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Looking for the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains? We have the 10 best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains including some amazing hidden gems!
I’ve been visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the time I was a little kid, and Chris and I recently took a long weekend trip down to Tennessee to explore the area further.
From gorgeous waterfalls to beautiful summits, these are hands-down the best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains that you have to experience.
Best Hikes in the Smoky Mountains
These are definitely the best hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains ranging from easy trails to challenging day hikes. While some are more popular than others, we’ve got some great gems in here you’ll want to add to your Great Smoky Mountains National Park Bucket list. These make for either an adventurous honeymoon in Tennessee or a fun getaway! The Smokies are definitely a bucket list US Destination!
1. Mt Cammerer is One of the Best Hikes in the Smoky Mountains National Park
This is my absolute favorite day hike in the Smoky Mountains. While it certainly can be a challenge, there are few people on the trail, meaning you can have the top of the mountain to yourself for a while!
I also love the fact that you get to hike on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains on this hike. The scenic Appalachian trail runs from Georgia to Maine, so you may see a few thru-hikers, but for the most part, you’ll be able to escape the crowds from more popular trails and enjoy the surrounding nature on the way to Mt Cammerer.
Start at Cosby Campground and head to the Low Gap Trail. Then, you’ll be met with a steep, relentless uphill climb for about 3 miles. Yes, it can be quite challenging! But during that time you’ll ascend upwards of 2,000 feet in elevation. Once you turn left to get on the Appalachian Trail, things level out for the next 2.1 miles before the quick 0.6 mile split off for Mt Cammerer.
The views of Mt Cammerer make this difficult hike beyond worth it. We had the place to ourselves for quite some time as we ate our lunch, took a ton of photos, and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery.
There is also an old stone fire tower from the 1930’s with fantastic 360º views of the area.
Once you’ve finished admiring the scenery, just hike back down the way you came. This hidden gem hike in the Great Smoky Mountains is well worth your time and effort!
Distance: 11.2 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 2,740 feet
How Busy: No crowds, few hikers, including Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and locals.
Difficulty: Strenuous, steep elevation gain
Time: 6-8 hours
2. Alum Cave Bluff to Mt LeConte Trail
When one thinks of scenic trails that lead to an iconic Smoky Mountains view, most think of Mt LeConte. This trail has cave bluffs, beautiful scenery throughout, a babbling creek, and, of course, stunning mountain views.
Because this trail has so much to offer, it is very popular. Also, keep in mind that while not everyone who is parked in the parking lot and on the trail are climbing to the summit, there will be a lot of people along the trail from the trailhead up to Alum Cave Bluffs.
Start at the Alum Cave Trailhead and you’ll stay along Alum Cave Creek for a bit before reaching Arch Rock, a tiny cave that you’ll climb steps through before continuing on to Inspiration Point. This is where the treeline opens up and you’ll have incredible views over several mountains and valleys!
Then, you’ll happen upon the beautiful and massive Alum Cave Bluffs at the midpoint of the hike to the top. This spot is a popular spot and where many hikers turn around, but you’ll continue on the trail. There are some challenging parts as you climb to the top, especially where there are steel cables to hang onto the sides of the mountain. Definitely hang onto those, especially if it happens to be raining like it was when we went!
Lastly, you’ll see signs for Rainbow Falls Trail and Mount LeConte Lodge. Follow those until you get to the summit. The views are said to be stunning, and I’ve seen photos from friends who hiked it on a nice day and can definitely attest that this is true. However, while it was foggy when we started our early hike up, it eventually started pouring rain. So when we got to the top not only were we freezing, but we only saw fog!
The hike redeemed itself on the way down, though, as the clouds started to shift and we started to see the gorgeous views on the way back to the car. I’d love to go back and hike it again on a nice day.
And, if you’ve got the time, this is a great trail where you can hike up and spend the night at Mount LeConte Lodge! You’ll get to see gorgeous sunrises and sunsets from the lodge, and the rooms start at $154.50 per person including breakfast and dinner.
Pro-Tip: Because this hike is incredibly popular, go early! We started our hike at 6:30 am and had the trail mostly to ourselves all the way to the top. You’ll definitely see crowds of people on the way down, but it is nice to have the place to yourself for a bit in the beginning.
Distance: 10 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 2,560 feet
How Busy: Very busy until you pass Alum Cave Bluffs on the way up. Go early!
Difficulty: Strenuous, steady uphill most of the way up
Time: 6-7 hours
3. Andrews Bald Hike
This hike leads to the highest grassy bald (a mountain summit covered in dense vegetation) in the Smoky Mountains, and is near the famed Clingman’s Dome.
