Smoky Mountain Hiking Trails

Smoky mountain overlook of trees in fall autumn along car road with old wooden fence

The Great Smoky Mountains are true Mountain Magic. Few of life’s experiences uplift the spirit more than these beautiful peaks and valleys. To truly experience the “Land of Ten Thousand Smokes” as the Cherokees called the dancing wisps of clouds that populate the peaks and valleys, you’ll want to head for the Great Trails of the Smokies. With over 800 miles of trails and more than 100 backcountry campsites, trails are available for hikers with varying levels of experience. The surrounding mountain ranges with peaks rising higher than 6,000 feet, and the rolling hills and fertile valleys offer many changing views in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain region. The Smokies’ wild landscape, rich with traces of its past, calls people back year after year. Hiking is a major attraction in the Great Smoky Mountains, and there are more than 800 miles of trails from quiet walkways to strenuous climbs by thundering streams and waterfalls.

TRAILS

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 800 miles of trails, and more than 500,000 acres of land. There are 60 species of mammals, 58 species of fish, 80 types of reptiles and amphibians that include 23 snake varieties {2 poisonous – the timber rattler, northern copperhead}, 27 types of salamanders, 200 species of birds, 2,000 species of mushrooms, 125 tree species, 50 varieties of ferns, 350 species of mosses and liverworts, 230 lichen species, and 1,300 species of flowering plants.

More than ten million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yearly, but most only see the park superficially. The best part of the Smoky Mountain area is the national park itself, and most people’s view and experiences of the park are limited to the main roads. There is so much land and so many sites while discovering the beauty and solitude of this park, that there is a lifetime of adventure and experiences left undiscovered. This guide will feature many easy to moderate to strenuous hikes. The guide provides the length, highlights, cautions, and trailheads.

