If you’re planning an adventure to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’re going to want to save these Smoky Mountain hikes by difficulty.
Welcome fellow adventurers! If you’ve ever dreamt of wandering through lush forests, breathing in the crisp mountain air, and standing atop panoramic vistas, this post is for you!
The Smoky Mountains, with their misty peaks and vibrant foliage, offer a haven for hikers looking for an unforgettable journey into the heart of nature.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker hungry for a new challenge or a casual stroller looking for breathtaking views, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a trail for everyone.
Join us as we unveil a curated selection of hikes, from easy ambles to challenging treks, each revealing the unique beauty and diverse ecosystems that make this corner of Appalachia a hiker’s paradise.
What Makes a Hike Easy, Moderate, or Hard?
The difficulty level of a hiking trail is typically determined by a combination of factors that collectively contribute to the physical and technical challenges a hiker may encounter.
Before choosing your first hiking trail, be sure to check which entrance to the park you will want to enter through.
Here’s a breakdown of what makes a hike easy, moderate, or hard:
- Easy: Shorter distances, usually under 5 miles roundtrip.
- Moderate: Moderate distances ranging from 5 to 10 miles roundtrip.
- Hard: Longer distances exceeding 10 miles roundtrip.
2. Elevation Gain:
- Easy: Minimal elevation gain, often on relatively flat terrain.
- Moderate: Moderate elevation gain, with some uphill sections.
- Hard: Significant elevation gain, involving steep and sustained ascents.
3. Trail Surface:
- Easy: Well-maintained, often paved or smooth dirt trails.
- Moderate: Varied surfaces, including some rocky or uneven terrain.
- Hard: Rough and challenging surfaces, such as steep, rocky, or exposed paths.
- Easy: Mostly flat or gently rolling terrain with minimal obstacles.
- Moderate: Varied terrain with occasional obstacles like rocks, roots, or stream crossings.
- Hard: Challenging terrain with frequent obstacles, steep ascents, and potentially hazardous conditions.
- Easy: Short-duration hikes that are typically completed in a few hours.
- Moderate: Longer durations, usually requiring a half day.
- Hard: Extended durations, often requiring a full day or more.
6. Fitness Level:
- Easy: Suitable for most fitness levels, including beginners.
- Moderate: Requires a moderate level of fitness, suitable for regular hikers.
- Hard: Demanding and strenuous, requiring a high level of fitness and endurance.
7. Technical Skills:
- Easy: No specialized skills required; suitable for beginners.
- Moderate: Basic hiking skills necessary, including navigation and balance.
- Hard: Advanced skills such as rock scrambling, route finding, or even technical climbing may be required.
- Easy: Lower elevations with minimal impact on oxygen levels.
- Moderate: Moderate elevations that may impact some individuals.
- Hard: Higher elevations, potentially leading to altitude-related challenges.
9. Weather Conditions:
- Easy: Typically suitable for a wide range of weather conditions.
- Moderate: May involve varying weather conditions; hikers should be prepared.
- Hard: Conditions can be extreme, including exposure to high winds, snow, or rain.
- Easy: Easily accessible trailheads, suitable for a wide range of hikers.
- Moderate: Trailheads may require some driving or hiking to reach, suitable for those with moderate access.
- Hard: Trailheads may be remote or require extensive travel, limiting accessibility.
Remember, individual fitness levels, experience, and preferences can also influence the perceived difficulty of a hike.
You’ll want to assess your own capabilities and be adequately prepared for the specific challenges posed by each of these Smoky Mountain trails.
Smoky Mountain Hikes by Difficulty
These hikes are separated into categories so you can choose the best hikes for you and your family!
Whether you want to take an easy hike that’s just a leisurely stroll through nature or hike to the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find miles of trails to choose from below.
1. Cades Cove Loop Trail
This leisurely 11-mile loop is perfect for a relaxed stroll or bike ride. You’ll wind through a historic valley surrounded by mountains, with opportunities to spot wildlife like deer and black bears. Don’t forget your camera for the stunning views!
2. Laurel Falls Trail
This easy trail is a short and sweet 2.6-mile round-trip that leads to the breathtaking Laurel Falls. The paved path makes it accessible for all ages, and the waterfall is a picture-perfect spot for a family picnic.
3. Gatlinburg Trail
Starting right from downtown Gatlinburg, this 3.8-mile round-trip trail follows the Little Pigeon River. It’s short distance and flat terrain makes it great for a relaxing riverside walk, and you might even spot some old homesteads along the way.
4. Mingo Falls Trail
Found just outside the park, this 0.4-mile trail takes you to the stunning 120-foot Mingo Falls. Though short, the steep steps provide a bit of a workout, and the payoff is well worth it.
