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Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a beautiful destination for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts alike. Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, this charming town offers a plethora of hiking trails suitable for families with kids of all ages, and we’ve taken our own kids on many of them.
Our family loves to explore all the hiking trails near Gatlinburg. Today we are going to take a look at some of the best family-friendly hikes that Gatlinburg has to offer.
We understand how important it is to choose trails that are not only enjoyable, but also safe for all family members. In our search for the perfect Gatlinburg hikes, we’ve identified several options that cater to various interests – from lush foliage to cascading waterfalls.
As we embark on these captivating trails, we create unforgettable memories in the heart of nature with our kids. So lace up your hiking boots, bring the whole family along, and join us as we uncover the wonders of Gatlinburg’s picturesque terrain.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Sugarlands Visitor Center
When visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we highly recommend starting at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It’s conveniently located just a short drive from downtown Gatlinburg. Here, we can get the latest trail information, pick up maps, view informative exhibits, and even attend ranger-led programs. This visitor center also provides restrooms and a bookstore, making it the perfect starting point for our family adventure.
There are several kid-friendly hiking trails accessible from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. A popular choice is the Porters Creek Trail, which is an easy 1-mile walk that introduces kids to the diverse natural communities of the cove hardwood forest.
Another great option is the Rainbow Falls Trail, a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike that leads to the stunning 80-foot Rainbow Falls, the tallest waterfall in the national park.
Cades Cove Loop Road
Another family-friendly destination within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove Loop Road. This picturesque route allows us to enjoy beautiful mountain scenery, historic buildings, and abundant wildlife from the comfort of our car. The 11-mile one-way loop road is perfect for families as it offers several pullouts and parking areas to explore various points of interest.
One of the hiking trails we can explore along Cades Cove Loop Road is the Andrew’s Bald Trail. This 3.5-mile roundtrip hike takes us through a beautiful landscape with creek beds, rain runoffs, rocks, and small boulders. The trail’s destination is the stunning panoramic views atop Andrew’s Bald, where we can enjoy a family picnic.
We understand that keeping children entertained while exploring the great outdoors can be challenging. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to find activities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that the entire family can enjoy.
From the informative Sugarlands Visitor Center to the breathtaking views of Cades Cove Loop Road, we hope these suggestions will help make our family’s adventure in Gatlinburg unforgettable.
Easy Hikes for Young Children
For families with young children, we highly recommend starting off with the Gatlinburg Trail. This easy trail is perfect for little ones, as it is only a 3.8 miles roundtrip and has a relatively flat terrain. As you walk along the trail, you’ll encounter beautiful views of the river, historic home sites, and picturesque bridges.
Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
Another great option for an easy hike with young children is the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. This short hike, at just 0.5 miles roundtrip, is not only accessible but also stroller-friendly, making it an ideal choice for families with infants or toddlers. As you venture down the trail, you’ll be delighted by the sight of the historic sugarlands valley, interpretive signs, and peaceful streams.
Fighting Creek Nature Trail
The Fighting Creek Nature Trail is another family-friendly option, perfect for young children. With a length of just 1.2 miles roundtrip, this easy trail leads you through a beautiful forest filled with giant trees and vibrant wildflowers. There are several footbridges throughout the trail, adding a touch of adventure and excitement for little ones.
Elkmont Nature Trail
Lastly, we suggest exploring the Elkmont Nature Trail with your family. This relatively easy trail is about 0.8 miles roundtrip and offers a variety of sights to entertain and educate your children. Along the way, you’ll find remnants of historic structures, vibrant wildflowers, and an opportunity to spot wildlife such as salamanders or even black bears.
Moderate Hikes for the Whole Family
Porters Creek Trail
Our first recommendation for a family-friendly hike in Gatlinburg is the Porters Creek Trail. This hike, suitable for the whole family, is a 4-mile round trip adventure that starts with a 1-mile walk from the parking lot to Porters Flat, offering beautiful views of cove hardwood forests. As we continue along the trail, we’ll encounter historic structures, waterfalls, and abundant wildflowers during the right season.
Laurel Falls Trail
Next on our list is the Laurel Falls Trail, a popular 2.6-mile round trip hike that leads to an 80-foot waterfall. As we hike, we’ll traverse a well-maintained, paved trail that’s perfect for young kids (although some areas were a little rough). Be prepared for some moderate incline and slippery areas near the falls, but don’t worry, the view is worth the effort.
Little Brier Gap Trail
For those interested in exploring more of the beautiful Smoky Mountains region, we suggest the 2.6-mile Little Brier Gap Trail. This trail takes us through lush forests and wildflower meadows, leading us to the historic 19th-century Walker Sisters Cabin. Along the way, we’ll enjoy scenic views and the soothing sounds of nature. It’s an excellent choice for families with young kids.
Metcalf Bottoms Trail
Metcalf Bottoms Trail is another fantastic option for a moderate hike in the Gatlinburg area. As we follow this 2.2-mile out-and-back trail, we’ll be treated to peaceful river views, charming footbridges, and plenty of spots to relax and picnic. This trail is an excellent choice for families with young kids, as it provides a gentle terrain and ample opportunities for exploration.
