Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Did you know there are more than 850
miles of hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains? This makes the Bearskin
Lodge a perfect jumping point to a great adventure. The trails range from easy
to difficult and provide half hour walks to week-long backpacking trips. The
Appalachian Trail runs for 70 miles along the park's top ridge.
Pets are not
allowed on any trails except for the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River
Trail. Backcountry camping requires a permit. With so many options, the Smokies
offer a tremendous number of hiking opportunities. Mentioned below are a few
of the most popular and/or exciting destinations. All trails are described
in round trip miles.
||It includes Arch Rock,
a natural arch, Inspiration Point, and the Alum Cave Bluff. Inspiration
Point offers a spectacular view of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon
River's upper basin. The bluff resulted from Confederate mining of saltpeter
during the Civil War. This trail continues to Mt. LeConte, and its beautiful
viewpoints. Round trip distance from the parking area to LeConte is 10
||This hike heads downslope
to a bald. Excellent views open to the south, toward Fontana Lake, and
in spring the azalea explode with color. This trail head is not accessible
by car from 01 Dec to 01 Apr.
||Following the Appalachian
Trail, this hike goes out to rocky crags along the State-line ridge.
It has excellent views.
||It is a steep climb to
two rock spires 4,755 ft in elevation. From the top they provide a spectacular
Hikes to Waterfalls
Waterfalls adorn most every stream in the Smokies. Only one waterfall, Meigs
Falls, is visible from the road. It is 12.9 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor
Center, near the Townsend Wye. All others require hiking, and range from easy
to strenuous. Below is a listing of the Smokies best known falls, milege is
given in round trip miles.
|Name of Falls
||The trail begins in the
back of Cades Cove loop road. Abrams Falls has the largest water volume
of any park fall, and is among the most photogenic.
||This is a hike out of
the Smokemont Campground. A small, but graceful fall, this area makes
a good hike.
||Off the Roaring Fork Motor
Nature Trail. It is though a hemlock dominated forest. Grotto Falls is
distinctive as the only waterfall in the park one can walk behind.
||Trailhead is near Cosby
Campground, south of Cosby, Tennessee. This 45-foot fall receives less
visitation than many other area falls.
||The trail starts near
the end of Deep Creek Road near Deep Creek Campground.
||Hike out of the Deep Creek
Area. Sliding down 35 feet of sloping rock strata, the water livens and
cools the air. Along the route is Toms Branch Falls, another a beautiful
||Easiest waterfall hike
on the Tennessee side of the park. It follows a paved trail. The trail
cuts through the middle of a series of cascades. Laurel Falls is 60 feet
||Moderate to Strenuous
||This falls, at 80 feet,
is the highest single plunge water takes in the park. This trail makes
a good challenge and reveals a beautiful fall.
||The trailhead begins in
the Greenbrier Area. A magnificent scene, Ramsay Cascades tumbles over
100 feet among a spectacular setting.
Hikes In & Around Cades Cove
||This is Cades Cove's
easternmost trail. It begins in the Cades Cove picnic area. Vehicles
must leave the area one hour before sunset. To stay overnight, park
by the ranger station. The trail follows Anthony Creek to its headwaters.
After three miles the trail reaches backcountry campsite #9. To camp
in the backcountry requires reservations. After another mile the path
merges with Bote Mountain Trail. Destinations include Spence Field,
the Appalachian Trail, and Rocky Top. Rocky Top holds one of the Park's
||This is a great trail
for families. It is less than one mile past the Cades Cove Visitor
Center, and begins along the loop road. The two mile loop hike takes
about an hour. A brochure explains more about the Cove's cultural and
natural history. Despite its convenience, few people use this easy
||This little used trail
begins four miles from the loop entrance. It was once used for easy
access to Cades Cove. It is a level, easy path. The trail ends at the
Park boundary, but many hikers turn around earlier.
||The trailhead is on
Forge Creek Road. Follow Forge Creek Road two miles. It ends as a parking
lot. The six-mile trail to Gregory Bald begins here. This tough trip
gains 3,000 feet in elevation. Old growth forest, with eight-foot diameter
tulip poplars, and the 10 acre bald highlight this trail.
||This trail begins on
the right, before the entrance to the one-way loop road. The trail
offers quiet and isolation. The trail features beautiful views of Cades
Cove and many wildlife viewing opportunities.
Hikes to History
||The trailhead is located
at the footbridge over the Oconaluftee River 7.0 miles north of the
Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the Newfound Gap Road. The first 0.25
mile of trail passes by the site of an old CCC camp and fish hatchery.
||Park at Mecalf Bottoms
and walk across the bridge. Take the Metcalf Bottoms Trail 0.6 mile
to the Little Greenbrier School. If you wish, you can continue 1.0
mile from the school to the Walker Sister's farmstead on the Little
Brier Gap Trail. The Little Brier Gap Trail starts at the barricade
uphill from the school.
||Follow the Road into
the Greenbrier area and turn at the bridge toward Ramsay Cascades Trail.