5. Oconaluftee River Trail
This easy 1.5-mile trail along the Oconaluftee River offers a peaceful and scenic stroll. It’s an ideal spot for birdwatching, and you might catch glimpses of elk grazing in the meadows.
6. Deep Creek Trail
A 4.6-mile loop through the Deep Creek area, this trail features multiple waterfalls and is known for its tubing opportunities in the summer. It’s a fantastic family-friendly adventure.
7. Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
A short 0.5-mile loop trail near the Sugarlands Visitor Center, perfect for a quick nature walk. Interpretive signs along the trail provide insights into the local flora and fauna.
8. Baskins Creek Falls Trail
This 3-mile round-trip hike takes you to the beautiful Baskins Creek Falls. The trail is relatively easy, with a gradual ascent through a peaceful forest.
9. Porters Creek Trail
A 4-mile round-trip trail known for its wildflowers in the spring. The historic Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin is a highlight along the way, offering a glimpse into the past.
10. Abrams Falls Trail (via Abrams Creek)
A variation of the popular Abrams Falls Trail, this 5.8-mile hike takes you along Abrams Creek, providing a refreshing and picturesque journey.
11. Elkmont Nature Trail
A 0.8-mile loop trail near Elkmont, perfect for a leisurely walk. The trail passes through remnants of historic cabins, providing a glimpse into the area’s past.
12. Little Brier Gap Trail
A 2.6-mile round-trip trail that leads to the historic Little Greenbrier School. The trail is relatively flat and offers a step back in time with well-preserved historical structures.
13. Meigs Creek Trail
This 4.2-mile round-trip trail takes you through a peaceful forest, following along Meigs Creek. It’s a less-traveled option for those seeking a quieter hiking experience.
14. Hen Wallow Falls Loop Trail
A 4.5-mile loop trail incorporating the Hen Wallow Falls. The loop adds variety to the hike, passing through different ecosystems and terrain.
15. Jake’s Creek Trail
A 5.2-mile round-trip trail that meanders through a diverse forest, following Jake’s Creek. It’s an easy-moderate hike with occasional glimpses of the surrounding mountains.
1. Alum Cave Trail
This 4.4-mile trail takes you through lush forests and ends at the stunning Alum Cave Bluffs. The varied terrain keeps things interesting, and the views from the bluffs are worth the effort.
2. Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail
A 8-mile round-trip hike along the Appalachian Trail, offering panoramic views from the iconic Charlies Bunion. Be prepared for some elevation gain, but the vistas of the Smokies are unbeatable.
3. Abrams Falls Trail
Clocking in at 5.2 miles, this trail takes you to the powerful Abrams Falls. The moderate hike is rewarded with the sight and sound of the falls, making it a favorite among visitors.
4. Hen Wallow Falls Trail
A 4.4-mile round-trip trail leading to the 90-foot Hen Wallow Falls. The path winds through a lush forest, providing a refreshing and shaded hike.
5. Andrews Bald via Forney Ridge Trail
This 3.6-mile trail offers stunning views and takes you to the grassy summit of Andrews Bald. It’s especially beautiful in late spring when the azaleas are in bloom.
6. Little River Trail
A 4.9-mile out-and-back trail along the Little River, offering a peaceful walk with occasional views of the river and surrounding mountains.
7. Lynn Camp Prong Cascades Trail
This 8.4-mile round-trip trail takes you through a scenic forest to the cascading Lynn Camp Prong Falls. The trail is relatively uncrowded, providing a more secluded hiking experience.
8. Middle Prong Trail
An 8.3-mile round-trip trail along the Middle Prong of the Little River. It features waterfalls, historic structures, and diverse flora, making it a satisfying and varied hike.
9. Anthony Creek Trail
An 8-mile round-trip trail leading to the historic Spence Field and offering panoramic views. The steady climb is balanced by the breathtaking scenery.
10. Deep Gap Trail to Mt. Cammerer
A challenging 11-mile round-trip hike that takes you to the iconic fire tower on Mt. Cammerer. The trail provides a mix of forested paths and exposed ridges, offering stunning vistas.
11. Sunkota Ridge Trail
A 9-mile loop trail that takes you along the Sunkota Ridge, providing breathtaking views of Fontana Lake and the surrounding mountains.
12. Forney Creek Trail to Forney Ridge
This 10-mile round-trip trail leads to Forney Ridge, passing through diverse ecosystems and offering unique perspectives of Clingmans Dome.
13. Cucumber Gap Loop Trail
A 5.6-mile loop trail that combines the Cucumber Gap Trail and Little River Trail. It’s a moderate hike through lush forests with occasional glimpses of the surrounding mountains.
14. Spruce Mountain Trail
A 7.5-mile round-trip trail that takes you to the summit of Spruce Mountain. The trail features a gradual ascent through a beautiful forest.
