Summer is just around the bend, and so is your next outdoor excursion to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Of all the national parks in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited. In 2016 alone, over 11.3 million people visited the park.
The park itself is centered around the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, which is a component of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This area is also part of the greater Appalachian Mountain Range.
The park is rich with natural beauty and features elevations ranging from 876 feet near Abrams Falls (#3 on the list below) to about 6,600 feet at the peak of Clingmans Dome (#1 on the list below).
Interestingly, the park’s climate is typically high in humidity, as well as precipitation. In fact, rainfall in the park is higher than anywhere else in the U.S. (but not as much as levels seen in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and Alaska).
High precipitation levels and old growth forests have created a park which is rich with life. As such, the park is home to an estimated 10,000 different species of plants and animals. However, there could be many, many more undocumented species.
With so much to explore, hiking in the Smoky Mountains is by far the best way to get acquainted with this historic national park.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the best trails and hiking destinations it has to offer.
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains
Nestled between the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains is a park blooming with outdoor fun and adventure.
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is one of the most popular activities in the park.
It features over 150 hiking trails, snaking their way through the park for over 850 miles within park limits. The trails also feature a 70-mile segment of the fabled Appalachian Trail.
With so many miles of trail available, it’s sometimes difficult deciding where to begin.
Natural beauty abounds within the expanse of the park, so use this list as a compass to help get yourself hiking in the Smoky Mountains.
1. Clingmans Dome
Did you know hiking in the Smoky Mountains can bring you to the highest peak in all of Tennesee?
Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the park with an elevation of 6,643 feet.
This destination features an observation dome which provides a 360-degree view of the park. If the weather is clear, visitors are able to see 100 miles in all directions (that is, if air pollution doesn’t get in the way).
If the weather is clear, visitors are able to see 100 miles in all directions.
The trail to the summit is paved, but steep. Additionally, there are a few trails which begin on the road and parking area.
If you’re hiking in the Smoky Mountains, Clingmans Dome is a must see.
2. Charlies Bunion
If you’re looking for more mountaintop views, look no further than Charlies Bunion.
The stone outcrop is located on the Appalachian Trail, not far from where the trail meets the Clingmans Dome.
The trail distance measures about four miles with an elevation change of 1,600 feet.
The trail is hard packed and even crosses exposed cliffs.
3. Abrams Falls
Named after a Cherokee chief, Abrams Falls measures about 20 feet high.
While the waterfall might be short in stature, its bottom features a lengthy and very deep pool of water.
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains along this trail will offer views of the lush pine and oak forest in higher elevations. The creek itself, however, is lined with rhododendron.
This five-mile round trip is considered somewhat difficult, so come prepared.
4. Deep Creek
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains offers multitudes of geographical features to soak in.
The Deep Creek portion of the park is renowned for its idyllic waterfalls and streams.
There are several trails which loop towards the three waterfalls. This jaunt will take you about two miles.
This spot also features one of the only trails in the park which allows bicycling.
5. Alum Cave
This trail takes you over the Alum Cave Creek and through the woods of an old-growth forest.
A noted favorite of park visitors is following the trail through the Arch Rock tunnel.
About two miles of hiking in this area brings you to the Alum Cave Bluffs. The trail continues to the summit of Mount Le Conte, which offers more bird’s eye views of the park.
6. Andrews Bald
Coming down from the peak of Clingmans Dome, hiking in the Smoky Mountains using this trail will bring you to a grassy clearing.
But you have to go through the forest first.
Hikers are often able to find wild berries growing alongside patches of blue wildflowers.
7. Rainbow Falls
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is a colorful experience with this location.
After hiking for about two miles and traversing a few log bridges, hikers come upon the aptly named Rainbow Falls.
The waterfall is 80 feet tall, and the mist forms rainbows when the light hits it right.
8. Chimney Tops
Another hiker favorite, Chimney Tops is held dear for its scenic outlooks.
The trail crosses several streams before beginning the 1,400-foot ascent over the course of two miles.
In order to reach the peak, however, hikers must scramble over rocks. So come prepared with a sturdy pair of shoes!
9. Grotto Falls
Other trails might offer views of rainbow-colored waterfalls. The trail to Grotto Falls, however, takes hikers behind the waterfall itself.
The trail to Grotto Falls, however, takes hikers behind the waterfall itself.
This trail is about 1.5 miles one way and runs behind the 25-foot tall waterfall.
It’s a great place to see salamanders or to cool off in the waterfall mist.
10. Kephart Prong Trail
For trails that are kid friendly, look no further than the Kephart Prong Trail.
The trail crosses numerous log bridges, which offer a unique opportunity to educate your little ones about the area’s logging history.
The trail is also a great place to view different wildlife.
Resting your feet
With the trails behind you and the next day ahead, it’s best to catch your breath and rest your tired feet.
But why try pitch a tent when you can take a load off in a luxury cabin?
Or, if you’re making the most of your time in nature, why not a secluded cabin?
Whether you’re planning a family vacation or a honeymoon, the Great Smoky Mountains makes for a terrific getaway destination.