Best Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are more than 500,000 acres and full of trails that offer an abundance of adventure. Here are some favorites from our local expert.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an outdoor lover’s dream! It’s filled with wildlife, waterfalls, sweeping mountain views and beautiful wildflowers. It’s no wonder the Smokies are the most visited National Park in the U.S.—this place is a natural showoff. (Not to mention the park is free to enter!)

The Great Smoky Mountains cover more than 500,000 acres and are full of trails that offer abundant adventures. The park sees more than 14 million visitors per year, and it’s beautiful year-round. So, it’s no surprise that hiking in the Smokies is an extremely popular activity for locals and visitors alike. Waterfall hikes are a crowd favorite, especially in early spring or after a rainy period. While many opt to experience the park through visitor centers, viewpoints and car windshields, you’ll get a more intimate—and possibly more rewarding—experience through hiking the trails and immersing yourself in nature. (For more information about day hiking, read Day Hiking Essentials.)

We’re sharing some of the best Smoky Mountain hiking trails and what you can expect.

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

The park offers more than 800 miles of trails, including a section of the Appalachian Trail that runs the length of the park.

Overall, park trails are both well-maintained and well-signed, making navigation relatively easy. Be aware, though, that the park has numerous ancient way-trails called “manways” that can lead you astray. They can be easily avoided if you stick to the obvious main trails, especially when approaching switchbacks.

Now let’s get to the good stuff, so you can experience this amazing part of the Southeast for yourself! For more information on planning day hikes, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park hiking page.

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1. Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls Trail, Townsend, TN 37882
  • Location: Cades Cove, Tennessee
  • Length: 5.2 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate  
  • Best For: Families with older children 
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Abrams Falls is a popular waterfall hike that you can access through the Cades Cove driving loop. The trailhead will be past stop #10 and is well-marked. The path begins at a wooden bridge that intersects Abrams Creek.

You will cross three narrow bridges throughout the hike that add some fun to the trail. The falls are 20 feet high—which may not sound tall to some, but they are wide enough to give you a spectacular view. There is a large, deep pool at the base of the falls, but the park service warns people not to swim there due to dangerous undercurrents, so you should enjoy them from another vantage point. Many enthusiasts return to this trail time and again and love how well-maintained it is.

2. Grotto Falls Trail

Trillium Gap Trail, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Location: Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Length: 2.6 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate  
  • Best For: Families looking for a memorable adventure  
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Grotto Falls is a fun waterfall hike because (spoiler alert), you can walk under the falls! Be sure to arrive early if you’d like to enjoy this spot by yourself; otherwise, you may be stuck in a 20-minute wait to walk under the waterfall and take your pictures. There is roadside parking at Grotto Falls—not a dedicated lot—but once parked, there’s a large, easy-to-find sign that marks the beginning of the trail. The hike begins at the Trillium Gap Trail and immediately begins with an upward climb. You will cross four mini creeks that are usually shallow enough that you can hop across rocks to get back on the trail. Then you will go through a series of switchbacks heading upward until you reach the falls, 1.25 miles out. Walking under the falls is a reward after a hot and sweaty hike, since you can feel the cool mist of the water hit your face.

3. Mount Cammerer Trail

Low Gap Trail Access, TN 37722
  • Location: Cosby, Tennessee
  • Length: 11.1 miles round trip 
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult 
  • Best For: Experienced hikers looking for a challenge  
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Get ready for a heart-pumping hike, because 3,045 feet of elevation gain is no easy task! Mount Cammerer makes you work for the view, but it’s worth the relentless climb. It leads to a round stone tower that provides mountain views from every direction. The hike starts off at the Low Gap Trail for the first three miles (also the toughest, with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain) before you reach the Appalachian Trail. Talk about a workout! Then you will climb for another 0.7 miles (but not as steep as the previous climb) before the path starts to level off. The trail continues, and you walk along the ridge for another mile. The final 0.6 miles will become a rock scramble to the summit. Once at the top, be sure to enjoy the views; you worked for it.

4. Charlies Bunion Hiking Trail

Charlies Bunion, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Location: Newfound Gap Road, Tennessee
  • Length: 8.1 miles round trip
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: Intermediate hikers looking for a rewarding mountain view
  • Dogs: Not allowed

It’s no secret that Charlies Bunion is one of the most view-packed hikes in the Smokies. It’s an 8-mile hike that is a steady climb up to the top. The hike begins at the Newfound Gap Road parking lot which is a popular pull-off spot for people to take pictures of the mountain views.

The trail begins to the left of the parking lot and immediately starts off as a gradual climb up trail steps. As you round the corner, you will reach a rock scramble that eventually flattens out as you work your way up to the summit. Be careful if it is wet. The rocks will be very slippery, so be sure to take your time.

Once you reach the top, the trail opens into this huge rock outcropping where you can see layers of mountains as far as the eye can see. The top can get very crowded because there is limited space at the summit, therefore, many people take turns getting up to the rock.

