There are more than 800 miles of trails and unpaved roads to explore in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are so many trails, that choosing which one's to hike can be a bit overwhelming.
We've hiked many of them, and have also talked with many different hikers that frequent the park. There are a consistent 10 - 20 trails that always seem to be on everyone's list. But there's one problem, some of those trails are pretty long, and some of them really tough. Far too tough for some young kids, so use your judgement based on your child.
We pruned that list of great trails down to the best trails for family hikes. Family hikes to us, are trails that are good for parents with kids in the age ranges of 6 and up, that are easy to moderate in difficulty, they don't require any special gear, and lead to some point of interest that kids will enjoy.
Of course as your kids get older, more challenging trails can be tackled. But if you are wanting to get out on a Sunday afternoon, hike to a location your kids will enjoy, and you have a varied age range of children (like us), these are our top 10 picks for family friendly trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
One important note - Dogs are not allowed on any of these trails. In fact, dogs are only allowed on 2 trails in the Park, both of them at the visitors centers. So Fido will need to stay at home. You can read more about the Park's Pet Policy on their website.
Alum Bluff Cave Trail
One of the most popular trails in the park, Alum Bluff Cave Trail is really divided into two sections. The first is from the trailhead and parking area located off of Highway 441 near Gatlinburg, and leads up to Alum Bluff Cave, an old mine. You stop here and return back or you can continue on the second portion which takes you up to LeConte Lodge at the top of LeConte Mountain. The first portion of the trail is moderate, the second portion is difficult.
Porters Creek Trail
This is one of our favorite trails and is very family friendly. Porter's creek trail takes you along a historic road and trail up to Fern Branch Falls. This trail has gorgeous scenery, water falls, creekside hiking, and historic structures to visit.
Hiking this trail during the Spring offers a unique and amazing treat, as the forest floor, in one section of the trail, is blanketed with white wildflowers. Probably one of the most beautiful sights we've ever seen. Exploring all of the small cascades and pools below Fern Branch falls will be a huge hit with the kids!
Abrams Falls Trail, Cades Cove
Abrams Falls Trail begins from a field in Cades Cove and travels out 2.5 miles to Abrams Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During peak season, Abrams Falls trail receives more than 1000 visitors per day!
Abrams Falls trail is considered moderate, and follows along side Abrams Creek most of the way. Along the way, there will be bridges to cross, small creeks to explore, and access points to Abrams Creek itself.
The destination is well worth the hike, as Abrams Falls itself is beautiful and one of the strongest flowing waterfalls in the park. While you might be tempted to swim, don't. The water is dangerous, and many people have died here due to the strong currents and cold waters.
Deep Creek Loop Trail
Deep Creek is a famous area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for tubing. People travel from all around the world to tube down the peaceful and rocky waters of Deep Creek itself.
But Deep Creek also has a really great loop trail that is not only a really nice easy to moderate hike, but also takes you to three different waterfalls: Tom's Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls. The trail and falls are exceptionally beautiful during the Fall, where brilliant colors can be seen in late October.
The trail is almost 5 miles, and relatively flat, except when climbing and descending Sunkota Ridge, where it gets fairly steep, but only for a short time. The trail is not too popular, and offers peace and solitude most of the way. There is also lots of wildlife in the area.
Big Creek Trail to Midnight Hole
One of our favorite hikes in the smokies is out Big Creek Trail to Midnight Hole. We often hike this trail in the summer, as Midnight Hole is a favorite swimming hole for our kids and many other people. Big Creek Trail is 5.4 miles in total length, but we've never hiked out all the way. We generally stop at Midnight Hole and then hike back. We'll sometimes hike up the additional .25 miles to Mouse Creek Falls. The trail is an easy hike with a gentle incline that follows along side Big Creek on an old railroad grade.
Rainbow Falls Trail
Rainbow Falls Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park. This 5.4 mile roundtrip hike offers creek side hiking, beautiful forest, and the beautiful Rainbow Falls as a destination. At 80 foot, Rainbow falls is also the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On Sunny afternoons, a rainbow often becomes visible through the mist of the falls, resulting it its given name. For a longer hike, you can continue on the trail for another 4.2 miles to the summit of Mount LeConte, one of the tallest mountains in the park. Photo by: Michael Hicks
Laurel Falls Trail
Laurel Falls Trail is a very heavily trafficked trail out to Laural Falls. The trail is out and back, and is 2.4 mile out and back trail. Located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the trail features a waterfall and is good for hikers of all skill levels and is a very popular family hiking trail.