15. Upper Tremont Trail
A 7.8-mile round-trip trail that leads to Upper Tremont, known for its cascading waterfalls and vibrant wildflowers in the spring.
1. Mount LeConte via Alum Cave
Strap on your boots for this challenging 10-mile round-trip trek to the third-highest peak in the Smokies. At the top of this steep climb, you’ll find LeConte Lodge.
LeConte Lodge is accessible only by hiking and you can stay overnight in one of their tiny, primitive cabins. This strenuous hike offers diverse scenery, from forests to exposed cliffs, and the Lodge at the summit provides a unique resting spot.
2. Rocky Top via Anthony Creek
For the adventurous souls, this 13-mile round-trip trail takes you to the iconic Rocky Top summit. Expect steep ascents, rocky terrain, and jaw-dropping views of the surrounding peaks.
3. Rainbow Falls Trail
A strenuous 5.4-mile hike leading to the 80-foot Rainbow Falls. The constant ascent can be challenging, but the reward of a colorful misty cascade at the end is worth every step.
4. Charlies Bunion Loop via Dry Sluice Gap Trail
This challenging 15-mile loop takes you through diverse landscapes, including alpine meadows and rocky outcrops. The panoramic views from Charlies Bunion are complemented by the solitude of the trail.
5. Porters Mountain Trail
An 11-mile round-trip hike that takes you to the summit of Porters Mountain. The steep ascent rewards hikers with sweeping views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
6. Gregory Bald via Gregory Ridge Trail
A 17-mile round-trip hike that leads to the grassy summit of Gregory Bald. This remote trail offers a true wilderness experience, with challenging terrain and expansive views.
7. Trillium Gap Trail to Mt. LeConte
A strenuous 13-mile round-trip hike that takes you to the summit of Mt. LeConte. The trail passes through lush forests and features the iconic Grotto Falls along the way.
8. Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling
A challenging 16.5-mile round-trip trail leading to the summit of Mt. Sterling. The trail is steep and demanding, but the views from the fire tower at the top are unparalleled.
9. Cataloochee Divide Trail
A demanding 16-mile loop trail that takes you along the Cataloochee Divide. Hikers can enjoy panoramic views and explore the remote and less-traveled sections of the park.
10. The Jumpoff via Appalachian Trail
A strenuous 6.5-mile round-trip hike that takes you to The Jumpoff, a rocky outcrop with stunning views. The challenging ascent along the Appalachian Trail is rewarded with a breathtaking panorama at the summit.
11. Low Gap Trail to Mt. Cammerer
This challenging 12-mile round-trip hike takes you to the iconic fire tower on Mt. Cammerer, providing spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
12. Lakeshore Trail
This demanding 15.8-mile out-and-back trail along Fontana Lake offers solitude and a chance to observe the lake’s diverse ecosystems.
13. Miry Ridge Trail to Mount Sterling
A strenuous 18-mile loop trail that combines the Miry Ridge Trail and Baxter Creek Trail, providing a challenging but rewarding adventure.
14. Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald
A 12.5-mile round-trip trail that takes you to the grassy summit of Andrews Bald, offering expansive views of the surrounding landscape.
15. Rocky Flats Trail
A 14.3-mile loop trail that explores the Rocky Flats area, featuring rugged terrain and challenging ascents for seasoned hikers seeking a true backcountry experience.
Conclusion: More Smoky Mountain Hikes by Difficulty
In conclusion, exploring the Smoky Mountain hikes offers a diverse range of experiences, catering to hikers of all levels of expertise and preferences.
The trails are not only known for their difficulty but also for the stunning views, old-growth forests, and unique features that make each hike a memorable adventure.
For those seeking the best views, several trails stand out. The Chimney Tops Trail, with its challenging ascent, rewards hikers with panoramic vistas that showcase the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
The Boulevard Trail, leading to the summit of Mt. LeConte, provides breathtaking mountain views, making it one of the most popular trails in the region.
The Alum Cave Bluff trail, with its observation tower at the summit, offers hikers an opportunity to marvel at the expansive landscapes below.
The old-growth forests in the Smoky Mountains add a touch of natural wonder to many hikes.
Trails like the Andrews Bald Trail take hikers through spruce-fir forests, providing a serene and immersive experience.
Newfound Gap Road serves as a central point for accessing various trails, making it convenient for visitors exploring both the North Carolina and Tennessee sides of the park.
Whether it’s the iconic Appalachian Trail passing through the park or the lesser-known Brushy Mountain trail, each route has its unique charm and allure, attracting visitors for good reason.
In conclusion, the Smoky Mountain hikes are a testament to the park’s incredible natural beauty and diverse landscapes.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker seeking the challenge of the hardest day hikes or a casual adventurer looking for a short hike with great views, the Smoky Mountains have something to offer for everyone.
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