Complete Gatlinburg and The Great Smoky Mountain National Park Hiking Guide
Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be a fun and rewarding experience as in other national parks. It is a great way to
both see and experience the park
and get away to where More than 850 miles of hiking trails traverse the Great Smoky Mountains. They range from easy to difficult and provide half hour walks to week-long backpacking trips. The Appalachian Trail runs for 70 miles along the park's top ridge. Pets are not allowed on any trails except for the Gatlinburg Trail
cabins in gatlinburg and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Backcountry camping requires a permit.
With so many options, the Smokies offer a tremendous number of hiking opportunities. Mentioned below are a few of the most popular and/or exciting destinations. All trails are described in round trip miles.
Hikes to Waterfalls
- Alum Cave - 4.4 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
It includes Arch Rock, a natural arch, Inspiration Point, and the Alum Cave Bluff. Inspiration Point offers a spectacular view of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River's upper basin. The bluff resulted from Confederate mining of saltpeter during the Civil War. This trail continues to Mt. LeConte, and its beautiful viewpoints. Round trip distance from the parking area to LeConte is 10 miles.
- Andrews Bald - 4.4 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
This hike heads downslope to a bald. Excellent views open to the south, toward Fontana Lake, and in spring the azalea explode with color. This trail head is not accessible by car from December 1 to April 1.
- Charlie's Bunion - 8.0 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
Following the Appalachian Trail, this hike goes out to rocky crags along the State-line ridge. It has excellent views.
- Chimney Tops - 4.0 miles (Strenuous in Difficulty)
It is a steep climb to two rock spires 4,755 ft in elevation. From the top they provide a spectacular 360-degree view.
Waterfalls adorn most every stream in the Smokies. Only one waterfall, Meigs Falls, is visible from the road. It is 12.9 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near the Townsend Wye. All others require hiking, and range from easy to strenuous. Below is a listing of the Smokies best known falls, mileage is given in round trip miles.
Hikes In and Around Cades Cove
- Abrams Falls - 5.0 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
The trail begins in the back of Cades Cove loop road. Abrams Falls has the largest water volume of any park fall, and is among the most photogenic.
- Chasteen Creek Falls - 4.0 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
This is a hike out of the Smokemont Campground. A small, but graceful fall, this area makes a good hike.
- Grotto Falls - 2.4 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
Off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It is though a hemlock dominated forest. Grotto Falls is distinctive as the only waterfall in the park one can walk behind.
- Henwallow Falls - 4.4 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
Trailhead is near Cosby Campground, south of Cosby, Tennessee. This 45-foot fall receives less visitation than many other area falls.
- Juney Whank Falls - 0.6 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
The trail starts near the end of Deep Creek Road near Deep Creek Campground.
- Indian Creek Falls - 1.5 miles (Moderate Difficulty)
Hike out of the Deep Creek Area. Sliding down 35 feet of sloping rock strata, the water livens and cools the air. Along the route is Toms Branch Falls, another a beautiful fall.
- Laurel Falls - 2.5 miles (Easy in Difficulty)
Easiest waterfall hike on the Tennessee side of the park. It follows a paved trail. The trail cuts through the middle of a series of cascades. Laurel Falls is 60 feet high.
- Rainbow Falls - 5.5 miles (Moderate to Strenuous in Difficulty)
This falls, at 80 feet, is the highest single plunge water takes in the park. This trail makes a good challenge and reveals a beautiful fall.
- Ramsay Cascades - 8.0 miles (Strenuous in Difficulty)
The trailhead begins in the Greenbrier Area. A magnificent scene, Ramsay Cascades tumbles over 100 feet among a spectacular setting.
Hikes to History
- Anthony Creek - Can Vary in Length (Moderate in Difficulty)
This is Cades Cove's easternmost trail. It begins in the Cades Cove picnic area. Vehicles must leave the area one hour before sunset. To stay overnight, park by the ranger station. The trail follows Anthony Creek to its headwaters. After three miles the trail reaches backcountry campsite #9. To camp in the backcountry requires reservations. After another mile the path merges with Bote Mountain Trail. Destinations include Spence Field, the Appalachian Trail, and Rocky Top. Rocky Top holds one of the Park's best vistas.
- Cades Cove Nature Trail - 2.0 miles (Easy in Difficulty)
This is a great trail for families. It is less than one mile past the Cades Cove Visitor Center, and begins along the loop road. The two mile loop hike takes about an hour. A brochure explains more about the Cove's cultural and natural history. Despite its convenience, few people use this easy trail.
- Cooper Road - Can Vary in Length - Easy in Difficulty This little used trail begins four miles from the loop entrance. It was once used for easy access to Cades Cove. It is a level, easy path. The trail ends at the Park boundary, but many hikers turn around earlier.
- Gregory Ridge - 8.0 miles (Strenuous in Difficulty)
The trailhead is on Forge Creek Road. Follow Forge Creek Road two miles. It ends as a parking lot. The six-mile trail to Gregory Bald begins here. This tough trip gains 3,000 feet in elevation. Old growth forest, with eight-foot diameter tulip poplars, and the 10 acre bald highlight this trail.
- Rich Mountain - 8.0 mile loop (Strenuous in Difficulty)
This trail begins on the right, before the entrance to the one-way loop road. The trail offers quiet and isolation. The trail features beautiful views of Cades Cove and many wildlife viewing opportunities.
