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Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking – Appalachian Trail & Beyond

Trip Length4 Days
Group Size4-6
Activity level
Starting from
$1,399 for REI Members
$1,539 for non-members
DeparturesApr 2024-Oct 2025

The Great Smoky Mountains rise up from the surrounding scenery, offering up a taste of the Appalachian trail on this 4-day backpacking trip.

The famed Appalachian Trail provides a rejuvenating path for adventurers each year. We hike only a short section of this classic route, but the journey is challenging for experienced backpackers and fit beginners alike. Along the way, expert guides share their deep knowledge, backpacking techniques and naturalist expertise. The Appalachian Trail provides us with a great opportunity to experience life as a thru-hiker.

Each morning, awaken to the symphony of the forest, a wonderful benefit to life on the trail. We'll trek past expansive mountain views, traverseing narrow ridgelines and walking amongst some of the East Coast's most ancient trees. Our trip culminates with gratitude, spending the last few hours among new friends. Those who choose this adventure know why it is among America's most iconic national parks and a choice journey among backpackers the world over.

With a freshly brewed cup of coffee in hand, experience the tranquilty of early mornings in the Smokies.

Trip Highlights

  • Savor panoramic views, and walk among ancient trees
  • Get exposure to the thru-hiker lifestyle while backpacking adjacent to the historic Appalachian Trail
  • Hike 3–13 miles per day over high ridgelines, rocky outcroppings, and open forest
  • Follow expert guides who bring this majestic and historic terrain to life


This trip is rated Moderate Plus [3-4]. We plan to hike for 6-10 hours per day most days on steep, rocky, rooty, wet, uneven and sometimes exposed terrain. Depending on permitted routing, one or more days of this itinerary may trend towards the high end of the level 3-4 activity rating: including backpacking up to 13 miles, with up to 3,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Participants will be carrying their own packs weighing 30-35 pounds throughout the trip. To maximize your enjoyment of the trip we suggest that you engage in a regular exercise regimen beginning at least three months prior to your departure. Most important to your enjoyment of the trip is your overall fitness level.

  • Backpacking

What's Included

Transfer from Day 1 meeting location to trailhead; all accommodations; meals as noted in the daily itinerary; professional instruction and guiding; group cooking gear; group first aid kit, water filter.


April-May: Tents. June-November: Combination of tents and primitive shelters. 3 nights.

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking – Appalachian Trail & Beyond

Route Variation

There are multiple routes that we may select from along the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains that will enable us to create a fantastic backpacking experience for guests, and we may utilize any of those options. Typically, we will cover 25-30 miles total over four days but may hike less or more depending on available permits. Our final route is determined by our guides and based on the availability of suitable shelter access and other factors which may be beyond our control. Changes in the availability of shelters from one departure date to the next will necessitate changes to the shelters we use each night, changes to the route and to the number of miles that we hike each day.

Day 1

Welcome to Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Our adventure begins this morning in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we will meet our guides and fellow travelers. After a brief orientation, pack check, and distribution of group gear we transfer to the trailhead to begin our exploration of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. On the trail we’ll pass through stunning meadows and magical old growth forests on the way to our stop for the first night. This evening we’ll enjoy dinner, recount the days adventure, and turn in for the evening under a blanket of stars. Dinner Included.

Mileage: varies between 3 – 5.5 miles depending on specific route with +/- 1,500-3,000' elevation change.

Day 2

Today we backpack the most remote and diverse sections of trail in the Smokies

Awaken to the symphony of the forest as we ease into our first day of life on the trail. Depending on our route we may find ourselves traversing the slopes of ancient Mount Guyot, the second highest peak in the Smokies, soaking in the spectacular views at Charlie's Bunion or working on our naturalist skills along some of the most remote trails in the eastern United States. Breakfast and dinner included.

Mileage: varies between 6.5 – 13 miles depending on specific route with +/- 1,500-3,000' elevation change.

Day 3

The Appalachian Trail awaits and provides us the opportunity to experience life as a thru-hiker

Rise and Shine! We'll start this morning with a trail breakfast and coffee to fuel a beautiful day of human powered exploration. Get ready for another day spent in awe as we hike among old growth Boreal forests and continue our journey along sections of the iconic Appalachian Trail. We'll get a feel for the thru-hiker experience and depending on our route may even have a chance to experience the most challenging sections of the AT in Great Smoky Mountains National Park today. Breakfast and dinner included.

Mileage: varies between 6 – 13 miles depending on specific route with +/- 1,500-3,000' elevation change.

Day 4

Cherish the last few hours spent among new friends along secluded trails in America's most visited national park

Today's journey is bittersweet as we continue to soak in breathtaking views and panoramas along our last miles back to the trailhead. Regardless of our route, we'll cherish these last few hours spent in the remote corners of the United States' most visited national park with passionate guides and like-minded new friends. Breakfast Included.

Mileage: varies between 3-11 miles depending on specific route with +/- 1,500-3,000' elevation change.

Note: Depending on the route you will be following, traffic in the area, trail conditions and other factors beyond our control, your group will likely arrive back in Gatlinburg in the early evening. We'd highly recommend delaying any travel plans until the morning after your trip concludes.

Itinerary map for Great Smoky Mountains Backpacking – Appalachian Trail & Beyond

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. Try to bring only what is necessary—this will help you and the field staff.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

We provide

  • All Group Cooking Gear
  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Large Plastic Garbage Bag
  • Stoves and Fuel
  • Tent(s)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Water Filter

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.