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Looking for some amazing Gatlinburg hiking trails? Check out our list of of the top 15 trails!
Gatlinburg is a lovely mountain town with nearby hiking trails galore. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts more than 850 miles of hiking trails, and Gatlinburg is the perfect place to explore them all!
Hiking can be an incredible experience for many reasons-you get some exercise while exploring new places and getting some fresh air, all without having to go very far out of town.
Be on the lookout for wildlife, take in the scenery, and break bad habits by doing something different. With so many amazing benefits to offer, it’s no wonder that so many people are taking up hiking as their hobby. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or have been hiking your entire life-there’s always something new to discover and experience with Gatlinburg hiking trails!
Hiking with kids? See our guide to Gatlinburg hiking for families here!
Why Gatlinburg hiking?
Hiking is the activity of walking long distances on trails, usually in the mountains or countryside. It can be a great way to get some exercise while exploring new places and getting some fresh air-all without having to go very far outside of Gatlinburg. The top trails for hiking are Laurel Falls, Gatlinburg Trail, Rainbow Falls, Alum Cave Trail, Grotto Falls, Clingman’s Dome, Abrams Falls, Baskin Falls, Chimney Tops Trail, which we will explore more below.
Why is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the perfect place to hike?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts more than 850 miles of hiking trails. No matter what your experience level is or how long you’ve been hiking for, there is something for everyone.
There are beginner-friendly trails with little elevation change, moderate hikes with some incline, and strenuous trails that will certainly get your blood pumping!
The benefits of hiking
Besides getting out into nature, there are several other benefits to taking up this activity. Hiking is a great way to get some exercise while exploring new places and getting some fresh air.
Due to the rising number of people who are taking up this activity, there is also a rising number of trails being designed to accommodate hikers. With so many amazing benefits to offer, it’s no wonder that so many people are taking up hiking as their hobby!
How to start a hike
There are a few things to remember when selecting a hike.
If you’re not sure about which trail is right for you, the US Forest Service provides a variety of trails in Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There are easy hikes that will let you take in the scenery and get some exercise without having to be too strenuous or difficult, and there are expert trains that will take you up thousands of feet in elevation.
1) Beginner tips: Take it slow and steady without wearing yourself out too quickly and stay on the designated trails (stay off streams).
2) Expert tips: Know your body’s limits, don’t forget anything important like water, understand what terrain you’re hiking in, and be aware of allergies!
gatlinburg Hiking gear essentials
When it comes to hiking gear essentials, there are a few pieces of gear that you just can’t go without. Below are some of the most important items to bring with you on your hike!
Your shoes are your most important piece of equipment when hiking. Make sure to choose a sturdy, comfortable pair of boots that provide good ankle support.
If you are sticking to a trail that isn’t too long or strenuous, you could opt for some of your favorite tennis shoes. Just make sure the shoes will protect your feet and that they are comfortable. You don’t want any blisters (trust me on this one!).
Staying hydrated is key when hiking, especially in warmer weather. Make sure to pack a water bottle or two so you can stay hydrated on the go.
If going on a longer hike, a backpack is essential for storing snacks, water, and other supplies you may need while hiking.
If you are taking a shorter hike then you may not need to bring a backpack. We typically don’t if we are going under 3 miles with our family (which includes smaller kiddos).
Sun exposure can be dangerous when hiking, especially in the mountains where you may not notice how long you’ve been in the sun. Sunscreen is a must to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
Trekking Poles for Long Hikes
A pair of trekking poles can take pressure off of your knees and make hiking easier on your body overall.
We typically don’t use trekking poles as we do the hikes that are less than 5 miles and have smaller kids with us, but if you are going on one of the very long or strenuous hikes you might find these helpful.
First Aid Kit
Accidents happen, even to experienced hikers! Bring a first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wipes, etc. in case you get hurt while on the trail.
If you are going a short distance you probably won’t need this (although it certainly can never hurt!), but if you are bringing a backpack you should consider throwing in a first aid kit.
Top 15 hikes in the Smoky Mountain National Park (Gatlinburg) that are sure not to disappoint!
Easy Gatlinburg Hiking Trails
Oconaluftee River Trail
This is one of the easiest hikes in the park as far as elevation change. There have been more than 40 species of wildflowers identified along this trail.
Length: 3.0 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 70 feet
Famous for: Wildflowers and Mountain Farm Museum, which is a collection of log buildings from all around the park. You can enter the trail from the far end of the museum and then take a nice scenic hike along the Oconaluftee River.
The Gatlinburg Trail is an easy level hike that is one of the two trails in the park that allow dogs, so you can bring your furry friend along! It starts at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and has lots to see along the way.
Length: 3.9 mile roundtrip
Elevation Change: 235 feet
Famous for: great views of the Little Pigeon River, a beautiful footbridge that is one of the longest in the park, old historic areas such as an old homestead. There is a side half-mile trail to Cataract Falls, which is definitely worth seeing.
Indian Creek Falls
This is a super easy hike that is great for all members of the family. It’s not very long with little elevation change, but you still get to see an amazing waterfall.
Length: 1.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 150 feet
Famous for: Tom Branch Falls, an 80-foot waterfall you can see near the beginning of the trail. Also Indian Creek Falls, a 45-foot waterfall. It is also known for beautiful wildflowers in the spring.
Laurel Falls Trail
This is a family favorite of ours! The waterfall is spectacular and it’s one of the most popular hikes in the park. We do hike this with our small children, but be aware there are some areas with pretty steep drop offs so keep a close eye on them.
Length: 2.3 miles rountrip
Elevation Change: 314 feet
Famous for: Laurel Falls, a beautiful 80-foot waterfall that is one of the best waterfall hikes in the Smokies. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so it can get hard to find parking in peak season. It’s also common to see black bears on this trail, so keep your eye out!
