Best Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are so many wonderful hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that can be hard to choose between them. Here are the top picks for the best hikes to waterfalls, wildflowers, scenic views, and more.
The popular Grotto Falls Trail (2.6 miles round trip) leads to a picture-perfect waterfall off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
In Cosby (a few miles northeast of Gatlinburg), you’ll find Hen Wallow Falls Trail (4.4 miles round-trip) which leads to a delicate waterfall some 90 feet high.
Deep Creek Loop Trail and Juney Whank Falls (5.5 miles round trip) is a double loop hike that will take you past a trio of waterfalls and alongside a stream perfect for wading. It’s easy enough to give everyone in your party a good time on the trail.
A hike suited to just about anyone? That leads to a great waterfall? The hike to the 20-foot Abrams Falls (5 miles round trip) is the one—and it’s in Cades Cove, so you know you’ll drive right by the trailhead.
Andrews Bald (3.5 miles round trip) is a trail that starts at Clingmans Dome, a few miles off Newfound Gap Road, and leads to a high mountain meadow filled with wildflowers and shrubs that bloom throughout summer, making it one of the most rewarding hikes you’ll find.
Over in Cades Cove head to Rich Mountain Loop (8.5 miles round trip) and take on all or some of the hike that’s loaded with wildflowers from mid-April through summer. Spring’s a hot time here, with wildflowers peaking in early May, but you’ll see plenty anytime you hike here.
Along the first section of the Chestnut Top Trail (5.4 miles one way), the number and variety of wildflowers is surprising, making it a favorite of Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage visitors.
When you hike from Brushy Mountain to Mount LeConte (11.8 miles round trip), your time on the Porters Creek Trail is a riot of wildflowers. Along the first mile of this trail you’ll find yellow trillium, wild geranium, and more.
Rich Mountain Loop (8.5 miles round trip) in Cades Cove is a long one, but it gives you views of Cades Cove and plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities, making it one of the top hikes in the park.
Keep Little River Trail (12.3 miles round trip) short and sweet as you follow an old logging road alongside Little River and through the home of the synchronous fireflies, or follow the whole trail for an out-and-back day hike.
The family-friendly Oconaluftee River Trail (3 miles round trip) follows the Oconaluftee River near the Mountain Farm Museum and a field frequented by elk, which you can spot on the trail, crossing the trail, and even basking in the river. Remember to be careful and not get too close when you see an elk nearby.
Hikes to Scenic Views
Mount Cammerer Trail (11.2 miles round trip) is a tough hike to the summit, but you’re rewarded with some of the best views in the park, courtesy of a stone fire tower built in the 1930s.
More of a really steep path than a proper trail, the trek to the observation platform on the summit of Clingmans Dome (0.5 mile one way) is a must-do for anyone who wants big mountain views. Be sure to check the weather before you get started because your view could vary between 7 yards and 70 miles (when you can see seven states), depending on cloud cover.
The trail to Baskins Creek Falls (3 miles round trip) leads you to a beautiful short view—the 30-foot namesake waterfall—but along the way you’ll be rewarded with wildflowers filling meadows, the remnants of old homesites standing in the forest, and the chance to spot a white-tailed deer or two.
Hikes to Swimming Holes
Big Creek Trail (10.6 miles round trip) follows a onetime logging road through the woods on a steady, easy incline that soon reaches Midnight Hole, a popular, and deep, swimming hole fed by a small waterfall; continue on the trail to see the 35-foot Mouse Creek Falls.
Chimney Tops Trail (4-miles round-trip) leads to a fantastic view, but when you’re hot from spending time on the trail, nothing is more refreshing than jumping into one of the deep holes in the creek for a shock of cold mountain water.
Don’t think Little River Trail (12.3 miles round trip) is just for the synchronous fireflies; there’s an excellent swimming hole with rocks for sunbathing near the trailhead, and several swimming holes up the trail.
Alum Cave Trail (5 miles one way) follows LeConte Creek for a little way, and along the first 1.5 miles of this trail, you’ll find a few swimming holes that are 4 or 5 feet deep, which is plenty to cool off.
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