The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is close to Gatlinburg, offers the best opportunities for up-close encounters for hikers. Visitors to Gatlinburg come for hiking in the natural surroundings, which include forested hills and spring-fed streams and rivers. Best hiking trails in Gatlinburg? Continue reading.
The Indian Gap Trail, one of the first trekking routes in The Smokies, was blazed by early Cherokee hunters. Moreover, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains the best trails close to Gatlinburg. Your sensation of independence on the route takes on additional meaning because there is no fee to go hiking in the park.
Each designated trail has a unique offering. The Appalachian Trail is one of these long trails that crosses the park and continues. Before tackling more challenging walks, start with a few short routes to boost your confidence and endurance. Near Gatlinburg, hiking trails are simple to reach. By assisting you in selecting a trail based on your preferences and skill level, our selection of hiking routes makes it even simpler.
With a trail map in hand, evaluate the hiking and weather conditions on your preferred trail by visiting the nearby Sugarlands Visitor Center or the Nantahala Outdoor Center in town. You are prepared to start hiking once you have a good idea of how far you’ll travel and what to wear and bring. With our list of the top hiking trails close to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you may pick a suitable path.
1. Hiking Trails in Gatlinburg: 15 Best Hiking Trails
Going on vacation is an art form for some. It revolves around feel, flow, beauty, and emotions. Others view it as a science or an engineering achievement. Vacationing can be both an art and a science in Gatlinburg. There is a ton of tremendous do. You must have a plan if you intend to accomplish all of your goals. Schematics are required.
Alternately, choose representative activities, like going on a hike one day and shopping the next. Get a taste of Gatlinburg without undertaking the full journey.
1.1. Abrams Falls Trail
Abrams Falls Trail is a well-liked, moderately challenging hike with an elevation increase of 675 feet and a 5.2-mile loop that was restored in November 2021. The trail leads to the 20-foot Abrams Falls, a popular attraction in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is both modest and powerful. It is a downhill hike to the falls and an uphill hike back to the trailhead. Most of your journey will be spent walking alongside Abrams Creek, which you’ll appreciate.
The 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road Trail, the most well-known permitted motor route in the park, leads only to the Abrams Falls Trail for hiking. The loop route, which takes two to four hours to complete by car, starts halfway around and leads to the trailhead for Abrams Falls. To avoid the traffic congestion around Cades Cove, many hikers set out early in the morning.
1.2. Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail
It is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest point in the eastern United States. The Great Smoky Mountains and the whole 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia, are home to the highest elevation anywhere. You shouldn’t skip the climb up to 6,443 feet above sea level on the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail.
Whatever inspired you to trek, Clingmans Dome, you will undoubtedly encounter numerous other hikers holding cameras on the trail. Your breath will be taken away by the expansive vista of the clouds and landscapes below the observation tower when the sun is shining.
Many of us are familiar with Clingmans Dome thanks to its more well-known nickname, Top of Old Smoky. You can reach a sizable parking lot by taking a one-hour drive straight up the mountain from Gatlinburg.
Take the steep half-mile ascent from your car to the 45-foot-tall observation tower, where on a clear day you can view as far as Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky. Some of the locations you could see in the distance are marked with interpretation markers.
1.3. Rainbow Falls Trail
The trailhead is situated off Cherokee Orchard Loop Road, which links to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and is just 4.2 miles south of the center of town. This well-traveled trail leads hikers to a foggy reward: an 80-foot waterfall with an elevation rise of more than 1,500 feet.
The Rainbow Falls Trail is a part of the route taken by knowledgeable and well-prepared hikers to reach Mount LeConte’s summit. Four more miles separate Rainbow Falls from the top. 5.4 miles roundtrip on the moderate to difficult Rainbow Falls Trail.
1.4. Alum Cave Trail to Myrtle Point
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s and the area’s best hiking experience may be had by climbing Mount LeConte. You reach approximately 3,000 feet in elevation and are rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree views. The hike’s name, “the count” in French, is a perfect fit for the surroundings.
The hike to Alum Cave off of Newfound Gap Road, located 8.5 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center, is where the most traveled route to the summit begins.
Consider your choices before leaving: Make the climb up Mount LeConte a full-day excursion, spend the night at LeConte Lodge close to the peak’s 6,593-foot elevation, or leave early and come back to Gatlinburg for a late lunch. You can accomplish the 13-mile round trip in a method that best fits your schedule, aptitude, and budget given the route’s length and moderate-to-difficult route rating.
