Creek Backcountry Area is a hiking trail, however, some trail sections are open to horses. As the name implies, the Rim Trail climbs the ridge around Fires Creek and makes a large loop. The trail offers vistas as it crosses several high elevation balds.
One of the highlights of the trail is the falls. Because this area is rocky, you will find numerous smalls drops and cascades during your hike. The Fires Creek Falls is a short cascade that is tucked into a little covered area, which is almost directly next to the picnic area.
The perfect adjectives to describe this area are peaceful and tranquil, which makes a perfect option to go hike in the Smoky Mountains and to have a picnic at the end of your hike while you enjoy nature.
Hidden Valley B&B – This B&B offers a fabulous fresh breakfast, and all the units are very spacious and comfortable and have a hot tub
Little Red Adorable Tiny Home – Located in the Nantahala forest, this tiny home is an excellent accommodation if you are hiking in this area. This propriety is also dog-friendly.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
I never leave my home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. Things can go wrong, and you don’t want to get stuck paying tons of money if you get sick or have an accident without travel insurance.
World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover their trip essentials. Especially if you are like me, travel insurance is ideal for adventurous travelers.
Travel smarter and safer – You can do your quick quote below and find out how little you can pay for the essential benefit of Travel Insurance for your next trip!
BEST HIKES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES
PLANNING A TRIP TO SMOKY MOUNTAINS
If you are going to travel to the Smoky Mountains National Park, pre-planning, research, and understanding what you are looking for will help make your travels far more successful and safe.
Here is some further information I think you might need to plan your trip:
- Make sure you are prepared before you go hiking: A Completely Fitness Preparation Guide for Hiking
- Traveling by RV? Check How to rent an RV for a road trip in the USA
- More ideas for unique USA Travel Itinerary
SMOKY MOUNTAINS GUIDE BOOK & MAP
Here are some excellent guidebooks and maps to help in preparation for your trip to the Smoky Mountain National Park.
RENTAL CAR FOR YOUR TRIP TO THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
If you are planning to rent a car for your trip to the Smoky Mountains, I recommend requesting a quote and comparing prices for different rental car providers to get the best deal.
WHERE TO STAY IN SMOKY MOUNTAINS
First of all, you need to decide what area of Smoky Mountains you intend to visit.
- TENNESSEE: Two popular locations are Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, because of the proximity to the Smokies.
- NORTH CAROLINE: The quench town of Murphy, the beautiful area of Robbinsville, and the wonderful Hayesville are all great options.
As far as the type of accommodations, it will depend on your budget and travel preference, you can choose from hotels, B&B, private cabins, RV parks, or camping. I have added the best options for accommodations for each location between the hotel, B&B, and private cabins.
If you are planning to travel by RV, check All you need to know before you rent an RV.
BEST TIME TO VISIT AND GO HIKE IN SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open year-round:
- SPRING: The spring months in the Smoky Mountains are nice because trees, flowers, and wildlife are waking from their winter slumber. March weather can be slightly unpredictable, and you may find some mountain roads closed due to snow or ice
- SUMMER (June, July, August): The popular summer season is when wildlife is active, waterfalls are flowing, and trails are open.
- FALL (October): It is when the fall foliage is at its peak. The air is cooler, and the brilliant colors are stunning across the dense forest.
- WINTER (December to February: Have the fewest tourists, but also have the coldest weather. You can still hike in the mountains, but some trails and roads will likely be closed in the higher elevations from icy conditions.
Also, remember to check the weather at the Smoky Mountains National Park before you start to prepare for your trip.
WHAT IS NEXT
If you love these best hikes in the Smoky Mountain Guide, you may enjoy these other guides too:
Check the Best Hikes in Arizona for some of the best spots for hikes in the U.S.
This guide fr the Bet Hikes in Sedona has all you need to know to go hiking here
If you dream to go hiking in South America you must check this guide
Check more ideas here on my Hiking Guide and get inspired
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Plan your Trip
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