Best Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Covering 522,419 acres between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to lush forests, soaring mountains, tumbling waterfalls, and some of the best hikes in the world. Take one look at the stunning landscape, and you’ll quickly see why this is the most visited national park in the country.
Are you planning a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If so, you don’t want to leave without doing some hiking. Of course, with around 850 miles of trails throughout the park, it might feel impossible to know which trails you should explore.
That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide on the best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you’re searching for kid-friendly hikes in the Smokies, the best waterfall hikes, or hiking trails with breathtakingly scenic views, you’ll find exactly what you want on this list of the best hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
1. Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion
The Appalachian Trail winds through several miles of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While you might not be planning to take the whole trail all the way to Maine or Georgia, you can explore sections of it during your visit. One of the most popular parts of the trail is the hike to the picturesque stone outcrop called Charlies Bunion.
You’ll set off on this 8-mile round trip hike from the Newfound Gap parking lot. If you’re interested, you can jump off onto Boulevard Trail for a quick excursion to the Jump Off for spectacular views of the mountains. If not, just keep heading down the Appalachian Trail until you see the spur trail for Charlies Bunion.
Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Mount LeConte, Mount Chapman, and the rest of the Great Smoky Mountains.
2. Clingmans Dome
Even though Clingsman Dome is likely one of the most visited spots in the park, it still makes this list of the best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains simply because it delivers some of the most stunning views. There are several ways you can get to Clingmans Dome.
If you really want a challenge, you can park at the Newfound Gap parking lot and hike the Appalachian Trail there. For something a little easier, hop in the car and drive on Clingmans Dome Road to the Clingmans Dome parking lot and take the 0.5-mile trail. Keep in mind that while the observation tower is open year-round, Clingmans Dome Road closes in the winter due to unfavorable weather conditions.
Even though the trail to the observation tower is paved, it is STEEP. Fortunately, you’ll find several benches along the way if you need to take a break. Once you reach the top of the observation tower, be sure to take some time to soak in the view. At 6,643 feet, not only are you at the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’re also standing on the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.
3. Spruce-Fir Nature Trail
As you’re driving on Clingmans Dome Road toward Clingmans Dome, you’ll likely see several pullouts for scenic views and hiking trails. While most people drive right past these pullouts, you should keep your eye out for the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail. The trailhead is 2.7 miles down Clingmans Dome Road on the left side.
Although the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail isn’t listed on the official park map, it’s maintained by the National Park Service. That makes this trail one of the hidden gems in the park. There’s also very little elevation gain along the entire 0.35-mile loop trail, which makes it one of the best trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for kids.
On much of the trail you’ll walk on wooden boardwalks that wind through the lush green forest. You’ll also notice several large quartz rocks that glimmer on the ground. Depending on what time of year you visit, you might spot colorful wildflowers popping up on the forest floor.
4. Mount Cammerer
Mount Cammerer is one of the most popular hikes in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. However, this 11-mile round trip trail will certainly make you work for its amazing views. To reach the summit, park at the Low Gap Trailhead in the Cosby Campground.
From there, you’ll take the Low Gap Trail for 3 miles until you reach the Appalachian Trail junction. The Low Gap Trail is steep and will have your legs burning. By the time you reach the Appalachian Trail, you’ll have already gained more than 2,000 feet in elevation. But your journey isn’t done yet!
Turn left on the Appalachian Trail to keep making your way to Mount Cammerer. Fortunately, this part of the trail isn’t quite as steep as Low Gap Trail. After about 5 miles on the Appalachian Trail, you’ll reach a spur trail that will take you to the summit of Mount Cammerer.
From the top, you’ll take in views that many people say are the best in the park. You can also climb the lookout tower that was built by the CCC in 1937 for even more spectacular views.
Related: Most Scenic Hikes Near Asheville, NC
5. Andrews Bald
Andrews Bald is an airy and grassy expanse that’s only 1.8 miles from Clingmans Dome parking lot. While a hike that’s just a bit over a mile sounds like a piece of cake, don’t be fooled. Your legs will definitely still get a workout on this rugged trail!
To reach Andrews Bald, take the Forney Ridge Trail from the parking lot to the bald. Once you’re there, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Smokies. Since the bald is so open, it’s the ideal place to spread out a blanket and enjoy a picnic.
6. Rainbow Falls Trail
If you love waterfalls, you definitely want to check out Rainbow Falls Trail. This popular but strenuous trail travels for 2.7 miles one way to Rainbow Falls. During the first mile of the trail, you’ll follow LeConte Creek. You’ll use several bridges to cross the creek and its tributaries before eventually reaching Rainbow Falls, which was named for the rainbows you can see when the afternoon sun hits the mist from the falls.