You get a sense of suspension over this enormously picturesque scene. Take a moment to breathe at Alum Cave Bluffs and consider the mining activity that took place up here in the 1800s. The LeConte Lodge has public restrooms.
1.5. Laurel Falls Trail
Between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground, the Laurel Falls Trail is situated along Fighting Creek Gap Road. The route is a well-liked family adventure because it is only a seven-mile drive from Gatlinburg and goes to a lovely waterfall.
Get ready for a steady ascent on a well-maintained track to reach the falls. The trail is 2.6 miles long and gains 400 feet in height. You are rewarded with beautiful vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains once you have ascended to the trail’s highest point.
In front of Laurel Falls, a brief railing-equipped concrete bridge traverses. This offers a secure setting from which to take pictures of the semi-tropical cascade framed by mature rhododendrons.
1.6. Grotto Falls via Trillium Gap Trail
Many tourists choose to stretch their legs halfway around the well-known Flaming Fork Motor Nature Trail by hiking to Grotto Falls. To guarantee yourself a parking space, arrive early. Along the Trillium Gap Trail, follow the signs to the falls.
Most people find the climb to Grotto Falls to be easy to moderate. You will cover 2.6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of just 600 feet. Take pleasure in this stroll amid old-growth trees.
Cross winding mountain creeks until you reach a cascade and the neighboring Grotto Falls, which is 25 feet high. From the ledge above the falls, take in the strength of nature.
1.7. Jakes Creek Trail to Avent Cabin
Families that enjoy taking walks in broad forests, along picturesque creeks, and on large trails will find the Jakes Creek Trail to Avent Cabin to be ideal. You will gain 500 feet in height over a distance of 2.7 miles round trip.
Before beginning the hike, inquire with a ranger at Elkmont Campground about the last spur leading to Avent Cabin off the Jakes Creek hike. The hiker rating for the trail is easy. Because the turnoff to the cabin is not indicated, it is also simple to miss.
The highlight of this path is Avent Cabin, especially for creative types who want to experience what it was like for Paris-trained artist Mayna Treanor Avent to live here and utilize it as her studio.
1.8. Andrews Bald Trail
After visiting the observation tower at Clingmans Dome, some people take advantage of the opportunity to hike the Andrews Bald Trail. The trail descends from the Clingmans Dome parking area and follows a ridge of trees that juts south, crossing into North Carolina.
The path leads to a “bald” or open, grassy meadow above the clouds. Find a location to stop and enjoy the lunch or snack you packed after you get to Andrews Bald, the tallest bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The height gain for this 3.6-mile round-trip climb is 900 feet. The majority of the height you experience occurs as you walk back from Andrews Bald up the hill to the parking area.
Stroll through Daisy Town’s vibrant, renovated cottages on the way to your vehicle or your campground at Elkmont Campground. Before the national park was established, rangers might be accessible to answer your inquiries about this upscale vacation destination.
1.9. Middle Prong Trail
After hiking to Spruce Flats Falls, take the visually stunning three-mile Tremont Logging History Auto Tour along Little River to the end of Upper Tremont Road. Utilize pull-offs to take a breather and look down into the streams situated in a lush temperate rainforest.
Park your vehicle close to the crossing where Thunderhead Prong and Lynn Camp Prong converge. Start the 4.6-mile Middle Prong Trail by crossing the bridge. This trail is located on an old railroad track and is wide and convenient for walking.
Families with young children or a couple seeking a private getaway will find the trail to be perfect. As you stroll through this open woodland, take in the cascades and the sound of the raging river.
1.10. Spruce Flats Falls
From Townsend, a premier Tennessee town, take Tremont Road, one of the park’s most picturesque side roads, to get to the trailhead for Spruce Flats Falls.
Hike the 1.8-mile roundtrip trail to the base of Spruce Falls from the Tremont Institute parking area. While the family enjoys this trip, the 413-foot elevation climb necessitates careful footing over exposed rock faces and tree roots.
1.11. Newfound Gap to Indian Gap
Driving to the Newfound Gap Overlook, which is located on the Tennessee-North Carolina state boundary, is a popular activity for visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The portion of the Appalachian Trail that goes to Clingmans Dome at the Top of Old Smoky is followed on the hike from Newfound Gap to Indian Gap.
Indian Gap is 3.3 miles away on the path, roundtrip. This easy climb, which gains 843 feet in elevation, features a few steep sections that take you to the Cherokee Trail’s historic turnaround. Indian Gap Road has been traveled by early explorers, Civil War soldiers, farmers, and commerce over the years. Indian Gap Road had reverted to nature by the 1930s, and Newfound Gap Road had taken its place.