The trail was originally created in 1932 to help protect against wild fires, but it has become very popular with hikers.
Elkmont Nature Trail
This is a super easy trail that is less than a mile. Perfect for all skill levels, this trail is a kid-friendly option that lets you observe lots of nature along the way.
Length: 0.8 miles
Elevation Change: 95 feet
Famous for: This is one trail that is open year-round and has beautiful wild flowers in season. Many people report that this trail is not busy at all, so if you are hoping to see some nature without crowds, you might like this trail.
Little River Trail
This trail is a popular hike for families and is near Elkmont Campground. It’s perfect for spotting wildlife and viewing wildflowers in April and May.
Length: 4.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 412 feet
Famous for: Synchronous fireflies, which can be seen for around a week each year in June. You will need to either stay at the campground or win a lottery to view the fireflies.
This is one waterfall you have to see – it’s one of the only waterfalls you can actually walk behind! It’s an easy hike to the falls and definitely worth the trip.
Length: 2.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 585 feet
Famous for: The falls itself, a 25-foot waterfall you can walk behind. There is an abundance of wildflowers in the spring.
Moderate Gatlinburg Hiking Trails
This hike is a bit over 5 miles and takes you to beautiful Abrams Falls. It is located in Cades Cove, a popular area with historic buildings, a mill and lots of natural wildlife.
Length: 5.2 miles
Elevation Change: 675 feet
Famous For: Abrams Falls, a waterfall of only 20 feet but the most voluminous waterfall in the park. This trail was listed as number 9 out of 10 most dangerous hikes in the US by Backpacker Magazine due to drowning and hypothermia hazards, so please be careful. Stay on the trail and don’t swim around the falls.
Baskins Creek Falls
This beautiful falls is worth the hike! There is some steepness on this trail, which pushes it up into the moderate category, but the falls is gorgeous.
Length: 3.0 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 953 feet
Famous for: Baskins Creek falls – a 40-foot, two-tiered waterfall. If it’s been rainy you will have trouble keeping your feet dry because you have to cross without a footbridge, but it’s worth the trek.
Mouse Creek Falls
You will see some amazing scenery on this Gatlinburg hiking trail as well as a beautiful swimming hole perfect for cooling down on a hot summer’s day. You will also see some sectacular waterfalls.
Length: 4.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 605 feet
Famous for: Mouse Creek Falls, a 45-foot waterfall. Also Midnight Hole, a 15-foot-deep swimming hole perfect for a hot day.
Alum Cave Trail
You can find this Gatlinburg hiking trail on Newfound Gap Road. It is one of the trails that will lead you to Mount Leconte and the famous Leconte Lodge.
Length: 4.4 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 1125 feet
Famous for: The highlight of the hike is hiking through the narrow tunnel of arch rock to reach Alum Cave Bluff. A lot of hikers turn around once they reach this point, but you can continue to the summit of Mt Leconte.
Clingmans Dome Trail – On the Appalachian Trail
This trail is very short but the steep climb pushes it to the moderate level. This area will be about 20 or so degrees colder than the temperature in nearby Gatlinburg TN, so dress appropriately (we made this mistake!). It is the highest point in the Smokies with some incredible views!
Length: 1.0 mile roundtrip (paved half mile trail)
Elevation Change: 332 feet (but then you will reach the summit at 6,643 feet)
Famous for: Clingman’s Dome, the tallest point in the Smokies. There is an observation tower here and on clear days you can see as far as 100 miles.
Rainbow Falls Trail
This is another trail that you can use to reach the summit of Mount Leconte, or you can trek to Rainbow Falls, the highest single drop waterfall in the Smokies.
Length: 5.4 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 1685 feet
Famous for: Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot high single-drop waterfall. It gets its name from the fact that a rainbow is produced by the mist on sunny afternoons. During extended cold periods, ice forms on the areas around the falls.
Strenuous Gatlinburg Hiking Trails
Huskey Gap Trail
To get to this trail you’ll need to start out on the Little River Trail. This hike is classified as strenuous due to the length and elevation gain.
Length: 10.0 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 1080 feet
Famous For: Wildflowers in abundance during April and May, possibility of sighting a river otter in the Little River. This trail isn’t as popular as others in the park, so you won’t find as many people on the trail.
Chimney Tops Trail
This trail is relatively short so you might be wondering why it is on the “strenous” list of Gatlinburg hiking trails. Don’t be fooled by the length – you have to climb over 900 feet in elevation over the last mile! This makes for a strenuous, uphill hike, but the views are worth it.
Length: 3.3 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: 1487 feet
Famous for: The Chimney Top, one of the only bare rock summits in the Smokies. This trail was badly damaged by the 2016 wildfires and was reopened in 2017 with a newly reconstructed trail. You can’t get to the summit, as it was deemed unsafe after the wildfires, but you can get to an amazing observation deck after your climb.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of Gatlinburg hiking trails! I’m anxious to start off on another adventure with my family, so I’ll see you soon!
Looking for another outdoor adventure? Why not try Gatlinburg paintball?
Common questions about gatlinburg hiking
There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails near Gatlinburg, making it a perfect hiking destination. You’ll find many waterfall hikes, hikes with amazing views of the mountains and easy hikes for the kids, plus there are some strenuous hikes for the more experienced, too.
This is a 2.6 mile roundtrip hike.
This trail is a natural surface and consists of dirt and rocks. You can view a video of this trail above.
Gatlinburg’s busiest months are July and October. July draws the summer crowds looking for mountain adventures, and October is when the fall foliage really hits its peak, drawing in tons of weekend visitors.