Hiking is one of the most rewarding activities that you can do in any national park, and especially in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Whether you are a first time visitor to the park, or a veteran visitor looking to make the most of your trip, finding one (or more!) day hikes in the Smokies is almost certainly on your to-do list. We have compiled a list of some of the most popular, most beautiful, and most enjoyable hikes in the Smokies, for hikers of all different backgrounds and experience levels. Hopefully, this list can help you find the right hike for you and your family.
Here is our top ten list of hikes to take in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
1. Gregory Bald: Gregory Bald boasts a two-fold appeal- incredible views no matter what season you visit, and incredible flame azaleas. These flowers bloom from mid to late June, and are an attraction for azalea lovers from all over the world. This blooming season has been described as one of the most incredible view of azaleas on the planet. They bloom in a wide variety of colors, anywhere from red, to pink, to yellow. Don’t worry if you can’t come in June- this hike is a must see at any time of year. From this vantage point, you can see Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and the Smoky Mountains themselves.
2. Mt. Cammerer: Mt. Cammerer offers what some call the best views in the park, especially on a clear day. The viewpoint overlooks the Pigeon River Gorge, and you can see for miles in every direction. If that isn’t enough for you, this outlook also has the stone fire tower lookout, which give you an even better vantage point to look out over the park. The views of the mountains will take your breath away, so this hike definitely deserves a spot on our list.
3. Rocky Top: For those of you looking for a longer hike, Rocky Top might be a good destination for you. The first five miles of the hike up the mountain are relatively strenuous, definitely enough to give you a good workout! You’ll be led to Spence Field, a gorgeous meadow with a lovely view of the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. In late spring, Spence Field has an incredible amount of mountain laurel, so if you can arrange to go during this time we highly recommend it! You can stop at Spence Field or continue for another 1.2 miles along the Appalachian Trail to reach Rocky Top. From this vantage point, you will get stunning panoramic views of Fontana Lake, Cades Cove, Townsend, and Maryville.
4. Mount LeConte: Mount LeConte is a perfect intersection between history and scenery, and is a classic hike recommended by park veterans. You’ll take the Alum Cave Trail to the mountain, which takes hikers through Arch Rock, Inspiration point, the Eye of the Needle, and Alum Cave, finally reaching the summit of the mountain. This is a great area to spot peregrine falcons, particularly at the Eye of the Needle. At the summit of the mountain, Cliff Top, located near the LeConte Lodge, offers beautiful views of Clingmans Dome and the mountains on this side of the park. Travel on a bit farther to Myrtle Point, from which you can see the eastern Smokies. This hike is an absolute must-see, both for the views at the end and for the journey to reach them.
5. Andrews Bald: Andrews Bald is a short, but still strenuous hike, but the views at the end are definitely worth a little extra effort! The hike itself is 1.7 miles long, but the elevation gain catches up to you pretty rapidly. When you reach the top, you’ll come across several acres of grassy balds, from which you can see the southern Smokies. Due to the short length of the hike, this location is a great place to eat a picnic lunch during your visit to the park. Stop and rest a while, and enjoy some of the most beautiful views in the area.
6. Abrams Falls: Abrams Falls is the most voluminous waterfall in the park, despite its short 20 foot height. It falls over a sandstone cliff, and has been called the most scenic waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains. The hike to this location is moderate in difficulty, and is 5.2 miles roundtrip. It is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so get an early start to avoid the crowds!
7. The Jump-off: The Jump-Off is a very steep hike, but don’t let this deter you! The effort you put in will be rewarded, as this hike offers incredible views of the ridge where the Appalachian Trail is located. The Jump-Off itself is located on the northeastern side of Mt. Kephart, on top of a 1000 foot cliff. Due to the steepness of the hike, the Jump-Off is not as crowded as some other hikes, so you can relax when you reach the viewing point.
8. Charlies Bunion: This hike is one of the more secluded in the park, as well as one of the more difficult. The hike is both long and steep, making this a fairly strenuous trek. The destination is a long section of the trail that reaches an altitude of 6000 feet, so you can imagine that the views of the Appalachians are absolutely astounding! This hike is a perfect choice for experienced hikers looking to leave the crowds behind, and anyone looking for a beautiful and unique hiking experience.
9. Porters Creek: Porter’s Trail is a perfect mix of all of the elements you want to see in a national park. This trail takes you past beautiful streams, through an old-growth forest, past remains of early settlers, and reaching the final destination of a lesser known, but incredibly beautiful waterfall. During the spring, this trail is blooming with an incredible display of wildflowers. There are a couple of short side trails that adventurous hikers can take. One leads you to the John Messer farm site, where you can see a barn that was built around 1875, as well as a cabin built by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club in the 1930’s. Both of these are incredible pieces of the park’s history. You will also see Fern Branch Falls about 2 miles into the hike.
10. Alum Cave: Alum Cave boasts some of the most spectacular views in the park. Caution is needed when taking this hike, especially during the winter, when you may have to dodge three feet long icicles that form along the top of the bluff. Before you enter the cave, be sure to look towards the Eye of the Needle, which often has nesting peregrine falcons.
Hiking is one of the best ways to experience Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so find a hike that intrigues you and have an adventure!