After visiting the scenic Clingman’s Dome observatory to see the beautiful vistas atop the highest mountain in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll definitely want to take the hike over to Andrews Bald for additional scenic views.
Start at the Forney Ridge Trail that passes through an old spruce forest. Most of the trees are dead now, and this was due to the balsam woolly adelgid bugs that killed them. After a mile and a half in, though, you’ll begin to see the stunning panoramic views of the mountains.
Once you reach Andrews Bald, you’ll be met with a dreamy meadow that is filled with azaleas in the spring and colorful rhododendrons in the summer.
Distance: 3.5 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
How Busy: Can get pretty busy- go early!
Time: 2-3 hours
4. Deep Creek Loop Trail
This is one of the easy hikes in the Smoky Mountains and has a couple of waterfalls! Located near Bryson City, North Carolina, this hike is more known to locals than many people coming to visit the Smokies.
Expect to see Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and spot beautiful flowers in the spring and summer months.
Start at the Deep Creek Campground and take the Deep Creek Trailhead. Almost as soon as you start your hike, you’ll stumble upon Tom Branch Falls. This spot has an 60 foot waterfall and there are several beautiful wildflowers to spot during the spring and summer along the trail and falls.
You can then continue on your hike until you reach the junction for Indian Creek Trail. Turn right here and continue until you reach Indian Creek Falls, a 45 foot cascading waterfall. After that you’ll stay on Indian Creek Trail until you reach the Deep Creek Loop Trail sign. Turn left to continue the loop.
You’ll then have some uphill hiking until you pass the Sunkota Ridge junction (stay on Deep Creek Loop Trail). Once you see a sign for the Deep Creek Trail turn left and continue back to where you started.
Pro-Tip: For another waterfall, on the way back to the parking lot, there is a small trail that leads to Juney Whank Falls. Take the 1.2 miles there to see the 80 feet falls before taking a 0.25 mile hike back to the parking lot.
Distance: 4.9 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
How Busy: Slightly busy throughout the year.
Time: 2-3 hours
5. Little River Trail
This hike is one of the easiest of the Great Smoky Mountains hiking trails. It is a pretty short hike and a fantastic opportunity to spot the synchronous fireflies in late spring/early summer in the evening!
You’ll start near Elkmont Campground and stay on Little River Trail the whole time. This path follows an old logging road, so you’ll see plenty of railroad rails and such. In the spring, expect to see incredible wildflowers blooming along the forest floor. In the fall, this is one of the best spots for fall foliage.
The trail runs along a little river and eventually, you’ll run into Huskey Branch Falls, a smaller 20-foot waterfall. Continue on until you reach the Cumberland Gap Trail junction. This is the typical turnaround point.
Pro-Tip: If you plan to see the synchronous fireflies, you’ll either need to reserve a camping spot at Elkmont Campground or enter the firefly lottery in order to have parking for the event. This only lasts 8 days during late May or early June, so it is quite crowded and popular at this time.
Distance: 5 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 412 feet
How Busy: Very busy.
Time: 2-3 hours
6. Baskin Creek Falls is a Hidden Gem of the Great Smoky Mountains Trails
It can be hard to imagine that in the nation’s most visited national park that you can find a trail to yourself! This trail offers that and more!
Baskin Creek Falls is a challenging, yet shorter hike that leads to a hidden waterfall in the park. While most waterfalls are huge hotspots for visitors, somehow this place remains a secret. Whether it is the difficult climb back or maybe not many people know about it, but the hike is lovely from the beautiful mountain views at the start all the way to the scenic waterfall.
The trail is a little less maintained than more popular trails, so beware of a little overgrowth!
Start at the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail near Jim Bales Place, where you’ll stay on the trail for Baskin Creek Falls the whole time. Then, continue down to Baskins Creek where you’ll cross it and continue on through a meadow before descending down to Baskin Creek Falls.
The falls are incredible to see! It is a 30 foot waterfall and there is a huge boulder you can sit on to enjoy the view (be careful climbing it though!). We seriously had this whole place to ourselves and saw a handful of people the entire hike.
Distance: 3.2 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 950 feet
How Busy: Not busy at all.
Time: 3-4 hours
7. Ramsey Cascades is One of the Best Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails
This is one of the more popular Great Smoky Mountains hikes as this leads to the tallest waterfall in the park. That is why you need to start your hike earlier for this, but it is well worth it! This 100 foot waterfall dumps into a pool at the bottom and has beautiful flowers around it in the spring and summer.
Start at the Ramsey Cascades Trailhead where it is mostly gravel. Then you’ll cross Little Laurel Branch and then the Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River. Continue on another 1.5 miles and then the gravel path ends.