Old Settlers Trail starts on the left just after the second bridge.
The first 1.5 miles of the trail pass through remnants of the old Greenbrier
||Park at Sugarlands Visitor
Center and ask directions to this trailhead. The first two miles of
this trail offer a glimpse of the old Sugarlands community which pre-dated
the national park. A 6.2 mile loop hike can be achieved by combining
Old Sugarlands Trail and Two-mile Branch Trail.
||Follow the Rough Fork
Trail from the end of Cataloochee Road 1.0 mile to the Woody place
and its 1880's home.
It is important to be well versed before exploring the backcountry.
Here are a few basics to help you get started.
- Always hike with another person
- Always bring a small flashlight
- Always bring water.
- All water taken from the backcountry should be treated.
- Let someone know your route and return time
- Wear appropriate shoes
- Carry a small first aid kit
- Be informed on the weather and be prepared for quickly changing conditions.
Check current weather conditions.
Leave It There
Whether it be plants, rocks, animals, please leave it there!
Whatever you find in the park is protected for the enjoyment of future generations.
It may be easy to rationalize that only one flower that you pick will not hurt
anything, but if everyone that visited the park took just one flower there
would be none left to enjoy today, but more importantly, the seed would be
prevented from falling and propagating the species. Rocks might be a nice keepsake,
but here again, they, too, serve a function here. All plants, including the
ferns and mosses, are also protected.
Most everyone will realize that animals are protected here,
and poaching is prohibited. You might not know that feeding the animals is
also prohibited to protect not only the hand that is feeding them, but the
animals' well-being as well. All wildlife is protected here. Fishing is permitted.
However, there are very stringent fishing regulations, and you should check
on them if you intend to fish.
There is an adage around that goes "take nothing but pictures
and leave nothing but footsteps." This is not as true as it used to be because
the park wants you to take other's litter, and with increased backcountry visitation,
they emphasize low impact camping to minimize the impact of the footsteps left.
Please check for information on Low Impact Camping before leaving the trailhead.
- Picking, digging or otherwise damaging plants is prohibited in the park.
Subject to a $5,000 fine and six months imprisonment
- Persons feeding or disturbing wildlife are subject to a $5,000 fine and
six months imprisonment.
- Pets are NOT permitted on park trails. In developed areas they must be
on a leash at all times
- Camping is permitted only in designated sites.
Being Bear Aware
Black bears in the Park are wild and their behavior is sometimes
unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting
serious injuries and death. Treat all bear encounters with extreme caution
and follow these guidelines.
Encounters Along the Trail
Remain watchful. If you see a bear at a distance do not approach
it. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding,
changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.) - YOU'RE TOO CLOSE.
Being too close may also promote aggressive behavior from
the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground.
The bear is demanding more space. Don't run but slowly back away watching the
bear. Try to increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will
probably do the same.
If a bear persistently follows or approaches you, typically
without vocalizing, or paw swatting, try changing your direction. If the bear
continues to follow you, stand your ground. If the bear gets closer, begin
talking loudly or shouting at it. Act aggressively and try to intimidate the
Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves
look as large as possible (for example move to higher ground). Throw non-food
objects such as rocks at the bear. Use a deterrent such as a stout stick if
you have one. Don't run and don't turn away from the bear.
Don't leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems.
Most injuries from black bear attacks are minor and result from a bear attempting
to get at people's food. If the bear's behavior indicates that it is after
your food and you're physically attacked, separate yourself from the food and
slowly back away.
If the bear shows no interest in your food and you're physically
attacked, fight back aggressively with any available object -- the bear may
consider you as prey! Help protect others, report all bear incidents to a park
ranger immediately! Above all, keep your distance from bears!
Encounters in Camp
The best way to avoid bears is to not attract them. Keep cooking
and sleeping areas separate. Keep tents and sleeping bags free of food odors;
do not store food, garbage or other attractants (i.e., toothpaste, soap, etc.)
A clean camp is essential to reducing problems. Pack out all
food and litter; don't bury it or try to burn anything. Proper food storage
is required by regulation. Secure all food and other attractants at night or
when not in use. Where food storage devices are present, use them. Otherwise:
Place all odorous items in your pack.
Select two trees 10-20 feet apart with limbs 15 feet high.
Using a rock as weight, toss a rope over a limb on the first tree and tie one
end to the pack. Repeat this process with the second tree. Raise the pack about
six feet via the first rope and tie it off. Then pull the second rope until
the pack is up at least 10 feet high and evenly spaced; it must be four feet
or more from the nearest limb.
Garbage Kills Bears!
- Secure all food, toothpaste, soap and trash at night or
when not in use
- Do not cook or store food in or near your tent
- Pack out ALL your trash, don't bury or burn anything
- If a bear approaches you, frighten it by yelling, banging
pans together, or throwing rocks