- Kephart Prong
The trailhead is located at the footbridge over the Oconaluftee River 7.0 miles north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the Newfound Gap Road. The first 0.25 mile of trail passes by the site of an old CCC camp and fish hatchery.
- Old Settlers
Follow the Road into the Greenbrier area and turn at the bridge toward Ramsay Cascades Trail. Old Settlers Trail starts on the left just after the second bridge. The first 1.5 miles of the trail pass through remnants of the old Greenbrier community.
- Little Greenbrier
Park at Metcalf Bottoms and walk across the bridge. Take the Metcalf Bottoms Trail 0.6 mile to the Little Greenbrier School. If you wish, you can continue 1.0 mile from the school to the Walker Sister's farmstead on the Little Brier Gap Trail. The Little Brier Gap Trail starts at the barricade uphill from the school.
- Old Sugarlands
Park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and ask directions to this trailhead. The first two miles of this trail offer a glimpse of the old Sugarlands community which predated the national park. A 6.2 mile loop hike can be achieved by combining Old Sugarlands Trail and Two-mile Branch Trail.
- Woody House
Follow the Rough Fork Trail from the end of Cataloochee Road 1.0 mile to the Woody place and its 1880's home.
It is important to be well versed before exploring the backcountry. Here are a few basics to help you get started.
Leave It There
- Always hike with another person
- Always bring a small flashlight
- Always bring water
- All water taken from the backcountry should be treated
- Let someone know your route and return time
- Wear appropriate shoes
- Carry a small first aid kit
- Be informed on the weather and be prepared for quickly changing conditions
- Check current weather conditions
Whether it be plants, rocks, animals, please leave it there! Whatever you find in the park is protected for the enjoyment of future generations. It may be easy to rationalize that only one flower that you pick will not hurt anything, but if everyone that visited the park took just one flower there would be none left to enjoy today, but more importantly, the seed would be prevented from falling and propagating the species. Rocks might be a nice keepsake, but here again, they, too, serve a function here. All plants, including the ferns and mosses, are also protected.
Most everyone will realize that animals are protected here, and poaching is prohibited. You might not know that feeding the animals is also prohibited to protect not only the hand that is feeding them, but the animals' well-being as well. All wildlife is protected here. Fishing is permitted. However, there are very stringent fishing regulations, and you should check on them if you intend to fish.
There is an adage around that goes "take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footsteps." This is not as true as it used to be because the park wants you to take other's litter, and with increased backcountry visitation, they emphasize low impact camping to minimize the impact of the footsteps left. Please check for information on Low Impact Camping before leaving the trailhead.
- Picking, digging or otherwise damaging plants is prohibited in the park. Subject to a $5,000 fine and six months imprisonment
- Persons feeding or disturbing wildlife are subject to a $5,000 fine and six months imprisonment
- Pets are NOT permitted on park trails. In developed areas they must be on a leash at all times
- Camping is permitted only in designated sites
Black bears in the Park are wild and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Treat all bear encounters with extreme caution and follow these guidelines.
Encounters Along the Trail
Remain watchful. If you see a bear at a distance do not approach it. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc. YOU'RE TOO CLOSE.
Being too close may also promote aggressive behavior from the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground. The bear is demanding more space. Don't run but slowly back away watching the bear. Try to increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same.
If a bear persistently follows or approaches you, typically without vocalizing, or paw swatting, try changing your direction. If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground. If the bear gets closer, begin talking loudly or shouting at it. Act aggressively and try to intimidate the bear.
Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example move to higher ground). Throw nonfood objects such as rocks at the bear. Use a deterrent such as a stout stick if you have one. Don't run and don't turn away from the bear.
Don't leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems. Most injuries from black bear attacks are minor and result from a bear attempting to get at people's food. If the bear's behavior indicates that it is after your food and you're physically attacked, separate yourself from the food and slowly back away.
If the bear shows no interest in your food and you're physically attacked, fight back aggressively with any available object -- the bear may consider you as prey! Help protect others, report all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately! Above all, keep your distance from bears!
Encounters in Camp
The best way to avoid bears is to not attract them. Keep cooking and sleeping areas separate. Keep tents and sleeping bags free of food odors; do not store food, garbage or other attractants (i.e., toothpaste, soap, etc.) in them.
A clean camp is essential to reducing problems. Pack out all food and litter; don't bury it or try to burn anything. Proper food storage is required by regulation. Secure all food and other attractants at night or when not in use. Where food storage devices are present, use them. Otherwise: Place all odorous items in your pack.
Select two trees 10-20 feet apart with limbs 15 feet high. Using a rock as weight, toss a rope over a limb on the first tree and tie one end to the pack. Repeat this process with the second tree. Raise the pack about six feet via the first rope and tie it off. Then pull the second rope until the pack is up at least 10 feet high and evenly spaced; it must be four feet or more from the nearest limb.
Garbage Kills Bears!
- Secure all food, toothpaste, soap and trash at night or when not in use
- Do not cook or store food in or near your tent
- Pack out ALL your trash, don't bury or burn anything
- If a bear approaches you, frighten it by yelling, banging pans together, or throwing rocks