Continue on the Ramsey Cascades Trail and beware of your footing, as there are tree roots and rocks to trip you up! The elevation gain starts to pick up here as you pass Ramsey Prong and then you’ll need to use caution as you hike the slippery path to the Ramsey Cascades.
Pro-Tip: Get here fairly early to avoid the crowds. It is a more challenging hike, but if you get here by 7 am, you’ll avoid most of the other hikers.
Distance: 8 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 2,375 feet
How Busy: Busy- go early!
Time: 5-6 hours
8. Cades Cove + Abrams Falls Trails
This has to be one of the most popular trails in the Smoky Mountains and for good reason. There are scenic views, historic buildings, and even plenty of wildlife spotting along this trail.
However, it isn’t just a trail, it is also a road. This is a popular drive for many people to do this full loop and park to take photos or do smaller hikes off the trail. While it is popular, cars are blocked from entering until 10 am on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May-September.
So if you plan to bike or hike this trial, I recommend doing this earlier in the day on a Wednesday or Saturday.
This is an easy loop road so just start at the beginning and continue until you loop around. From here you’ll spot great sights like Oliver Cabin, 3 churches (Methodist, Primitive Baptist, and Missionary Baptist), Cades Cove Visitor Center, Cades Cove Nature Trail, and so much more as you walk along this path.
If you’d like to add another hike right off Cades Cove, I recommend Abrams Falls. This 5 mile hike is very popular and you just follow it until you reach the waterfall. Admire the 20 foot waterfall before coming back to Cades Cove Loop.
This trail is also well known for spotting black bears and other wildlife! Just be careful and don’t approach them.
Distance: 11 mile loop + 5 miles for Abrams Falls
Elevation Gain: 675 feet + 350 feet on Abrams Falls
How Busy: Very busy – go early and on Wednesdays and Saturdays. 6 am is a good start time to finish the 11 miles before cars come in.
Time: 2-4 hours to drive, 4 hours to hike + 3 hours with Abrams Falls
9. Hen Wallow Falls Trail
For another awe-inspiring waterfall hike, this definitely makes the list of best hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains. The trail isn’t that difficult or long, and it leads to a breathtaking 90 foot waterfall that is narrow at the top and widens out quite a bit at the bottom.
Start at the Gabes Mountain Trailhead and you’ll have a steady uphill climb for a bit. You’ll see a side trail that leads to the falls a little over 2 miles in. Take the short trail until you reach the falls. Then, just turn back the way you came.
Distance: 4.4 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
How Busy: Moderate
Time: 3-4 hours
10. Rainbow Falls Trail
While this trail is steep and technical, the falls are well worth the effort. This is another of the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains that leads to Mt LeConte. However, while you could hike the 14 miles to the top of Mt LeConte, we recommend turning around when you see the falls.
Start at the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail near the Rainbow Falls and Bull Head Trail parking area. Begin on the Rainbow Falls Trail and cross Trillium Gap Trail before hiking along LeConte Creek.
This leads to many switchbacks and you’ll cross the creek twice until you see the falls. As there is a lot of mist from the falls, you may be able to spot a rainbow! Enjoy the views before turning around to head back to the parking lot.
Distance: 5.4 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
How Busy: Moderate
Time: 3-4 hours
Pro-Tips for Hiking in the Smokies:
Whether you plan to do some easy hikes in the Smokies or tackle some of the best challenging hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, here are some pro-tips:
- Early and mid-week are great times to visit for fewer crowds.
- Be sure to pack plenty of water! We usually bring our Osprey Dayhike Packs and use this 3L bladder and carry a LifeStraw water bottle for emergencies.
- Bring plenty of snacks for day hikes as well!
- As far as what else to bring, make sure to pack sunscreen, bug spray, a tick key, towel if you get sweaty, hand sanitizer, a mini first aid kit, and electrolyte tablets for your water, especially on hot days!
- Wearing hiking boots is a good idea, as the terrain can get quite challenging and rocky. I love my Merrel Moabs and Chris loves his Keens.
- The best times to visit include the spring and fall for cooler weather and beautiful flowers in spring and changing leaves in fall. However, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is pretty busy from spring-fall. Check out our guide all about the best times of year to visit the Smokies!
- When it comes to lodging, we love renting a cabin on VRBO! This one is perfect with a hot tub to soak achy muscles in after the hike. Plan to stay in either Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge for ample accommodation near the park.
- Be sure to budget for gas on your trip, as many of the hikes can be quite deep into the park, meaning you’ll have some longer drives to get to the trails.
- Planning a long weekend in the Smokies? Check out our Great Smoky Mountains itinerary!
- Want more information on trails, cities, and all things about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Check out Moon Travel Guides for their amazing book written by a local!
Also, be sure to check out our gift guide for hikers here!
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