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 young kids, and far too long for those of us with kids to have time to venture out on in most cases.
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, 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 picks for family friendly trails in the Smokies:
Alum Bluff Cave Trail
One of the most popular trails in the park, this trail is divided into two sections. The first is from the parking lot located off of Highway 441, and leads up to Alum Bluff Cave, an old mine. You stop here and return back or continue on the second part which takes you up to LeConte Lodge at the top of LeConte Mountain. Get more information on our Alum Bluff Cave Trail guide.
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 scenary, 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 sites we’ve ever seen. Read all about Porters Creek Trail in our guide.
Abrams Falls Trail
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 National Park. During peak season, it receives more than 1000 visitors per day! The trail is considered moderate, and follows along side Abrams Creek most of the way. The destination is well worth the hike, as Abrams falls 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, an many people have died here due to the strong currents and cold waters. Read more about Abrams Falls Trail.
Deep Creek Loop Trail
Deep Creek is a famous part of the Smokies for tubing. People travel from all around the world to tube down the peaceful and rocky waters of Deep Creek. But Deep Creek also has a really great loop trail that is not only a great 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 is almost 5 miles, and relatively flat, except when climbing and decending 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. We even saw a Black Bear near Sunkota Ridge. Read all about Deep Creek Loop Trail, in our trail guide.
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 Smokies. On Sunny afternoons, a rainbow often becomes visible through the mist of the falls, resulting it it’s 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. Read more about Rainbow Falls Trail.
Caldwell Creek Tail/Boogerman Trail
A great trail that many people don’t know about is a loop trail off Caldwell Creek Trail in Cataloochee, named Boogerman Trail. Boogerman trail is named after the nickname for the original land owner. Total roundtrip distance is 7.4 miles. The trail will lead you along Caldwell Creek trail, crossing it a number of times, and then up into the beautiful and historic woods along Boogerman trail. Points of interest include two old farm/home sites, a gorgeous creek, old graveyard, and old growth trees that are some of the biggest we’ve ever seen in our lives. Read our Boogerman Trail Guide for all the details and lots of photos.
Andrews Bald is a 3.5 mile roundtrip hike located at Clingman’s Dome. The hike will take you a out through a fir forest, and then onto Andrews Bald, a large clearing along a ridge line that offers outstanding views. The whole area was the site of a B-29 plane crash in 1946, and remains of the plane can still be seen along the trail. This trail was also one of the roughest and rockiest trails in the smokies, until recent improvements were made. Read more about Andrews Bald.
Big Creek Trail to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls
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. Read all about Big Creek and Midnight Hole.
Photo credits: Abrams Falls – Matthew Paulson, Rainbow Falls – Michael Hicks, Andrews Bald – Outdoor Adventure Training, Big Creek – Jim Dollar