If you still have some energy once you reach the falls, the trail continues for a total of 6.7 miles up to the summit of Mount LeConte. In addition to offering sweeping views, Mount LeConte is also home to LeConte Lodge. These log cabins were built in the 1920s and are only accessible by trail.
While you can spend the night in the cabins, you have to make your reservations well in advance. However, the lodge also has a gift shop that sells snacks, drinks, assorted baked goods, and souvenirs to day hikers.
Related: How to Stay Dry Hiking in the Rain
7. Spruce Flats Falls Trail
Is Rainbow Falls Trail a little too busy for you? Then check out the Spruce Flats Falls Trail. This is another hidden gem in the Smokies because it’s not listed on the official park map. Yet it’s one of the most picturesque falls in the park.
Water tumbles down four separate tiers for a total drop of around 30 feet. After it lands in a nice size pool at the bottom of the falls, the water continues a short distance before spilling into the Middle Prong of the Little River.
To reach Spruce Flats Falls Trail, head to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. The trail is only 1.4 miles round trip. It remains relatively easy almost the entire way, only becoming progressively steeper and more rugged as you get closer to the falls.
Related: The Best Water Filters for Hiking
8. Deep Creek Loop Trail
Located just north of Bryson City in the Great Smoky Mountains, Deep Creek Loop Trail is approximately 4.6 miles and takes you to three scenic waterfalls. You can start the trail at the large parking lot at the end of Deep Creek Road.
When you begin Deep Creek Trail, you’ll almost immediately reach the 80-foot Toms Branch Falls. From there, continue down the trail until you reach the Indian Creek Trail junction. At that point, turn right onto Indian Creek Trail. After one-tenth of a mile, you’ll find a short spur trail that will lead you to the 45-foot Indian Creek Falls.
Once you get back onto Indian Creek Trail, follow it until you can take a left onto the Deep Creek Loop Trail junction. The Deep Creek Loop Trail will eventually meet back up with Deep Creek Trail. From there, you can turn left and head back to the parking lot.
On the way, you’ll be able to catch the last waterfall by taking a quick spur trail to the 80-foot Juney Whank Falls.
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9. Porters Creek Trail
Porters Creek Trail is one of the best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains because it offers history, a waterfall, wildflowers, a forest, and more. Pretty much everything everyone could want on one trail! The parking lot for the 4-mile round trip trail is located on Greenbrier Road.
The first mile of the trail follows Porters Creek on an old gravel road. About two-thirds of a mile on the trail, you’ll begin to see the remnants of the Elbert Cantrell farmstead from the early 1900s. Additionally, just past the stone walls is the Ownby Cemetery.
A little bit further down you’ll reach a spur trail that will take you to the historic John Messer farm site. As you continue down Porters Creek Trail, the old road eventually turns into a dirt footpath. You’ll also start to walk through large, old-growth trees with a forest floor carpeted in wildflowers.
After about 2 miles on the trail, you’ll reach the 60-foot Fern Branch Falls. While most hikers will turn around and head back to the parking lot at this point, you can opt to continue another 1.7 miles down the trail to reach Backcountry Campsite 31.
10. Gregory Bald
Pretty much any season you decide to tackle the hike to Gregory Bald will offer you spectacular views. While fall is certainly a beautiful time to hike this trail, the most popular season is summer. That’s because around mid-to-late June the flame azaleas burst into a dazzling array of red, orange, pink, yellow, and white.
There are two ways you can reach Gregory Bald. While the 8.8-mile Gregory Bald Trail is the shorter option, you can only access the trailhead by driving on the one-way Parson Branch Road. This can easily add several extra hours to your trip.
Your other option is the 11.3-mile Gregory Ridge Trail, which you can access by a parking lot on Forge Creek Road. Once you’re about 2 miles in on Gregory Ridge Trail, you’ll begin a steep and relentless climb for the next 3 miles.
At 4.9 miles, you’ll come to the Gregory Bald Trail junction. Turn right and make your final push to the summit. The top of Gregory Bald is a 10-acre grassy meadow. On a clear day, you can see Clingmans Dome, Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and more.
10 Best Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to some of the most scenic natural beauty in the country. Whether you’re interested in seeing some of its famous waterfalls or taking in the endless views, you know you’ll enjoy the best the park has to offer when you explore these best hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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