For your next getaway, picture this: you’re out there in nature, exploring the most scenic Smoky Mountain trails by day and returning to a cozy cabin retreat by night.
If that sounds like an ideal escape to you, you’re not alone! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park wows more than 14 million visitors annually, making it the most frequented national park in the U.S.
Luckily, there’s plenty of space for everyone. Part of the larger Appalachian Mountain Range, the Smokies cover more than half a million acres of land spanning from Tennessee to North Carolina. And all that acreage adds up to lots of incredible hiking opportunities.
Here, we’re exploring some of the most popular hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains you won’t want to miss during your visit. Once you choose your path, grab a Smoky Mountain trail map plus all the necessary hiking essentials. Don’t forget to bring snacks and water and dress appropriately for the high elevations. Soon enough, you’ll be enjoying all the sweeping mountain views and stunning vistas the region has to offer!
1. Charlies Bunion
For hikers who are looking for a decent challenge with a big reward, Charlies Bunion is a great option along the expansive Appalachian Trail near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Once you arrive at the parking lot just off Newfound Gap Road, you can set out on the 8-mile round-trip hike to Charlies Bunion. Once you navigate the rocky terrain and 1,600-foot elevation change to reach this stone landmark, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of peaks and valleys as far as the eye can see.
2. Clingmans Dome
Not quite ready for craggy rocks and steep inclines? No problem! There are several Great Smoky Mountains National Park trails that are better suited for beginners, including Clingmans Dome.
This site is actually the highest spot in the whole national park, topping out at 6,643 feet, meaning you’ll get the prettiest views around. If that’s not high enough, there’s also an observation deck where you can soak in the experience of being on top of the world.
To reach the summit, you’ll traverse a half-mile trail that is completely paved. It features a fairly steep incline, but it’s lined with benches for anyone who prefers to catch their breath before reaching the peak.
And that’s not a bad idea, since the sights at Clingmans Dome are truly breathtaking. Visitors can typically see 360-degree views that stretch out a hundred miles on a clear day! It’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular trails in the Smokies for hikers of all experience levels.
3. Middle Prong Trail
Make a splash during your visit to the Smokies along the Middle Prong Trail, where you’ll see several multi-tiered waterfalls and cascades across the journey, which spans 8.3 miles roundtrip. Due to the length and 1,140-foot elevation gain, this trail is considered moderately strenuous. But it’s well worth it for anyone who loves unique nature trails complete with rushing waters and year-round botanical beauty.
The path this trail follows was once used as a railroad bed built for the logging industry – but thankfully nature has been left undisturbed since the site became a national park.
There are a few other curious sights you might see along Middle Prong Trail. Since it’s open to horseback riders, you might see some horses – if not evidence that the horses have been there – along the path. There’s also an old hidden Cadillac car tucked away several yards off the main trail that visitors like to peek at.
4. Cades Cove
If you’re less interested in encountering equestrians and more interested in seeing Great Smoky Mountains wildlife, consider visiting the Cades Cove Loop. Along the 11-mile loop, you may spot white-tailed deer, coyotes, raccoons, turkeys and even black bears.
Cades Cove Loop features a paved road so motorists can explore the area, but there are vehicle-free days throughout peak season for those who prefer to ride bicycles or walk. If you prefer to experience a little bit of everything or just hike on foot, head out on one of the many memorable hiking trails that start from Cades Cove.
There’s a leisurely 2-mile round trip Cades Cove Nature Trail as well as a 5-mile round trip trail that leads to Abrams Falls and back. Adventurous and experienced hikers may enjoy the challenging Rocky Top Trail which covers nearly 14 miles roundtrip and almost 4,000 feet in elevation change.
5. Alum Cave Trail
Looking for a Smoky Mountain trail that really rocks? Try the Alum Cave Trail, which is populated with remarkable geological features.
You’ll climb up the damp stone steps beneath Arch Rock, a slate formation that has eroded into an arched shape over time. The elevation change picks up from there.
Next, you’ll be able to soak in views from the aptly named Inspiration Point – including sights of a rock formation called the Eye of the Needle. And after 2.5 miles, you’ll reach Alum Cave Bluffs.
If you double your distance, you’ll end up just beneath the summit at Mount LeConte. The full 11-mile round-trip hike is a favorite among backpackers.
Where To Stay When Hiking in the Smokies
If you’re planning a few days of memorable hikes in the Smoky Mountains, you’ll definitely want a place to kick your feet up and relax. There are plenty of places to stay that are in close proximity to all the best Great Smoky Mountain hiking trails.
But there’s nothing that beats a cozy cabin retreat that’s outfitted with all the luxurious amenities and comforts you could wish for. Plan your stay with Big Bear Camp Cabins and book your dream Smoky Mountains cabin today!