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12 Best Hikes in the Smoky Mountain National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 150 different hiking trails that cover over 800 miles, which ones are the best?  Which are the A-list hikes?  We're going to run down THE 12 Best Hikes in the Smoky Mountain National Park.

All of these trails offer beautiful scenery, water, and history and show off some of the most beautiful places in the park.

Here are our picks for the best hikes in the Smoky Mountain National Park

Updated: 6/3/2023

Be a prepared Hiker!   Be sure to review our Day Hiking Essentials before hitting the trail.

Choosing the Best Hikes in the Smoky Mountain National Park

Coming up with a list of the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains National Park was tough.  

There are so many awesome trails in the park, we really struggled.   We mapped out our criteria, and rated each trail on a scale from 1-10 for each criteria.  The top 12 (ok, it was supposed to be 10, but there were 2 more we just had to include) are included below.

We do recognize that "best" is a bit subjective, but we've hiked in the Smoky Mountains many times over the past 15+ years, and have hiked all of these trails multiple times, and they are still our favorites.

What criteria did we use?

  • Scenic Views
  • Well maintained Trails
  • Varied scenery (woods, water, rocks, long distance views)
  • Interesting
  • Waterfalls
  • History
  • Trail length and difficulty
  • Overall safety

Ok, enough gabbing!   On with the Best Hikes in the Smoky Mountain National Park!

1 - Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

Great Smoky Mountain National Park - This is the view from the top of Mount LeConte, offer long distance views of layers of tall mountains covered with trees.

This trail is one of the best hikes 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, and is not easy, but it's definitely one of the best hikes in the smoky mountain national park.

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!

DON'T MISS THESE GREAT 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.

This is an incredibly popular hike, and for good reason, as it's definitely one of the best hikes in the smoky mountain national park and the waterfall and hike on the way are gorgeous.

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, and one of best hikes in the smoky mountains national park, 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.  This is one of our personal favorites.

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.   One of the best things about this trail, at least for us, is that it's not well known, meaning you'll find very few people on the trail.

9 - Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Andrews Bald hike is a 3.5 mile roundtrip hike to Andrews Bald.  The Andrews Bald Trail begins near the popular Clingmans Dome.  

The hike has an 899 foot elevation gain, and is considered moderate in difficulty.  The Andrews Bald 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 Andrews Bald 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.  

Definitely a great hike, and certainly one of the best hikes in the smoky mountain national park.

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.

What can you not miss in Smoky Mountain national park?

Here are some of the things you can't miss in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

See many more great places to not miss in our Top things to do in he Great Smoky Mountains National Park guide.

What famous hiking trail passes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

The Appalachian Trail is the most famous trail that passes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a 2,180-mile long footpath that runs from Georgia to Maine. The trail passes through the park for 71 miles, and it is a popular destination for hikers of all levels.

The Appalachian Trail is a challenging trail, but it is also a rewarding one. Hikers who complete the trail will have experienced some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States. They will have also had the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife, including black bears, deer, and wild turkeys.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is an unforgettable experience. You will see some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States, and you will have the opportunity to experience the peace and tranquility of the wilderness.

What is the most popular hiking trail in the smoky mountains?

The most popular hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Appalachian Trail (AT).

The AT stretches approximately 71 miles through the park and offers stunning views of the mountains, diverse flora and fauna, and a variety of hiking experiences.

Many hikers embark on multi-day backpacking trips along the AT, while others opt for day hikes on different sections of the trail. It's worth noting that while the Appalachian Trail is the most famous, there are numerous other fantastic trails within the Smoky Mountains that offer unique experiences and beautiful scenery.

What is the biggest waterfall in the Smoky Mountains?

The biggest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Ramsey Cascades. It boasts a total height of 100 feet and 4 miles of hiking trails to reach it.

The waterfall is located on the Ramsey Creek Trail, which is a moderately difficult hike.  The trailhead is located off of Newfound Gap Road, about 4 miles east of Gatlinburg.

What is the most strenuous hike in the Smoky Mountains?

The most strenuous hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Mt. Sterling via Baxter Creek Trail. It is a 6.2-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 4,200 feet. The trail is rated as strenuous and is not recommended for inexperienced hikers. 

The trail begins at the Baxter Creek Trailhead and climbs steadily through a variety of terrain, including forests, meadows, and streams. The trail is well-maintained, but it can be challenging due to the steep elevation gain.

The highlight of the trail is the summit of Mt. Sterling, which offers panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains. The summit is also home to a fire tower, which provides even more expansive views.

Do I need bear spray in Smoky Mountains?

It is not mandatory to carry bear spray in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it is highly recommended. Black bears are common in the park, and they can be unpredictable. Bear spray is an effective deterrent against bear attacks, and it can save your life.

Here are some tips for using bear spray:

  • Keep it in a holster on your hip. This will make it easy to access if you need it.
  • Do not point it at people or other animals. Bear spray is for bears only.
  • If you see a bear, make noise to let it know you are there. Talk loudly, clap your hands, or bang on a pot.
  • If the bear does not leave, spray it in the face. Hold the canister upright and spray for 3-5 seconds.
  • Do not run away. This will only make the bear chase you.

What is the most popular destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

John Oliver Cabin Cades Cove

One of the most popular destinations within the park is Cades Cove. Cades Cove is a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and offers visitors a chance to experience the park's natural beauty and rich history.

Cades Cove is known for its scenic driving loop, which takes visitors through the valley and past historic buildings, such as churches, cabins, and a working gristmill. Many visitors enjoy exploring the area by car, bicycle, or on foot, as there are numerous hiking trails that start from or pass through Cades Cove.

The popularity of Cades Cove can be attributed to its stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and cultural heritage. It provides opportunities for wildlife viewing, including white-tailed deer, black bears, and wild turkeys. Additionally, Cades Cove offers a glimpse into the region's history with its well-preserved structures and exhibits.

Final Thoughts on the Best Hikes in the Smoky Mountain National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an abundance of breathtaking hikes that cater to a variety of interests and fitness levels. Whether you're seeking panoramic vistas, cascading waterfalls, rich historical sites, or encounters with wildlife, this park has something for everyone.

By carefully considering your fitness level, hiking goals, trail descriptions, difficulty ratings, and safety precautions, you can choose the best hikes in the smoky mountain national park that align with your preferences and ensure an enjoyable experience. 

The park's more than 800 miles of trails allow you to immerse yourself in the park's natural wonders and explore the diverse landscapes at your own pace. From leisurely strolls along meandering streams to challenging treks up rugged peaks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an opportunity to connect with nature and create lasting memories.

As you leave on your hiking adventure in the Smokies, be sure to respect and preserve the park's natural and cultural heritage. Leave no trace, follow park regulations, and tread lightly to ensure the preservation of this remarkable ecosystem for future generations.

Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a beginner, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker's paradise waiting to be explored. 

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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