5. Andrews Bald Hiking Trail

Andrews Bald Hiking Trail, Bryson City, North Carolina 28713
  • Location: Near Clingmans Dome in Bryson City, North Carolina  
  • Length: 3.6 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate to Difficult  
  • Best For: Experienced hikers looking for incredible views 
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Andrews Bald offers dramatic views and, in late spring and early summer, a colorful show of rhododendron and azalea blooms. For the uninitiated, a “bald” is a high-elevation meadow found in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Balds are also great places to enjoy some expansive views. Drawn to the highest point in the park, most tourists park in the Clingmans Dome lot and walk to the observation tower there. Hikers have an even better option: Trek the Forney Ridge Trail, which starts from the same parking lot and lets you leave the tower crowds far behind.

6. Ramsey Cascades Day Hike

Ramsey Cascades Trail, Ramsey Prong Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Location: Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Length: 8 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate to difficult 
  • Best For: Intermediate hikers seeking virtually undisturbed nature 
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

A beautiful hike to the tallest waterfall in the park, Ramsey Cascades will be less crowded than other waterfall trails but can still be busy during the peak summer season. You’ll separate yourself from less ambitious hikers, though, because Ramsey Cascades Trail gains more than 2,000 feet over its 4-mile course. Towards the end of the trailhead, the path becomes especially rugged. Requiring you to scramble over more than a few roots and stones before rock hopping over an additional stream and crossing over large boulders, the trip ends at the base of a dramatic waterfall that is well-worth the effort.

7. Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

Alum Cave Trail, Tennessee 37738
  • Location: Newfound Gap Road, Tennessee
  • Length: 11 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate to difficult 
  • Best For: Hikers looking for an adventure  
  • Dogs: Not allowed

This is a well-known hike thanks to its unique cave-like structure. Alum Cave Trail has many different features to keep you entertained, from narrow bridges to caves. For the first mile, you’ll walk alongside the creek on a wide, smooth trail. Then you will cross a bridge and trek under Arch Rock to continue the trail. At 2.3 miles, you’ll come across the Alum Cave Bluffs, where you can sit and take in the magnificent view of the cave and mountains. After taking a break, push forward on the trail for another 2.5 miles to reach the summit of Mount LeConte.

Other Activities in the Smokies

Fishing: Fishing is permitted year-round in the park’s nearly 3,000 miles of streams. Brook, rainbow and brown trout thrive here, along with smallmouth bass and rock bass. Available from nearby towns, a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina is required. Make sure to check local regulations before planning your trip.

Horseback Riding: There are four riding stables throughout the park where you can arrange to take guided horseback rides from mid-March through late November.

Kayaking/Canoeing: Flatwater paddling is available on Fontana Lake, which lies along the southern, North Carolina border of the park. Several private companies offer canoes and kayaks for rent here.

Snowsports: Because the park is open year-round, you can enjoy some snowy solitude by planning a well-equipped winter trip. That kind of adventure often entails hiking at lower elevations, then switching to cross-country skis or snowshoes higher up. 

 

For more adventures, get involved with REI classes and events at your local REI location. From hiking to paddling, we offer a variety of ways to help you get outdoors. 

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1. Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls Trail, Townsend, TN 37882
  • Location: Cades Cove, Tennessee
  • Length: 5.2 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate  
  • Best For: Families with older children 
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Abrams Falls is a popular waterfall hike that you can access through the Cades Cove driving loop. The trailhead will be past stop #10 and is well-marked. The path begins at a wooden bridge that intersects Abrams Creek.

You will cross three narrow bridges throughout the hike that add some fun to the trail. The falls are 20 feet high—which may not sound tall to some, but they are wide enough to give you a spectacular view. There is a large, deep pool at the base of the falls, but the park service warns people not to swim there due to dangerous undercurrents, so you should enjoy them from another vantage point. Many enthusiasts return to this trail time and again and love how well-maintained it is.

2. Grotto Falls Trail

Trillium Gap Trail, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Location: Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Length: 2.6 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate  
  • Best For: Families looking for a memorable adventure  
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Grotto Falls is a fun waterfall hike because (spoiler alert), you can walk under the falls! Be sure to arrive early if you’d like to enjoy this spot by yourself; otherwise, you may be stuck in a 20-minute wait to walk under the waterfall and take your pictures. There is roadside parking at Grotto Falls—not a dedicated lot—but once parked, there’s a large, easy-to-find sign that marks the beginning of the trail. The hike begins at the Trillium Gap Trail and immediately begins with an upward climb. You will cross four mini creeks that are usually shallow enough that you can hop across rocks to get back on the trail. Then you will go through a series of switchbacks heading upward until you reach the falls, 1.25 miles out. Walking under the falls is a reward after a hot and sweaty hike, since you can feel the cool mist of the water hit your face.

