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There’s really no such thing as a bad time of year for a hike in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. This central region of the United States enjoys the best of all four seasons, so you can experience a great deal of habitat diversity and evolving beauty while exploring the trails in this massive region.
In these mountains, hiking enthusiasts can find stunning waterfalls, rock formations, old-growth forests, wildlife, and panoramic views that span for miles. Whether you’re interested in just a short day hike or a multi-day backcountry backpacking adventure, the Smoky Mountains have something for hikers of all ages, interests, and abilities. With this in mind, these are some of the very best hikes in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
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The Chimney Tops Trail climbs 1,400 feet in two miles, making it a relatively steep trail that is a round-trip distance of four miles. Chimney Tops is a mountain in the central Smokies with an elevation of 4,724 feet, and it’s one of the rare bare rock summits in the mountain range. The first mile of the trail is very easy, but it becomes more challenging at Beech Flats. To get the absolute best view, you’ll need to scramble to the top without the help of a cable to hold on to or any technical gear. If that’s too intense, stay off the pinnacles and enjoy the view of Sugarland Mountain in the west and Sugarlands Valley in the north.
Mount LeConte towers among the Smoky Mountains at nearly 6,600 feet tall. If you hike all the way to the top, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views from the LeConte Lodge, which is a rustic accommodation with no electricity. If the lodge is booked up, you can also stay overnight at a nearby backcountry campsite. For an easier hike or a quick day trip, you can explore the branches that lead up to Mount LeConte, including the popular Alum Cave Bluffs Trail and the Boulevard Trail.
Take a 2.6-mile hike along a nicely paved trail to see Laurel Falls, an 80-foot waterfall that is one of the most photographed areas of the park. This is one of the most accessible hikes in the park and is suitable for young hikers and less experienced hikers. You can easily reach the starting point from nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee and it’s suitable for strollers and wheelchairs too.
To reach the Grotto Falls trail, pass by the busy Rainbow Falls trailhead and hike 3.5 miles into the forest towards the falls. This is an incredibly peaceful trail, especially during the cold weather months when fresh snow hangs on to tree branches before melting away in the midday sun. You’ll feel the temperatures drop as you get closer to the falls on cool days. This is one of the very few waterfalls that you can actually walk behind, but use caution on the slippery rocks! Since this is an out-and-back hike, rather than a loop, you can either backtrack your steps or walk back along the road about two miles to a barricaded gate.
Ramsey Cascades is the highest waterfall in the park that you can access by hiking trail. It stands 6,621 feet high and water drops more than 100 feet over large slabs of rock. This is a strenuous hike that is eight miles round trip and gains more than 2,000 feet in elevation. Despite the level of difficulty, this is a really serene trail that runs along several flowing rivers and streams.
Another great waterfall hike in the Smokies is Abrams Falls, which has the most water and the deepest water pool of any waterfall in the park. This is a five-mile round trip hike along Abrams Creek that’s moderate in difficulty. Although this waterfall is only 20 feet tall, it’s one of the most popular destinations in the park because of the sheer force that it falls and flows. Despite the enticing conditions, it is incredibly dangerous to take a dip in this water and some swimmers have been swept away with the current to their deaths.
Rocky Top is another fairly strenuous hike with impressive views at the top to reward those to make it all the way. The first five miles are particularly challenging. But it is on this trail that you can see the more obscure North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. Make a point to stop in Spence Field and snap a few photos. From the mountain top, you can see Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and Townsend.
The Gregory Bald hike is perhaps best known for its spectacular display of brightly colored azaleas that bloom each June. This is the most popular time to visit this area of the park, and people travel from all over the world to marvel at the red, orange, pink, yellow, and white flowers. At the top, you’ll also get an excellent view of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and the eastern edges of the Smoky Mountains.
This strenuous hike starts in from the Low Gap Trailhead in Cosby and climbs 2,500 feet across 12 miles to reach the summit. The Mt. Cammerer hike meets up with the Appalachian Trail towards the beginning of the hike and the views at the top are definitely worth the effort. You can look out over the Pigeon River Gorge and take in 360-degree views that can’t be beaten anywhere else in the Smokies.