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 to about 6,600 feet at the peak of Clingmans Dome.
Interestingly, the park’s climate is typically high in humidity, as well as precipitation. In fact, rainfall in the park is higher than many places in the U.S. It isn’t uncommon to see 80 inches of rain in the high elevations every year!
High precipitation levels and the largest patch of old growth forest left on the east coast 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.
Once you know how to have the best experience on our hiking trails, explore some of the best trails and hiking destinations the park has to offer.
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains
Nestled in the woods across 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 800 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 Tennessee?
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 just off the world-famous Appalachian Trail, not far from where the trail meets Newfound Gap.
The trail distance measures about four miles one way (8 miles round trip) with an elevation change of 1,600 feet.
The trail is hard packed and easy to follow – trust the white blazes.
3. Abrams Falls
While the waterfall might be short in stature, its bottom features a lengthy and very deep pool of water. Due to the unique geologic features of this pool, swimming is incredibly dangerous here.
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 a great full day hike for a family – so bring a picnic and enjoy!
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 toward the three waterfalls Juney Whank Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Tom Branch Falls. This jaunt will take you about two miles round trip.
This spot also features one of the only trails in the park which allows bicycling.
5. Alum Cave
A noted favorite of park visitors is following the trail through the Arch Rock tunnel, which was created due to freeze-thaw cycles over centuries.
Climbing steadily, at two miles you’ll reach the amazing Inspiration Point. You’ll be tempted to stop on this gorgeous heath bald and watch the peregrine falcons soaring across the air currents.
About two and a half miles of hiking in this area brings you to the Alum Cave Bluffs. The trail continues to the summit of Mount LeConte, and is more strenuous from here. Round trip to Alum Cave and back is approximately 5 miles.
6. Andrews Bald
Parking in the same lot as Clingmans Dome, hiking in the Smoky Mountains using Forney Ridge Trail will bring you to a stunning grassy clearing.
But you have to go through the boreal forest first.
Hikers are often able to find a bit more peace and quiet here than they would at the neighboring Clingmans Dome.
7. Rainbow Falls
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is a colorful experience with this location.
After hiking for about two and a half 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 just right.
8. Chimney Tops
The trail crosses several streams before beginning the 1,400-foot ascent over the course of two miles.
While you can no longer visit the peak of this trail due to fire damage, the hike is still strenuous and good footwear is required.
9. Grotto Falls
Other trails might offer views of rainbow-creating waterfalls. 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.
In the summer months, you might even see the llama train that carries goods to and from the famous Mt. LeConte Lodge.
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.
Get a true taste of the backcountry by hiking in two miles to the Kephart Prong backcountry shelter. See where backpackers can stay the night for a $4 fee.
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?
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our other Smoky Mountain Vacation Guides!