3. Mount Cammerer Trail

Low Gap Trail Access, TN 37722
  • Location: Cosby, Tennessee
  • Length: 11.1 miles round trip 
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult 
  • Best For: Experienced hikers looking for a challenge  
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Get ready for a heart-pumping hike, because 3,045 feet of elevation gain is no easy task! Mount Cammerer makes you work for the view, but it’s worth the relentless climb. It leads to a round stone tower that provides mountain views from every direction. The hike starts off at the Low Gap Trail for the first three miles (also the toughest, with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain) before you reach the Appalachian Trail. Talk about a workout! Then you will climb for another 0.7 miles (but not as steep as the previous climb) before the path starts to level off. The trail continues, and you walk along the ridge for another mile. The final 0.6 miles will become a rock scramble to the summit. Once at the top, be sure to enjoy the views; you worked for it.

4. Charlies Bunion Hiking Trail

Charlies Bunion, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Location: Newfound Gap Road, Tennessee
  • Length: 8.1 miles round trip
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: Intermediate hikers looking for a rewarding mountain view
  • Dogs: Not allowed

It’s no secret that Charlies Bunion is one of the most view-packed hikes in the Smokies. It’s an 8-mile hike that is a steady climb up to the top. The hike begins at the Newfound Gap Road parking lot which is a popular pull-off spot for people to take pictures of the mountain views.

The trail begins to the left of the parking lot and immediately starts off as a gradual climb up trail steps. As you round the corner, you will reach a rock scramble that eventually flattens out as you work your way up to the summit. Be careful if it is wet. The rocks will be very slippery, so be sure to take your time.

Once you reach the top, the trail opens into this huge rock outcropping where you can see layers of mountains as far as the eye can see. The top can get very crowded because there is limited space at the summit, therefore, many people take turns getting up to the rock.

5. Andrews Bald Hiking Trail

Andrews Bald Hiking Trail, Bryson City, North Carolina 28713
  • Location: Near Clingmans Dome in Bryson City, North Carolina  
  • Length: 3.6 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate to Difficult  
  • Best For: Experienced hikers looking for incredible views 
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

Andrews Bald offers dramatic views and, in late spring and early summer, a colorful show of rhododendron and azalea blooms. For the uninitiated, a “bald” is a high-elevation meadow found in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Balds are also great places to enjoy some expansive views. Drawn to the highest point in the park, most tourists park in the Clingmans Dome lot and walk to the observation tower there. Hikers have an even better option: Trek the Forney Ridge Trail, which starts from the same parking lot and lets you leave the tower crowds far behind.

6. Ramsey Cascades Day Hike

Ramsey Cascades Trail, Ramsey Prong Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Location: Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Length: 8 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate to difficult 
  • Best For: Intermediate hikers seeking virtually undisturbed nature 
  • Dogs: Not allowed 

A beautiful hike to the tallest waterfall in the park, Ramsey Cascades will be less crowded than other waterfall trails but can still be busy during the peak summer season. You’ll separate yourself from less ambitious hikers, though, because Ramsey Cascades Trail gains more than 2,000 feet over its 4-mile course. Towards the end of the trailhead, the path becomes especially rugged. Requiring you to scramble over more than a few roots and stones before rock hopping over an additional stream and crossing over large boulders, the trip ends at the base of a dramatic waterfall that is well-worth the effort.

7. Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

Alum Cave Trail, Tennessee 37738
  • Location: Newfound Gap Road, Tennessee
  • Length: 11 miles round trip  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate to difficult 
  • Best For: Hikers looking for an adventure  
  • Dogs: Not allowed

This is a well-known hike thanks to its unique cave-like structure. Alum Cave Trail has many different features to keep you entertained, from narrow bridges to caves. For the first mile, you’ll walk alongside the creek on a wide, smooth trail. Then you will cross a bridge and trek under Arch Rock to continue the trail. At 2.3 miles, you’ll come across the Alum Cave Bluffs, where you can sit and take in the magnificent view of the cave and mountains. After taking a break, push forward on the trail for another 2.5 miles to reach the summit of Mount LeConte.

Other Activities in the Smokies

Fishing: Fishing is permitted year-round in the park’s nearly 3,000 miles of streams. Brook, rainbow and brown trout thrive here, along with smallmouth bass and rock bass. Available from nearby towns, a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina is required. Make sure to check local regulations before planning your trip.

Horseback Riding: There are four riding stables throughout the park where you can arrange to take guided horseback rides from mid-March through late November.

Kayaking/Canoeing: Flatwater paddling is available on Fontana Lake, which lies along the southern, North Carolina border of the park. Several private companies offer canoes and kayaks for rent here.

Snowsports: Because the park is open year-round, you can enjoy some snowy solitude by planning a well-equipped winter trip. That kind of adventure often entails hiking at lower elevations, then switching to cross-country skis or snowshoes higher up. 

 

For more adventures, get involved with REI classes and events at your local REI location. From hiking to paddling, we offer a variety of ways to help you get outdoors. 

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