Laurel Falls is probably the single most popular destinations in the park due to it's close proximity to Gatlinburg, its easy difficulty, and due to it being paved. The trail is particularly busy on weekends and on weekdays during the summer. The parking area is often full, with people parking along side the road.
The trail destination is the 80-foot high Laurel Falls which is named after mountain laurel, which blooms all along the trail and near the falls in the spring. As mentioned, the trail is paved, however it can be rough, and often broke in spots. Photo by: Thomas
Kephart Prong Trail
Kephart Prong Trail is an awesome trail to exposure children to hiking in the smokies, and at the same time learn some of the history of the park as well.
The trail is 4 miles roundtrip, and will take you to one of the parks hiking shelters, which is next to a beautiful creek. The trailhead is located right along Highway 441, making for easy access. The first portion of the trail takes you through to old CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp. The CCC built many of the trails and roads in the park, and remains of the old camp are still there along the trail.
This was also a very active logging area, with an old logging railroad where the trail is now today. Have your kids keep an eye out for remnants of the old railroad, as there are pieces of railroad and old tools along the trail.
Clingmans Dome Trail
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at 6,643 feet. The tower at the summit offers 360 degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounding areas. The Appalachian Trail crosses here as well.
On clear days, you can see more than 100 miles in all directions, however weather is often unpredictable and you may have clear views one minute, and be fogged in the next. In fact, the summit can often be more than 10-20 degrees cooler than Gatlinburg. So dress in layers. Rain/Fog can rapidly move in as well, so you'll want to bring rain jackets with you if you can.
The hike is an out and back trail, that is 1.2 miles roundtrip, but the incline to the top is pretty steep. Most people, due to the thin air, and incline will require a number of breaks on the way up. Fortunately the park has benches along the way. So bring water!
Near the top, as you approach the tower, you'll see signs to the left for the Appalachian trail. Be sure to take a quick detour and walk a bit on the Appalachian trail, so you can say you did!
Little River Trail, Elkmont
Take your kids back in time with a visit to Elkmont, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Explore the restored old home sights in Daisy Town, where the wealthy from all around the area would spend their summers.
Hike out the Little River Trail, along the beautiful Little River. The trail is an old logging railroad grade, full of history, beautiful views of the river, and lots of opportunity for swimming! We enjoy hiking out to the railroad bridge, and hanging out below the old bridge in the water.
Family Safety On The Trail
As you can imagine, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not a zoo nor is it a walk in your neighborhood. You will be out hiking in the wild, and often long distances from emergency assistance. Now, don't let this scare you, you can safely hike in the park, and enjoy the remote and beautiful sights, you just have to be smart and be prepared. Here are a few tips:
- Never let your children get out of your sight. You never know what's around the corner. We recommend always keeping your children close.
- You may encounter Black Bears, and other wildlife in the park. 99% of the time they will run away, and it's always exciting and privilege to see them. The park does have Black Bears, but they aren't often what people expect. Please be sure to read over our Black Bear Necessities page to learn more about Black Bear, and how to handle an encounter.
- You may encounter snakes on the trail or near water. While it's rare to see them, it is possible. There are two venomous snakes in the park: the Timber Rattlesnake and the Copperhead. We always recommend teaching your children to never approach any snake and to view them from a safe distance. The risk of getting bit, and the snake being venomous isn't worth it.
- Always read up on the trail you're planning to hike, understand where it goes and how to get where you intend to go. We always recommend bringing a trail map, which are available at both the Sugarlands and Oconoluftee visitor centers.
- Bring snacks and more importantly water. Even on short walks, bringing water. One of the top medical emergencies in the park is dehydration, especially in the summer.
- Always let someone know where you are going, and when you plan to be back. That way if something were to happen, someone can call emergency services for you.
- You will most likely NOT have cell phone service
Here a a couple of videos we have done, we recommend that you watch!
Our Hiking Guides
See our full guides to more than 40 hikes and waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on our Hiking Page. Information, Directions, Photos, Video, and more!