The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, with over 14 million visitors each year. Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains on September 2, 1940, stating it is “for the permanent enjoyment of the people.” Since then, guests have come to see the park’s natural beauty, splendid waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and adventure opportunities—like Gatlinburg hiking trails.
Gatlinburg Tennessee is one of three main entrances to the national park and is only a 12 minute drive from the park’s north “Sugarlands” entrance. With lots of options for where to stay, eat, and shop—it’s a popular hub for hiking adventures.
To help plan your next Great Smoky Mountain Adventure, here are my top hikes for your Gatlinburg hiking trails bucket list that can be enjoyed nearly any time of year.
Best Waterfall Hikes
Waterfalls are one of the biggest draws for hikers coming to the Great Smoky Mountains. I have visited each one of these waterfalls, and I can’t pick a favorite because each one is special in its own right.
Considered moderate, this hike is a five-mile out and back trip that will take 3 to 4 hours to complete. It is one of the most voluminous waterfalls in the park, so you will hear it before you see it. For your safety, be aware of all the signage and stay out of the water.
I think this is the most unique trail in the National Park, and after a moderate three-mile hike up to the falls, I enjoy walking behind the falls to grab a picture and cooling off in the spray of the water as it cascades down.
One of the most frequently visited trails in the park, Laurel Falls will win your heart. What makes this hike so inviting is that it is relatively easy, and the reward at the end makes every step worth it. Put this 2.6-mile excursion on the top of your list.
You’ll find Rainbow Falls to be the most strenuous hike to a waterfall. While it will challenge you, the trip is worth it. As you climb, the LeConte Creek is a welcome sound of water flowing by. Views are vast, and when you reach the end of the trail, you’ll be greeted by the longest single drop waterfall in the Smokies.
Fantastic Short Hikes for Kids near Pigeon Forge
Hiking with kids can be a challenge, but plenty of trails in Gatlinburg are kid-friendly. Plan on packing your patience when adventuring with kids, bring plenty of snacks, and take the time to enjoy your day in the woods at a more leisurely pace
Kids will find the Porter Creek Trail easy to navigate, and you can introduce them to the tall, stately hardwood forest. In the spring, they can enjoy the plentiful wildflowers lining the path. If time is of the essence, the trailhead to the Cove Mountain Trail to Cataract Falls is only two miles from downtown Gatlinburg and is a short three-quarter mile hike to the falls.
Pro Tip: Cataract Falls is best after a rainfall.
ADA Accessible Trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Gatlinburg is home to many scenic driving trails; however, if possible, getting out of the car and onto an ADA trail should make it onto your list. Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is the only such trail with this designation within the park. Yet, it offers a great introduction to the park’s beauty. Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is a half-mile paved loop trail with benches that allow time for rest. The soothing sound of the Little Pigeon River and the lush green of the trees in the summer make this walking path a worthwhile oasis.
Dog-Friendly Trails in Gatlinburg, TN
Are you bringing Rover to Gatlinburg, TN? There are only two pet-friendly trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, and the closest one to town is the Gatlinburg Trail. You will enjoy hiking along the river and crossing one of the famous log footbridges found within that park. If you are in Pigeon Forge, Patriots Park is a fantastic place to get your buddy’s energy out; the walking path runs along the Little Pigeon River.
Extreme Hikes for the Adventurer
If you’re looking for the hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains that will test your limits, there are plenty of those too!
Chimney Tops Trail is known for its spectacular views, making it one of the most popular hiking trails year-round. Hikers love this path because it begins by crossing a rushing stream that immediately takes you to one of the many switchbacks on the side of Sugarland Mountain. Believe me when I tell you that it goes uphill from almost the moment you start your adventure on Chimney Tops. It is a steep climb, and by the time you reach the top, you will have gained 1,400 feet in elevation in that short two miles.
Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared to scramble over rocks and roots during your adventure.
4.4 miles out and back.
Tips for Gatlinburg Hiking Trails
- Map out your hike before heading out and make sure you have enough time to complete it, especially before dark
- Take plenty of water (a half-liter per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures)
- Check the weather before you go and wear appropriate layersTell people which trailhead you are taking and when you will return
- Trekking Poles are helpful on these trails
- Dogs are not allowed on the trails in the park
- Bring snacks along for energy
- Include a first aid kit that will fit in your daypack
- Be sure to follow safety measures for insects such as mosquitos and ticks
Where to Stay in Gatlinburg
Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge
Sun Outdoors, is the perfect place to call home while staying in the Gatlinburg, TN area. Their location is right where all the fun is in Pigeon Forge and close to the National Park entrance. You’ll find unique lodging and spacious RV sites waiting for you at this family-friendly resort. What kid wouldn’t want to stay in an air-conditioned covered wagon for the night? After your day hikes in the mountains, you’ll love coming back to camp to soak your feet in the lazy river and sit back to watch the kids as they jump in the splash pad. If you have brought the family pet along, they will love the fenced-in dog park, where they can get all their energy out.
Cove Creek RV Resort
Traveling with your RV and looking for a luxury resort? Cove Creek RV Resort is located in Wears Valley, a hidden nook between Pigeon Forge and Townsend, TN, has the perfect campground for weekend warriors or full-timers. With unencumbered views of Cove Mountain, you’ll find yourself camping in the peaceful Smoky Mountains, surrounded by all the local favorites. Their fully stocked general store, family-friendly swimming pool, and fishing pond will keep everyone happy at your “home base” when you’re not out exploring.
I hope this list inspires additions to your Gatlinburg hiking trails bucket list. Remember to hydrate, apply sunscreen and bug spray, and most importantly, to soak in the surroundings only the Great Smoky mountains can provide.
Brandy Gleason is an avid camper who has been RVing for over 25 years and currently travels in a Heartland Sundance 294BH with her husband, Matt, kids, and sometimes her grandkids too. Brandy loves the outdoors, and one of her greatest passions is speaking to others about “leave no trace” and sustainable tourism. She is a published author and blogger at Gleason Family Adventure.
Photo credit in order of appearance: Adobe Stock – JMichael Photography, Adobe Stock – David Arment, Adobe Stock – Sarah, Adobe Stock – JMichael Photography, Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge, Cove Creek RV Resort