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Did you know that over 11 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2016?

And if you and your family are joining the crowd, you might be surprised by all the options for hiking. So take a break from Dollywood, Wonderworks, and all the other big city attractions and get out in the great outdoors!

Knowing which trail to take can be a difficult choice to make. And if you have small kids, chances are you want to know how difficult the hike will be.

Lucky for you, this article will tell you everything you need to know. Read on for the top five hikes!

1. Clingman’s Dome (1.25 miles)

Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park!  Not only is it the highest in the park, it’s also the highest point in Tennessee AND the highest point on the entire 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail.  While this hike is short in mileage, it makes up for that in elevation gain!

Follow the paved trail at the end of the parking lot.  You’ll climb up the trail and there will be plenty of spots to take a break and take in the views as you go.

Chris Light [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Arrive at the tower and walk the ramp to the very top.  Scenic views in every direction will take your breath away.  On a clear day you’ll have visibility up to 100 miles away!  And remember, it’s downhill all the way back to the parking lot!

*Clingman’s Dome Road is accessible April 1 through November 30th yearly, weather permitting. This is the highest elevation road you’ll find east of the Mississippi River – so check road conditions before planning your trip.

2. Laurel Falls (2.9 miles)

Laurel Falls is a beautiful hike to take, and it’s one that won’t be difficult for small children. Clocking in at under three miles, this trail could be a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.

One nice part about this trail is that it has pavement. This means you won’t have to worry about anyone tripping over rocks or tree roots. Also, this trail tends to have lots of great shade.

Oh, and the falls?

Yeah, this hike can get wet. While not everyone chooses to swim at the waterfall on the top, a good majority of hikers do. There is a nice pool of water you can dip in.

Keep in mind that because this trail is easy and beautiful, many other families will be taking this one as well. Try to find a time that is less crowded.

Even though the trail is very popular, it’s also popular with the Smokies’ most famous resident – the black bear! Always follow wildlife viewing guidelines and give all wild animals plenty of space.

Also, avoid this trail if you want to give your child space to explore. There are plenty of steep ledges to watch out for.

3. Andrews Bald (3.5 miles)

If you’re looking for a trail with a bit more difficulty, Andrews Bald is a good option. Although it’s moderately difficult, this one is worth it for the views.

Andrews Bald is one of the highest peaks in the Smokies (at 6310 feet), and most of the elevation gain is done by car! After parking, you only have to hike 1.75 miles to reach the summit.

This trail isn’t a great option if you have smaller children. But most kids over the age of 8 should be able to take on this hike. Just don’t be surprised if you hear some complaining.

This trail is not a good trail if you or someone has bad knees. The trail requires hikers to take some steps to reach the bald.

When you reach the clearing, keep walking for another hundred yards to see the best view. You won’t regret it, and you could even stop for a picnic there.

Keep in mind that Andrews Bald is also a popular destination to hike. Arrive early or on a less busy day to make sure you get parking at the popular Clingman’s Dome parking area.

*Clingman’s Dome Road is accessible April 1 through November 30th yearly, weather permitting. This is the highest elevation road you’ll find east of the Mississippi River – so check road conditions before planning your trip.

4. Mt. LeConte (11.0 Miles via Alum Cave)

Mt. LeConte is not a hike for the weak.

In fact, it’s one of the more difficult hikes in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But, it’s also one of the most iconic trips you can take. Alum Cave Trail is often considered the most scenic trail in the Smokies.

If your children (and you!) are in good shape, try this trail out. At the top, you’ll see one of the most beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains.

After 1 mile you’ll come to Arch Rock – a gorgeous cave that twists up through the rock on a set of stairs.

Approximately 2 miles in, you arrive at Inspiration Point.  This amazing rocky heath bald has sweeping views of the Chimney Tops and the Sugarlands.  The mountain laurel, azaleas, and myrtle put on a stunning floral display in the late spring and early summer months.

At approximately 2.5 miles you’ll reach Alum Cave – the halfway point of the trail.  This stunning trail formation is incredibly unique in the Smoky Mountains – it contains microbes only found in desert climates!  Considering the Smoky Mountains is a temperate rain forest, this is an amazing microclimate!

Alum Cave Bluff in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you’re tired here, you can always turn around and head back down.  Many hikers do!

There are a few different ways to hike Mt. LeConte, but for most first-timers, the Alum Cave Trail might be your best option. Four other trails heading up to Mt. LeConte will give you different views and places to explore though.

When you reach the top, there are cabins that you can reserve for a night. If you want to do this, you’ll have to book far in advance, about a year before your trip!  Reservations open yearly in October for the following year.  If an overnight trip isn’t for you, make sure you buy the T-shirt, updated yearly, at the Lodge Store at the summit!

5. Rocky Top (13.9 miles)

Near Cades Cove, there is a place called Rocky Top. If you’re looking for a beautiful, strenuous, and historic hike this is it.

This hike is incredibly difficult, and depending on your preferences, it may even be harder than Mt. LeConte.

Throughout the hike, you’ll see stunning views of the North Carolina side of the park. You may even find yourself stopping a few times while hiking.

You’ll also get to walk through beautiful meadows once you reach the Appalachian Trail. Although they are pretty year-round, summertime is the best option for this.

After spending some time on the Appalachian Trail, you’ll start your trek to Rocky Top. When you make it, you’ll see one of the most spectacular views of the Smokies.

One interesting thing about this hike is that there is a popular song about it. Called Rocky Top, this song is the unofficial fight song of the University of Tennessee.

This hike would be very difficult for young children or people who can’t do long and strenuous hikes. But if you choose to brave it, you’ll see why Tennesseans call it home sweet home.

Looking for More About the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Now that you know some of our favorite hikes for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you should be ready to plan your trip. Before you know it, you’ll want to stay forever. By booking one of our great Gatlinburg Cabins, you’ll be close to the park for those early morning hikes!

Lake Life - a rental cabin on Douglas Lake

Give our Reservations staff a call at 800-204-5169 or check out our website.  No matter your group size or budget, American Patriot Getaways has a cabin for you!

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