There is no question that the Great Smoky Mountains offer some of the most scenic views and beautiful landscapes in the United States. The best way to see these amazing surroundings during your visit is definitely on a hike—just you and the woods, with nothing to take away from the purity of the experience. There are many hikes to choose from, but here are some of the best, in varying degrees of difficulty.
- Check out the Sugarlands, located on the Tennessee side of the park, so named because of their history as a maple grove. Hike the one-mile loop from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the John Ownby cabin and check out the remnants of the area’s original Scotch-Irish, English and German settlers. Difficulty: Easy
- Rainbow Falls Trail is one of the best hikes on the Tennessee side of the park and part of the Cherokee Orchard/Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. You’ll pass Rainbow Falls, a portion of LeConte Creek that pours for 80 feet over a rock cliff. It earns its name from the rainbow that the afternoon sun reveals when it hits the water at the right angle. The hike is 2.6 miles each direction, but there is a great break around the 2.5 mile mark, where you can see the entire valley. Difficulty: Moderate
- If you feel up to it, don’t miss hikes that pass Grotto Falls. On your way, you’ll pass through the Trillium Gap, an amazing scene in springtime when all of the region’s wildflowers are in full bloom. All trails cross the Roaring Fork River in their gentle ascent. At the 1.1 mile mark, a creek deepens into a pool and you will enter a narrow defile while the Roaring Fork River hurtles downward in the Grotto Falls. You will pass behind the waterfall, so be careful as you walk on the wet rocks. The hike is about 1.2 miles each way. Difficulty: Moderate
- If you are into waterfalls, try the Metcalf Bottoms trails. Hike from the Sinks, home of the Little River Rock Bowl past Meigs Creek and Meigs Creek Falls. During the 3.5 mile (one way) hike, you will cross the creek 15 times without the help of bridges, so wear some waterproof boots! Difficulty: Moderate
- On a clear day, pick the hike from the Low Gap Trailhead. On your way to the top of Mt. Cammerer, you will hike up to 4,928 feet. Although this is the shortest route, it is still 12 miles round trip and relatively steep. Difficulty: Strenuous
- Just outside of Gatlinburg is Greenbrier, Tennessee, the starting point for the Porter’s Creek Trail. This trail offers streams, forests, ruins from early settlers, a waterfall, and seasonally, some beautiful wildflowers. All this in just four miles roundtrip. Difficulty: Moderate
- The Andrews Bald Trail will take you to an important Smoky Mountains landmark: Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park. This view is unmatched, though the 3.6 mile hike (one way) can be tough. Difficulty: Moderate
- The Chimney Tops Trail is one of the Smoky Mountain’s most popular hikes for a reason. Get up early to beat the crowds to see the incredible views unfettered. Though the hike is just two miles to the top, it is a steep two miles. Difficulty: Strenuous
- The Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is a perfect hike for a group with small children. The trail is paved and level, and is only 3,000 feet long. Difficulty: Easy
- If your trip needs a difficult hike to round it out, try the Ramsay Cascades Trail. At eight miles round trip, the incline of the trail steady increases as you approach the magnificent Ramsay Cascades Waterfall. Be sure to bring some water for this approximately four-hour hike. Difficulty: Strenuous
Be sure the hike you choose is appropriate for your skill level, and pack an adequate amount of water and first aid supplies. Wear appropriate boots, and never hike alone. Follow these guidelines, choose the hike that sounds best for you and your partner, and get going! And after you are done, get some rest at a one of the beautiful Gatlinburg cabins.