1.12. Gatlinburg Trail
The Gatlinburg Trail parallels and bridges the West Prong Little Pigeon River as it enters the city from the south. The trail stops at Park Headquarters Road after travelling four miles one way with little apparent elevation increase. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is close by.
The Gatlinburg Trail is frequently used by mountain bikers, runners, and pedestrians. There is only one track in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park close to Gatlinburg, where people can walk their attached dogs, and it is a well-traveled path.
1.13. Sugarlands Valley Trail
The Sugarlands Valley Trail is a paved, half-mile loop that is flat and open to wheelchair and stroller traffic. The Sugarlands Visitor Center and Gatlinburg are both easily accessible along this trail, which is also one of the nearest.
Bullhead Branch Creek is followed for half of the loop, offering a tranquil resting spot. You can hear the calming sound of running water throughout your route. Keep a look out for the local amphibians, such as frogs.
Read the signs as you make your journey through the forest to learn more about the prosperous agricultural and logging community that once existed in the Sugarlands Valley. Harvesting of corn, grain, and trees was subsequently replaced by leisure and entertainment.
1.14. Elkmont Nature Trail
Elkmont Nature Trail can be the first trail you take after setting up your tent at Elkmont Campground, one of the top campgrounds close to Gatlinburg.
This loop trail is walkable for hikers of all experience levels because it is a little under a mile long. You can view rhododendrons in bloom and wildflowers when they are in season. Native bushes and trees line the trail as it travels through them. The ground is covered in several kinds of ferns.
Cross the Mids Branch at the trail’s beginning; you’ll see it again later in the loop. Less than 100 feet of elevation are gradually gained along the trail. The trail occasionally passes through a mature rhododendron, which robs the pine and oak forest canopy of its light.
1.15. Fighting Creek Nature Trail
Fighting Creek Nature Trail is a leisurely 1.4-mile self-guided interpretation stroll in the woodland behind Sugarlands Visitor Center. This hike is appropriate for families and a fantastic method to introduce kids to the local natural environment and social history. You witness the ruins of a farming property as well as a renovated cabin.
Ask children to envision what it might have been like to play and live here. Take note of what catches their attention and challenge them to find enchantment in a setting that may be different from what they are used to.
1.16. Gregory Bald Hike
For all of you super-hikers out there, this one is for you. The Gregory Bald hike is challenging, but it’s worth it for the bulging calf muscles you’ll undoubtedly have when it’s through. Gregory Bald, with a distance of 11.3 miles and an elevation gain of 3,020 feet, makes you work for its most spectacular feature: a sea of Flame Azaleas in bloom every summer.
The trail’s spectacular wildlife is also visible, in addition to breathtaking mountaintop views. But hey, is it a surprise that you have to put in a lot of effort to get those views, let alone those Instagram photos? Exactly.
1.17. Cataract Falls Trail
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Cataract Falls Trail is well-liked because of its proximity to the city center and the presence of its namesake waterfalls. A 1.1-mile hike will take you to Cataract Falls Trail from Sugarlands Visitor Center. Combined with Fighting Creek Nature Trail, it can be made into a longer, simple hike for people of all ages.
Expect to walk on a level, hard path with minimal elevation gain to reach the tiny but famous Cataract Falls. The main riparian corridor for Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Cataract Branch drains into the upper sections of Little Pigeon River, and the route follows its level banks.
1.18. Forney Ridge Trail
From the Clingman’s Dome parking area, a popular climb leads to Andrews Bald. You’ll have fantastic views of the Smokies from up there, including the southern section of the park and Fontana Lake, because of Andrews’ extreme baldness.
At Clingman’s Dome, an observation tower that is well worth visiting after your tour, be prepared to discover a highly crowded parking lot. The vistas are especially beautiful towards sunset, so try to arrange your return during that time.
2. End Notes on Hiking Trails in Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg serves as the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which offers more than 850 miles of fantastic hiking trails. The best part, then? Here, each mile is distinct.
We told you that Gatlinburg has excellent hiking routes, didn’t we? It’s time to relax with a nice glass of moonshine right about now. We sincerely hope you liked reading our list of the top 18 hiking trails in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
This useful list of the top hikes in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, was put together by us. With our assistance, you and your friends or family will be able to select the ideal hike in the Great Smoky Mountains.