Best Nature Hikes in the Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a wide range of beautiful nature hikes with stunning scenery and diverse wildlife.

Parking pass for the Park

There is no entrance fee for the Smoky Mountains National Park, however, as of March 2023, you will need to purchase a parking pass if you plan to park anywhere inside the park. You can get a daily ($5), weekly ($15), or annual ($40) parking pass. They can either be purchased online and printed or purchased in-person:

Best Nature Hikes in Smoky Mountains

Here are some of the best nature hikes you can explore in the Smoky Mountains:

1. Abrams Falls Trail (medium): This 5-mile round trip hike takes you to Abrams Falls, a picturesque 20-foot waterfall. The trail offers scenic views of the forest and crosses over Abrams Creek. It’s conveniently located right off the Cades Cove scenic loop.

2. Cataract Falls (easy): Hiking Cataract Falls in the Smoky Mountains offers a scenic adventure through lush forests and alongside cascading waterfalls. The trailhead starts just behind the Sugarlands Visitors Center, a couple miles inside the park from Gatlinburg. The trail spans approximately 2.6 miles round trip with a moderate elevation gain of 400 feet, making it accessible for hikers of various skill levels. Along the way, hikers are treated to stunning views of the falls as they tumble gracefully over rocky ledges, providing a refreshing and rejuvenating experience amidst the tranquil beauty of the mountains.

3. Clingmans Dome (easy): This isn’t much of a hike, in fact you just drive up the road and walk up 0.5 miles up the paved, but steep walkway to the observation deck. At 6,643 feet, this is the highest point in Tennessee, and on clear days you can expect to see 100 miles in any.

Clingmans dome by Kirk Thornton

4. Cave Trail (medium): This 4.4-mile round trip hike is one of the most popular in the park. It takes you through an arch rock formation, past Alum Cave Bluffs, and offers stunning vistas along the way.

5. Rainbow Falls Trail (medium): This 5.4-mile round trip hike leads to Rainbow Falls, a majestic 80-foot waterfall. The trail has about 2,000 feet of elevation gain and is known for its colorful wildflowers and the possibility of seeing a rainbow in the mist of the falls.

6. Mount LeConte via the Alum Cave Trail (hard): This challenging 10-mile round trip and 3,000 ft elevation gain hike takes you to the summit of Mount LeConte, the third-highest peak in the park. This is one of the most popular trails in the park, so start early. Check out LeConte Lodge cabins while you’re there. Along the way, you’ll encounter unique geological features and enjoy sweeping views from the mountaintop.

7. Spruce Flats Falls (easy): This 1.6-mile out and back is one of the most underrated falls hikes in the Smokys. The journey to Spruce Flats Falls takes you through lush, dense forests filled with towering trees and diverse flora. The well-maintained trail follows the course of the Middle Prong of the Little River, creating a serene atmosphere as the sound of flowing water accompanies you throughout the hike. Along the way, hikers may encounter vibrant wildflowers, moss-covered rocks, and the occasional wildlife, adding to the natural charm of the surroundings.

Upon reaching Spruce Flats Falls, visitors are greeted by the sight and sound of a mesmerizing 30-foot waterfall cascading over layered rocks into a tranquil pool below. The falls are surrounded by a scenic amphitheater of moss-covered boulders, creating an ideal spot for a restful break or a peaceful picnic.

8. Laurel Falls Trail (easy): This 2.6-mile round trip and 500 ft elevation gain of paved trail leads to Laurel Falls, a beautiful 80-foot waterfall. It’s a relatively easy hike and is suitable for all skill levels.


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Fire pit at dusk
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9. Cades Cove Nature Trail (very easy): This 0.8-mile loop trail offers a leisurely stroll through the historic Cades Cove valley. It provides opportunities for wildlife spotting and features beautiful meadows and mountain views.

10. Little River Trail (easy): This 4.9 mile (up to 7.6 miles) hike is popular amongst families and kids. This trail offers a leisurely stroll along an old logging road, providing a tranquil escape into nature suitable for hikers of all abilities. Beginning at the trailhead near Elkmont Campground, the path winds alongside the picturesque Little River, revealing remnants of the area’s logging history, such as railroad rails and steel cables from the early 1900s. While there isn’t a specific endpoint like a waterfall or viewpoint, hikers have the flexibility to tailor the hike’s length according to their preferences. Springtime brings vibrant wildflowers, while autumn showcases the fiery foliage, making it an ideal destination year-round. Furthermore, the trail’s connection to the Elkmont area offers a unique opportunity to witness the mesmerizing display of synchronous fireflies during early summer nights.

11. Grotto Falls Trail (easy): This 2.6-mile round trip hike and 550 ft elevation gain takes you to Grotto Falls, the only waterfall in the park that you can walk behind. This trail is extremely popular so START EARLY, otherwise parking might be difficult. The trail is known for its lush vegetation and is particularly beautiful in the spring.

12. Ramsey Cascades Trail (hard): This strenuous (2,200 ft elevation gain) 8-mile round-trip hike leads to Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park, with a 100-foot drop. This is one of the most popular and best nature hikes in the Smoky Mountains. The trail passes through old-growth forests and offers a challenging but rewarding experience.

13. Mingo Falls (medium): This stunning waterfall located in on the North Carolina side near Cherokee, North Carolina. The hike is 0.4 miles in and is well-maintained, offering a relatively easy trek for those who wish to enjoy the beauty of the waterfall and its picturesque surroundings. The waterfall itself stands at approximately 120 feet (37 meters) tall, making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the southern Appalachians. The falls are surrounded by lush greenery and are accessible via a relatively short hike, providing visitors with a rewarding natural spectacle.

14. Andrews Bald (medium): This 3.6-mile round trip hike takes you to a grassy bald atop the Great Smoky Mountains. It offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and is especially popular during the peak wildflower season.

15. Charlies Bunion (hard): This 8-mile round trip hike follows the Appalachian Trail to a rocky outcrop known as Charlies Bunion. From there, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

16. Deep Creek (hard): This trail is known for its scenic beauty and diverse features. It’s a popular trail in the park, showcasing waterfalls, lush forests, and the soothing sounds of Deep Creek. The hike is moderate in difficulty and covers about 5.4 miles one-way to reach the popular Juney Whank Falls. Hikers can enjoy the serenity of the forest, cross footbridges, and experience the cascading waterfalls along the way, such as Tom Branch and Indian Creek waterfalls.

Remember to check with the park authorities or visitor center for trail conditions and any specific guidelines or restrictions before embarking on your hike. Enjoy exploring the beauty of the Smoky Mountains!

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What are the best nature hikes according to you in Smoky Mountains? Which of the above hikes would you do again and again? Add your comments below!

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