  • Mount LeConte is the terminating pinnacle of a five-mile spur off the Great Eastern Divide, the ridge separating Tennessee from North Carolina. Formerly, the mile-high wall of the Eastern Divide literally separated the ‘civilized’ east from Indian Territory to the west. LeConte is distinctive in its three prominent peaks, all above 6,000 feet, running almost due east west. It overshadows the small tourist town of Gatlinburg, nestled six miles northwest and one mile beneath its crown.
  • Leconte’s three peaks are Cliff Tops, High Top and Myrtle Point. Cliff Tops is the westward-facing peak, only a quarter mile walk from the camp. This is where the sunset is viewed. As can be gathered from the name, the rocks here cap a cliff several hundred feet high. High Top is the center and tallest point on Mount LeConte at 6,593 feet above sea level (only 50 lower than Clingmans Dome).
  • Myrtle Point – an eastward facing heath bald and rock outcropping, is 0.8 mile from the cabins and a fun walk. The finest vantage points from which one may view the entire LeConte range are: Gatlinburg, Sevierville, even more so on the Chimney Tops from the south and Brushy Mountain, a quarter mile jaunt off the Trillium Gap trail, and the most impressive way to view the mountain.
  • Alum Cave Trail – is 5.5 miles with a vertical climb of around 2600 feet. Strangely, most claim the easiest is via Newfound Gap, an eight-mile trip, but only a vertical climb of 1200 feet. The Alum Cave trail is well known as the shortest route to Mount LeConte (about 5.5 miles each way). The majority of people who take this beautiful hike do not venture all the way to LeConte. And the vast majority of beauty along this trail is found by the time you reach the “cave.” The first or second week of June is incredible for purple rhododendron along this trail. Mountain Laurel is also waxing near this time. The very wide trail follows a quaint creek bed for the first mile or so to Arch Rock. The trail then heads up the base of Mount LeConte. The trail is usually crowded, but wide and enjoyable.
  • Clingmans Dome – the observation tower is a concrete edifice standing atop the highest point in Tennessee, 6643 feet above sea level. The tower actually straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina State line, however North Carolina boasts a taller peak, Mount Mitchell, 70 miles to the northeast. Surrounding firs encroach upon the panoramic view from the top. Photographs at all compass points detail the peaks and other pertinent landmarks visible from the top. Sunsets and sunrises are spectacular from here on clear days. The trail is wide and paved, much more like a road. Benches are provided at several locations along the way. The climb is 400 feet in a half-mile. Most books list this as strenuous; for hikers it is easy to moderate. Although this trip is a quick view, it should not be passed. It is the highest point in the park; the view is excellent and it is the classic Smoky Mountain photo stop.
  • The Chimney Tops – the first half mile is thick rosebay (white) rhododendron creek bottom. In its season, for a week or two in July, these fill the hollow and look to be freshly covered with a late snow. A smattering of mountain laurel and catauba (purple) rhododendron are pretty by the second week in June, but THE time of the year is early to mid July.
  • The Boulevard Trail – is an eight-mile walk to Mount LeConte. Follow the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap northeastward. The beautiful trail is wide and busy for the first mile or so. Rocks and tree roots are large and common, so be careful if you are not accustomed to walking on such things. Frequent views through the trees are spectacular year round.
  • Brushy Mountain Trail to Trillium Gap – is a must If you are ever at Trillium Gap DO NOT MISS BRUSHY MOUNTAIN. This bald-like peak of just over 4,900 feet is only a shy mile and a moderate hike up to one the best panoramas in the park. Clouds rarely obscure the view as at LeConte and the vistas are in all directions. Flora is scrubby brush and rhododendron, and the trail is well maintained.
  • Andrews Bald – in the flame azalea season of July – and you are in the place to be. Not only are the views magnificent, but the colors of the well-publicized azaleas are equally grand. Your outing will start from the Forney Ridge (Clingmans Dome) parking area and head down the southwest slope of the ridge. A left turn at the first intersection will steer you toward Andrews Bald. Trails are well marked and well maintained. If you are unfamiliar with rocky ground, you may find the going either slow or dangerous – choose slow. The trail takes the shelter of the southwest shoulder for a mile before walking the ridge for another mile. Occasional views off to the right are only a taste of those to come.
  • Charlie’s Bunion – This 1,000 foot sheer drop-off can be found four miles east along the Appalachian Trail. The cliff is named after a bunion that prevented Charlie Conner, an Oconaluftee settler, from traveling through the Gap in 1928. An 8 mile roundtrip, rated moderate. Following the Appalachian Trail, this hike is rocky and is along the State-line ridge. It has excellent views.
  • Abrams Falls Trail – 4.2 miles, from the trailhead in Cades Cove to Hannah Mountain and Hatcher Mountain Trails. (2.5 miles to Abrams Falls, round trip 5 miles)
  • Alum Cave Bluff Trail – 4.6 miles round trip.
  • Baskin Creek – 2.7 miles, from Trillium Gap Trail to the middle of Roaring Fork Nature Motor Trail. Highlights: Baskins Creek Falls.
  • Chestnut Tops Trail – 4.3 miles from Townsend “Y” to Schoolhouse Gap Trail
  • Finley Cane Trail – 2.8 mile, from Laurel Creek Road to Bote Mt. Trail.
  • Grotto Falls – 3 miles, moderate hike.
  • Indian Flat Falls – 7.5 mile hike roundtrip, moderate
  • Little Greenbrier –4.3 miles, from Wear Cove Gap Road to Laurel Falls Trail.
  • Little River Trail – 6.1 miles, from the barricade on the side road upstream from Elkmont Campground to Campsite #30
  • Meigs Creek Trail – 3.5 miles from The Sinks parking area on Little River Road to Meigs Mountain and Lumber Ridge Trails.
  • Meigs Mountain Trail – 6.0 miles from Jake’s Creek Trail to Meigs Creek Trail.
  • Middle Prong Trail – 4.1 miles, from the end of the Tremont Road to junction. Lynn Camp Prong and Greenbrier Ridge trails.
  • Mt. Le Conte Trails – Nobody knows who or when of the first person to ever to look east from Le Conte’s Myrtle Point to watch the sun rise out of the mists and mountains, or who was the first to see the sunset from the Cliff Top. People have been climbing to the top just for the beauty of Mt. LeConte since the early twentieth century.
  • Porters Creek – 3.7 miles from Greenbrier Road to Campsite #31.
  • Ramsey Cascades – 4.0 miles, beginning at Ramsay Cascades parking area, and ending at Ramsey Cascade, 8 miles round trip
  • Rainbow Falls Trail – 6.6 miles, from Rainbow Falls Parking Area on the Cherokee Orchard Road to the summit of Mt. Le Conte. Rainbow Falls is 2.7 miles from Trailhead
  • Russell Field – 3.5 miles from Anthony Creek Trail to Appalachian Trail at Russell Field.
  • School House Gap – 2.2 miles from Laurel Creek Road to Scott Mt. Trail.
  • Spruce Falls – 2 miles round trip.
  • Trillium Gap Trail – 8.7 miles, from Rainbow Falls Parking Area to the summit of Mt. Le Conte
  • Turkeypen Ridge Trail – 3.6 miles from Schoolhouse Gap Trail to Laurel Creek Road
  • West Prong Trail – 2.7 miles from Tremont Road to Bote Mountain Trail.