Best Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park was America's number one most visited national park in 2017, with more than 11 million visitors. And it's no wonder why. With its forested ridge upon ridge separating North Carolina and Tennessee, the park is beautiful year-round. It's also renowned for its plant and animal life, as well as the Southern Appalachian mountain culture.
Though it gets extremely crowded (check out travel tips, here), it's still possible to get away from the masses via the 850 miles of trail that crisscross the park. Here are some of the most popular, but peruse our 'popular hikes' section below to find a whole bunch less traveled yet still lovely hikes.
The hike to the tallest waterfall in the park, Ramsey Cascades, is considered strenuous and very popular. Chimney Tops is another very popular hike with beautiful views. If you're looking for something short and sweet with a very cool lookout structure, check out Clingmans Dome.
Looking for other things to do besides hiking? Try auto-touring, fishing or cycling the park instead, amongst other suggestions from the National Park Service.
If you can afford it, Le Conte Lodge is a pretty special experience. It's unusual as a hike-in only lodge, with the shortest trail in 5.5 miles up Alum Cave Trail. Can't swing the added expense? Take a day-hike up instead, and enjoy a sack-lunch in the dining hall. Remember, there's always camping!
And if you're planning a through-hike, there are services available, like this one. If you're looking for something super long, 70 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail go through the park.
When to Go
Visit year-round, though we suggest avoiding peak-seasons (mid-June through mid-August), as the park gets jam-packed, especially on weekends. The winter snows are lovely, though may close roads and some secondary campgrounds. Fall (October) is a truly stunning time to visit and see autumn colors, though again, it's a very popular time to visit. If you're hitting up the park during peak seasons, go early or arrive late in the day to avoid congestion.
Unlike most national parks, Great Smoky Mountains is free! Special use permits and free backcountry permits can be found here.
Like most national parks, pets need to be on a leash of 6-feet or less, and are not permitted in the backcountry or on trails except for the two short Gatlinburg and Oconaluftee River Trails. They are only allowed in designated campgrounds, picnic areas and along roads.