12 Best Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well known for its scenic beauty, and for being the most visited national park in the United States.   One of the reasons for it being so popular, is due to the more than 150 hiking trails that take you through over 800 miles through the park.

But with more than150 different trails, which ones are the best?  We're going to highlight the 12 best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  All of these trails offer beautiful scenery, water, and history and show off some of the most beautiful places in the park.

Let's jump right in!

Come prepared!   Be sure to review our Day hiking Essentials before hitting the trail.

1 - Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

Top of Mount LeConte

This trail is one of the best trails the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer.   The trail delivers on some of the best things we all look for in that quintessential smoky mountain hike: crystal clear creekside hiking, dense woods, rhododendrun, scenic views, cliffside hiking, and rock features.  

The reward at the end of this strenuous hike up to the summit of Mount LeConte at 6,593 feet are beyond incredible and long distance views of the surrounding park.    While you're there, be sure to stop by or even stay over night at Leconte Lodge.

If you have time for just one hike, make it this one.  This trail is for more experienced and in shape hikers, as it's not easy.

2 - Mount Cammerer

Mount Cammerer

Photo by: Frank Kehren

The trail up to the summit of Mount Cammerer begins at Low Gap Trailhead in the Cosby area of the park.  This strenuous and challenging 11 mile roundtrip hike  provides an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet.   

The rewards are worth it though, as the summit provides incredible views for as far as the eye can see.  There is even a fire tower you can visit and explore.

This trail is best for experienced and in-shape hikers.

See our Top 18 Blue Ridge Parkway Hiking Trails!


3 - Newfound Gap on the Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion

Charlies Bunion

Newfound Gap is a popular stopping point for those driving along Newfound Gap Road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   Newfound Gap is the highest point along Newfound Gap Road, and provides a beautiful scenic view, historical interest, and restrooms.   

Also, going off from the parking area is the Appalachian Trail, which many walk on, but don't go very far.  However, if you hike up the trail for 4 miles (8 miles roundtrip), you'll reach Charlies Bunion.  The bunion provides incredible scenic views from this rock outcropping.  Just be careful, the drops are significant.

4 - Abrams Falls Trail

One of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will take you to one of the most popular waterfalls, Abrams Falls.  While Abrams Falls is only 20 foot tall, what it lacks in height, it makes up for in power.  Water flows very heavily over this small, but beautiful waterfall.

The trailhead begins off Cades Cove Loop road, and the hike is 5 miles roundtrip and moderate in difficulty.  The hike to Abrams Falls is creekside most of the way, and climbs up to a very nice scenic view, before descending down to Abrams Falls.

Abrams Falls Trail is very popular during peak season, so be prepared for crowds.   Regardless, it's still a very pretty and nice hike, to a majestic and beautiful waterfall.  

Be warned though, this is one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States due to the Falls themselves.  Ignoring the warning signs, people swim in the water below the falls, and drown, due to the swift and strong currents.   Please stay out of the water.

5 - Rainbow Falls Trail

Rainbow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Another very popular, but excellent hike is the 5.4 mile, moderate rated, Rainbow Falls trail.  This hike takes you from the Roaring Fork area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through beautiful forest, and out to the 80 foot tall Rainbow Falls.

Due to the elevation gain and distance, some may find this trail strenuous.  You can optionally continue past the Falls for another 4 miles to the top of Mount LeConte.  

Rainbow Falls itself is the highest single-drop waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   The falls are named for the rainbow that can be seen by the mist on sunny afternoons.  During the winter, when it's cold, very impressive ice formations build up around the waterfall, offering some unique viewing and photography options.

6- Deep Creek Loop to 3 different Waterfalls

Fall at Deep Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of our favorite hikes in the smokies, especially during the Fall is Deep Creek Loop trail, just outside of Bryson City NC.   This 4.6 mile moderate loop hike takes you to three different waterfalls, and through the more dense woods surrounding Deep Creek.   

Deep Creek has a couple of different loops, so you can adjust the hike to your individual needs.   The three waterfalls are gorgeous, and very close to each other.  While Deep Creek is pretty year-round, it's exceptionally beautiful in the Fall, and is our favorite time to do this hike.

7 - Big Creek to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls

Another favorite hike of ours is Big Creek Trail to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls.  The hike to both falls is about 4 miles roundtrip, and moderate in difficulty.  

The trail is a really good family-friendly trail - Just keep children close due to the drop off along the first half of the trail.

The trail is an old railroad grade with a mild incline all the way up to Mouse Creek Falls.   Midnight Hole is beautiful, and also a VERY popular swimming hole.  Mouse Creek Falls is just a short distance further up the trail, and well worth the extra distance.  

Be sure to explore the small side trails leading over to Big Creek as well.

8 - Boogerman Trail in Cataloochee Valley

Messer Farm Site - Boogerman Trail

This trail is a real hidden gem, and offers up some of the largest old growth forest trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  "Boogerman", as he was nicknamed, owned this property, and would not allow logging.  So the trees are old ... and just huge.

This 7 mile and moderate hike will take you through the old growth forest, across several water crossings, and through some historic old home places and cemeteries.

The trailhead is located off Caldwell Fork Trail in Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

9 - Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The hike 3.5 mile roundtrip hike to Andrews Bald begins near Clingmans Dome.  The hike has an 899 foot elevation gain, and is considered moderate in difficulty.  The trail used to be significantly more difficult, but trail improvements in 2008 made this trail much easier.

Andrews Bald remains an outstanding hiking destination due to the spectacular views.  The hike is long enough to be avoided by most visitors to the park, but still short enough to enjoy and not be too serious of a hike.

Andrews Bald is also the highest bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and well known for its display of flame azalea and Rhododendron blooms in late spring.

10 - Middle Prong Trail

Middle Prong Trail

Photo by: Gail Patton Photography

Located in the beautiful Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Middle Prong Trail is one of the top waterfall hikes in the National Park.  The trail passes three different major waterfalls, and a number of smaller ones.

Waterfalls include: Lower Lynn Camp Falls, Lynn Camp Falls, and Indian Flats Falls.

The trail is also full of wildflowers and history.  The remains of an old homestead and old Cadillac can be found just off the trail.

Roundtrip distance is 8.3 miles, and you'll gain over 1,000 foot in elevation, making this a challenging and strenuous hike.

11 - Little Cataloochee Trail

Most people are familiar with Cataloochee Valley, but what many don't realize is there are two sections to Cataloochee Valley: Big Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee. Most people visit Big Cataloochee and don't even realize that Little Cataloochee exists.

The hike to Little Cataloochee, via Little Cataloochee Trail and out to the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church is not only a beautiful hike, but a journey back in time as you hike by old buildings, and what remains of the old settlement.

The hike begins from Old Cataloochee Turnpike.  You can hike all the way to Big Cataloochee, or stop at the church, for a 4-mile and moderate hike.

12 - Little River Trail in Elkmont

Little River Trail is an easy to moderate river side trail that is perfect for new hikers, and families.  The trail follows Little River all the way, and provides a number of river access points to explore and play in the water.   

The hike begins near Daisy Town, and we usually hike out to the railroad bridge and then back.   Be sure to try to find the famous troll bridge when you're there.  To the bridge and back is 6 miles.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.

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