You cannot visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park without taking time to hike its many trails. Hiking allows visitors to see the wildlife, plants, creeks, waterfalls, and caves that make up this vast national park.
This article will walk you through basic information about hiking in the area, safety precautions you should take, and suggested hikes based on your hiking skill level.
Hiking in the Smokies
The national park service offers programs like “Hike the Smokies” and “Hike the Smokies – For Families.” These programs offer mileage pins and stickers for visitors hiking in the park.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 150 official hiking trails. When planning hikes for the day, visit the national parks service website to find out about any closures or safety warnings for the day. This will keep you from planning a hike in an area that’s unsafe or unavailable.
Hiking Safety Guidelines
Even if you only intend to take one of the shorter trails, it’s important that you are properly prepared for hiking in the Smokies.
Here are a few guidelines to help you safely enjoy your hikes:
· Make sure someone knows where you’re hiking and what route you plan to take. If that person doesn’t hear from you, they should alert authorities that you haven’t returned from your hike.
· Hike with another person for safety. Children should always be in sight of a responsible adult.
· Don’t rely on technology to get around. Cell phones don’t typically have service and GPS devices can be unreliable. Make sure you have a current park trail map and the ability to read the map if you become lost.
· Carry a flashlight, even if you’re hiking during the day. If you don’t get back before dark, you will wish you had one.
· Bring enough water to stay hydrated.
· Bring a basic first aid kit and bear pepper spray. Ideally you won’t need these. However, it is best to be prepared for any unexpected incidents.
· Check the weather forecast. Be prepared for the weather to suddenly change. A small poncho may help you keep dry during unexpected showers.
· Avoid getting wet. When you’re wet, you’re at a higher risk of hypothermia. Even during the summer months, the trails can get cool overnight.
· Do not hike after dark.
· Keep your valuables with you, in your cabin, or locked in your car.
· Research trails before you start a hike. You should choose a trail based on your skill level. You should not embark on a lengthy or difficult trail if you don’t have prior hiking experience or a knowledgeable guide.
Easy Trail Recommendations
These easy trails are recommended for families with children and individuals incapable of the physical exertion of more difficult hikes. Hikers of all skill levels can enjoy these trails.
Elmont Nature Trail
This short and easy trail is ideal for families with children. It is less than a mile long, with beautiful nature views and rich history. There is also a cute troll bridge close to the trail.
Sugarlands Nature Trail
This half-mile trail is the only wheelchair accessible trail in the park. It is fully paved and doesn’t have any steep or uneven walkways. Streams run along the trail, making it a fun hike for families with small children.
Laurel Falls Trail
The 2.6 mile round-trip hike on this trail offers an easy hike along a paved walkway. Although it is paved, the steep areas make it unsuitable for wheelchairs and strollers. Hikers can get to the 80-foot waterfall and back in about two hours.
During the summer months, this trail can be very busy. It’s best to visit the trail in the early morning to avoid crowds.
Intermediate Trail Recommendations
These trails are a good fit for new and intermediate hikers. They offer a longer hike, but do not carry the same degree of difficulty as some of the other trails.
Abrams Falls Trail
This 5 mile round-trip hike typically takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete. The 20 foot tall waterfall with rushing water is a great sight at the end of the trail. During the entire hike, you walk alongside a river and enjoy beautiful scenery.
Rainbow Falls Trail
This 5.4 mile round-trip hike involves a gain of about 1500 feet in elevation. Around 2.6 miles into the hike, the beautiful 80 foot Rainbow Falls waterfall is one of the more stunning waterfalls in the park.
Hikers can hike an additional four miles to reach the summit of Mt. LeConte. The additional hiking adds 8 miles to the round-trip, making it a more advanced hike.
Kephart Prong Trail
This 4.2 mile round-trip hike is near the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. It includes great nature views and a shelter at the 2.1 mile mark, where hikers can turn and head back to the trail’s beginning.
Difficult Trail Recommendations
These difficult hiking trails offer exhilarating views. However, their length and difficulty makes them unsuitable for inexperienced hikers.
Mt. Sterling via Baxter Creek
This trail may only be 6.2 miles round-trip, but it involves gaining over 4200 feet in elevation! The amazing view from the 60 foot tall Mt. Sterling Fire Tower offers amazing panoramic views. There is beautiful greenery throughout the hike, making it a lovely hike for experienced hikers.
Mt. Crammerer via Low Gap
This trail offers a 3000 foot gain in elevation over an 11.1 mile round-trip hike. There are lush forests and beautiful streams throughout the hike. When the Low Gap Trail runs into the Appalachian Trail, hikers are able to take the Appalachian to the summit of Mt. Crammerer. At the summit, the Fire Tower offers beautiful views of the surrounding areas.
This 11.3 mile round-trip hike includes an elevation gain of 3000 feet. The trail begins just off of the Cades Cove loop and involves a steady uphill climb. This challenging day hike is surrounded by beautiful wildlife and plants. The elevation field at Gregory’s Bald is a great spot to enjoy views and picnic with your hiking companions.