Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the United States. Affectionately called the Great Smokies by many, they are a gorgeous sprawl of mountains that gets their name from the smoky haze that accumulates around the ridges. Here you will find an abundance of wildlife, waterfalls, lush ancient forests, and miles upon miles of hiking trails.
Smoky Mountains hiking trails aren’t all difficult either. For those looking for an easy and beautiful hike, there are plenty of options. You don’t need to be an athletic champion to reach some of the most gorgeous parts of the park. Here is a list of the best hikes for beginners and families that will make it an unforgettable trip.
The Gatlinburg Trail is one of many trails located just off of Newfound Gap Road. This road is the most popular drive in the Smokies. You simply must take a ride along it because the views cannot be missed. Beginning in Gatlinburg, it winds along the state borders of Tennessee and North Carolina, ending in the town of Cherokee.
Gatlinburg Trail is one of the easiest and most beautiful hikes along the way. It’s only a 1.7 mile hike that takes you from Sugarlands Visitor Center into the city of Gatlinburg. It’s a great trail to just unwind on. This is also one of the only trails in the park that allows dogs.
This 3.5 mile hike is located near Cherokee, North Carolina. This is such a beautiful area with lush wildlife everywhere. Most of the trees are tall firs. It’s really one of the most beautiful trails in the whole park.
It does have some moderate levels of difficulty after a couple of miles. However, if you plan accordingly with sturdy hiking shoes, it is really worth it! The trail also has stone steps that make the hike a bit easier. It’s a popular hike, so be sure to get out there as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
This hike is always a kid favorite. The trail is a 2.6 mile loop and takes about 2 hours to hike. The Laurel Falls are named after the beautiful laurel shrubs that grow in abundance near the waterfall. They are fully in bloom around May.
The trail is paved the entire way, but there are some parts where the asphalt is cracking. Overall, it is a fairly easy trail though. Although it also gets crowded during peak visitor season, it is definitely worth a hike. The waterfall is gorgeous and a great place for pictures.
Forney Ridge Trail
The Forney Ridge Trail at Clingman’s Dome is a must-see part of the park. The Dome is the highest point in Tennessee at 6,643 feet that offers the best views of the Smokies. This trail is short and sweet. It’s actually the shortest hike in the park, extending for only about half a mile.
This trail leads right into the Appalachian Trail. When you reach the fork in the trail at the bypass, take a right to continue to the lookout points. Most people don’t use this trail so it’s a nice option for when you need some solitude. Come here around sunset for some really spectacular sights. If you’re lucky, you might spot some Smoky Mountain deer. They usually graze around this area.
Schoolhouse Gap Trail
This hike is located off of Laurel Creek Road towards the Cades Cove area. Hiking round trip, it is about 4 miles. However, it is a very easy trail to traverse with hardly any hills to walk up. The first part of the hike follows along a stream and then opens up into a gorgeous, wide field of flowers and shrubs.
Go here in the spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom. They are everywhere along the trail. Also, don’t forget to check out the trail’s best kept secret: White Oak Sinks. This trail branches off from the main Schoolhouse loop and is worth a short trip that leads to a beautiful waterfall and cavern.
Grotto Falls Hike
This is a fun and easy hike that takes you to yet another amazing waterfall. It is only a 2.5 mile loop trail that begins at the Trillium Gap Trailhead. You begin the hike walking through a beautiful old growth forest. The waterfalls appear after about a mile. You can even walk behind these falls and experience their roaring power.
The natural beauty on this trail is simply stunning. The hike itself is a little narrow and rocky, but there are no steep parts to climb. Just be cautious of the bumps along the way. Take note that this trail is closed during the winter months (from December through mid-March).
Oconaluftee River Trail
This hike is located right behind the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee. The trail is flat and runs for about 1.5 miles to the national park boundary in Cherokee. There are several entrances to the river along the way to stop and enjoy the scenery. In the spring, wildflowers are in bloom all along the trail. It is simply gorgeous. This is another rare trail that allows dogs.
Be sure to go through the Mountain Farm Museum on your way to the trail. Dogs are not allowed in this area, but it is definitely worth seeing. You’ll get to see original log houses built around the late 1800s. The museum has lots of interesting information on the history and tours are offered. Occasionally, visitors spot elk grazing in the fields nearby.
Smoky Mountains hiking trails are some of the best in the world. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture some of these unforgettable views.