Kephart Prong Trail
Lastly, we recommend the Kephart Prong Trail, a 4-mile round trip hike through the woods. As we hike, we’ll cross several footbridges and discover remnants of old structures from the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp. This trail provides a gentle incline and a variety of scenery, making it perfect for the whole family to enjoy.
Challenging Hikes for Older Kids
As a family, we love exploring the great outdoors and finding challenging hikes suitable for older kids. In this section, let’s dive into some of our favorite hikes in the Gatlinburg area that offer plenty of adventure and natural beauty.
Abrams Falls Trail
The Abrams Falls Trail is a fantastic option for older kids looking for a challenge. This 5-mile round-trip hike takes us through stunning old-growth forest and offers breathtaking views of the 20-foot high Abrams Falls. The trail can be a bit steep and rocky in some sections, so make sure everyone in the group is comfortable with a moderate level of difficulty.
- Distance: 5 miles round trip
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Terrain: Forest, steep sections, and rocky
Indian Creek Falls
Another great option for older kids is the Indian Creek Falls Trail, which is a 1.9-mile round-trip hike leading to the beautiful Indian Creek Falls. The trail meanders through lush greenery and crosses a few small bridges. Though relatively short in distance, the trail has some steeper portions and requires crossing some uneven terrain, providing older kids with a little bit of a challenge.
- Distance: 1.9 miles round trip
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Terrain: Greenery, small bridges, uneven terrain
Andrews Bald is an excellent choice for older kids seeking a slightly more challenging experience. This 3.5-mile round-trip hike takes us through the picturesque Clingman’s Dome area, filled with creek beds, rain run-offs, rocks, and small boulders. The top of Andrews Bald offers panoramic views, and the hike’s varied terrain will keep older kids engaged and excited.
- Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Terrain: Creek beds, boulders, rain run-offs
Juney Whank Falls
Lastly, let’s not forget about Juney Whank Falls. Located in North Carolina, just a short drive from Gatlinburg, this trail offers a short and steep 0.6-mile round-trip hike to the impressive Juney Whank Falls. This hike can be challenging due to its incline, but the reward of seeing the cascading falls makes the climb worthwhile for our older kids.
- Distance: 0.6 miles round trip
- Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
- Terrain: Steep incline, forest
When exploring these hikes with our older kids, remember to always choose trails that match their abilities and interests, and be prepared with plenty of snacks, water, and sun protection. Happy hiking!
Scenic Points and Attractions
Gatlinburg offers numerous family-friendly hiking trails and scenic attractions which allow you to experience the beauty and peacefulness of the great outdoors. In this section, we will explore some popular spots that families should consider when visiting Gatlinburg.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a leisurely 5.5-mile, one-way loop road offering picturesque views and several trailheads. As you drive through the area, you’ll be surrounded by lush forests, streams, and historical structures. Many families enjoy stopping at the various pullouts to take photos, have picnics, and enjoy the natural beauty of this unique place. If you’re interested in hiking, there are several well-known trails like Grotto Falls via Trillium Gap Trail that can be accessed from the motor nature trail.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as the highest point in Tennessee. Standing at an elevation of 6,643 feet, the easily accessible observation tower offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains. The trail to the dome is a steep half-mile hike suitable for most families. Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with 360-degree views that make every step worth the effort.\
If you choose to complete this hike, keep in mind it’s about 20 degrees colder at this elevation – we weren’t prepared and we were cold!! Here I am at the point on the trail where it joins the Appalachian Trail:
Walker Sisters Cabin
The Walker Sisters Cabin tells the story of the Walker family’s life in the Smokies before it became a national park. On your visit to their homestead, you can explore the cabin itself, various outbuildings, and the small family cemetery. The cabin is accessible via a 1.38-mile hike along Little Brier Gap Trail. This relatively easy walk through the woods leads family hikers to a fascinating piece of history and a glimpse into the lives of the people who once called the Smoky Mountains home.
Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road is a 31-mile scenic drive that takes you through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Newfound Gap itself is a mountain pass that serves as the lowest drivable path over the Smoky Mountains, connecting Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. As you travel along Newfound Gap Road, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and forests. Numerous overlooks allow you to stop and take in the scenery, have a picnic or go for a family hike on one of the many nearby trails, such as Appalachian Trail to Mount Kephart and Icewater Spring Shelter.
Additional Tips and Information
When planning your family hike in Gatlinburg, it’s important to consider the skill level of all members in your group, especially when traveling with small children. We recommend opting for easier trails that offer a variety of experiences to keep everyone engaged and excited.
Many of the trails in the area feature beautiful wildflowers during the spring and summer months. One such trail we highly recommend is Andrew’s Bald which is a 3.5-mile round-trip hike, filled with creek beds, rain run-offs, rocks, and small boulders. This trail offers panoramic views and is a great option for families.
Another excellent family-friendly option is Porters Creek Trail located in Greenbrier Cove. This 1-mile moderate walk takes you through the natural communities within the cove and features a small stream that kids will enjoy exploring.
Don’t forget to venture out to Laurel Falls Trail, an easy hike that leads you to a beautiful waterfall. Along the way, you’ll encounter a foot bridge and a side trail providing additional exploration opportunities.
Remember, always take plenty of water, sunscreen, and snacks to make your hiking experience safe and enjoyable for the whole family.