In Gatlinburg, vacationing can be both art and science. There’s plenty to do, of course. But if you’re going to do everything you want, then you’re going to have a plan. You’ll need schematics. Or you can pick representative activities; such as a hike one day, or shopping the next. Get a soupçon of Gatlinburg without going for the complete experience. And so, for both camps of thought, we offer the following list of the best trails in the Gatlinburg area. If you’re an artist, pick one and get an impression of what hiking in the Smokies is all about. If you’re a completionist? Gear up, son. It’s going to be quite a week.
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Is Gatlinburg good for hiking?
Gatlinburg is located at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has more than 150 official hiking trails. So yes, Gatlinburg is great for hiking. So get your hiking boots ready. Here are some of the most iconic hiking trails near Gatlinburg, Tennessee:
17. The Place of a Thousand Drips
We’ll start out simple. The Place of a Thousand Drips is along the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail. That means that no hiking is required. The only downside? The one-way road closes during the winter season. If you get the opportunity to visit, the waterfall is located at stop #15 on the Motor Nature Trail.
16. House of Fairies via Twin Creeks
The Fairy House in the Smoky Mountains is actually an old spring house. Still, it’s a landmark that sparks wonder and imagination for many visitors. The relatively simple hike to the landmark is accessible from the Twin Creeks trail. It isn’t along the proper trail, but it is easy to find. As you pass the office for Discover Life in America, you’ll see a small path that veers off to the side. Follow that, and you’ll see the old spring house on the side of the mountain.
15. Gatlinburg Trail
The Gatlinburg Trail is an easy hiking trail that is just under four miles out and back. It’s perhaps most well-known for being one of the two pet-friendly trails. Bicyclists are also allowed. The hike is beautiful and not very strenuous at all. This trail is easily accessible for adults and kids. It’s the perfect taste of the Smokies as you will see wildflowers and forest. Also, as a bonus, you can enjoy a nice morning hike and be back in town by lunchtime.
14. Hen Wallow Falls
Now we get into more difficult hikes. The trek to Hen Wallow, located off the Gabes Mountain Trail, is accessible from the parking area at the Cosby Picnic Area. This moderately difficult hike is 4.4 miles round trip. The base of the 90-foot high falls is popular with salamanders, and it looks particularly exquisite after a good rain.
13. Spruce Flats Falls
This waterfall trail is short but ranked moderately difficult. It is known for its beautiful scenery as well as the deep pool swimming hole created by the falls. The hike is just about 1.8 miles round trip. However, even though the overall change in elevation is relatively mild, there are some very steep and rocky sections.
12. Alum Cave Trail
The name of this trail is a bit misleading. In fact, the Alum Cave Trail doesn’t lead to a cave at all. The bluff is not a cave. It’s an overhang. The Alum Cave Trail is often used to access Mt. LeConte, which makes the trail quite popular. Mount LeConte is the third-highest peak in the Smokies at 6,593 feet.
11. Chimney Tops Trail
The Chimney Tops Trail was forever changed by the area’s 2016 wildfires. Overall, the trail is four miles, roundtrip. It is a reasonable length and has spectacular panoramic views. But the trail is steep, gaining 1,400 feet in elevation over two miles. Since the reopening of the trail, there is a new overlook. It is about a quarter-mile from the actual summit, where you can see views of Mt. LeConte.
10. Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls has always been one of the most popular hikes in the national park. If you select this hike, be prepared to walk it with a few friends. It’s popular for a reason. Specifically, It’s a relatively short hike with a beautiful waterfall. Still, it’s rated moderate in difficulty. The trail is paved at the trailhead, but the pavement is rough and uneven. There are also short, steep sections. Do not take it lightly.
9. Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls is fairly short but powerful. The body of water that feeds the falls is called Abrams Creek. A lot of water moves across the 20-foot falls, creating a large pool at the base. The hike is about a five-mile roundtrip trek. The Cades Cove Loop is open year-round, which is where the Abrams Falls Trailhead is located. Most serious hikers rate the trail as moderately difficult. The total elevation gain is a modest 629 feet.
8. Baskins Creek Falls
The beauty of Baskins Creek Falls can depend on the time of year. When the water is high – mostly after heavy rain – the creek tumbles down two tiers that make for a stunning sight. The roundtrip length of the hike is three miles with an elevation gain of 953 feet. It’s not necessarily easy, but if you catch it at the right time, it will be worth it. The Baskins Creek Trailhead is located along the Motor Nature Trail just outside of Gatlinburg.
7. Andrews Bald
Andrews Bald is one of the two remaining balds in the national park. It’s 1.8 miles from the Forney Ridge Trailhead at the Clingmans Dome parking area. The trail itself is moderately difficult, and the bald is located within Swain County, North Carolina. The popular trail has scenic views. When you reach the bald you’ll see stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
6. Rainbow Falls Trail
This aptly named trail is known for the mist which produces a rainbow of color at the falls on sunny days. Rainbow Falls is also the tallest single-drop waterfall in the park. The falls are beautiful. However, rocks around the falls are treacherous and climbing has resulted in injury or worse for some hikers. The 5.4-mile trail round-trip and is considered moderate in difficulty due to the terrain and 1500-ft elevation gain. For the more intrepid hiker, continue on another 4 miles to reach the summit of Mt. LeConte. This is where Mount Leconte Lodge is located (reservations are required far in advance).
The Rainbow Falls trail is just one of 5 trails that reach the lodge. To visit Rainbow Falls, turn at traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg and then past the “Bud” Ogle homeplace and watch for the Rainbow Falls Trail parking area. Pets are not allowed on this trail.
5. Trillium Gap Loop Trail to Grotto Falls
If you’re going to go hiking in the mountains, you want to see more than the trees. The Trillium Gap Trail meanders through old forest to 25-foot-high Grotto Falls. Grotto is the only waterfall at which visitors can walk behind the cascade. The trail is 3 miles roundtrip and is considered moderate in difficulty. However, it is the perfect place for viewing wildlife. Also, be aware the trail near the falls will be wet and slippery. Wear proper hiking shoes and do not climb on the rocks near the falls. The trailhead is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail at stop #5, where there is a parking area. Plan for 2-3 hours to hike to the falls and back.
4. Clingmans Dome
Just because the path to Clingmans Dome is mostly paved, doesn’t mean this is an easy hike. At nearly 6,650 feet in elevation, the hike up to the Dome’s observation tower from the parking lot is not effortless. The Appalachian Trail also has an access point at Clingmans Dome, for those who want to explore a bit more.Strollers or wheelchairs are not practical on this path. Bikes and pets are not permitted.
The highest point in the National Park near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, however, is worth the work. With sweeping 360-degree mountain views, you can see for 100 miles or more on a clear day. In fact, the seven-mile drive from Newfound Gap Road to the Dome parking lot is pretty cool as well. The road, however, is closed in the winter months.
3. Ramsey Cascades Trail
Located roughly six miles from Gatlinburg in the historic Greenbrier off-highway area of the mountains, Ramsey Cascades is a stair-stepping waterfall that drops over 100 feet over rock outcroppings to a small pool filled with salamanders. The four-mile hike is strenuous, but an absolute for the completionist. It gains 2,000 feet in elevation, following rushing rivers and streams to the trailhead. To get there, take Highway 321 to the Greenbrier entrance to the park and follow the signs another 4.7 miles to the trailhead.
Greenbrier itself is a valley that hosted a string of mountain communities before the arrival of the park. Massive logging operations came to the Greenbrier in the early 1900s, eventually proving to be one of the main impetus for creating the park. The loggers felled trees with little or no regard for the region’s ecology. Many remnants of life before the National Park remain in the area.
2. Cataract Falls Trail
This easy 0.7-mile trail starts at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and leads to the 40-ft waterfall. Guests may, if they wish, continue on another mile to the John Ownby Cabin. This is a great trail for all age groups.
1. The Gatlinburg Wine Trail
We thought we’d have a bit of fun with this mention. The Gatlinburg Wine Trail is for those who desire a different kind of trek through the Smokies. Look, if you just hiked the Ramsey Cascades Trail, you surely deserve a break. The Gatlinburg Wine Trail, composed of local wineries each offering free tastings of locally made grape and fruit wines, is just what the doctor ordered. This trail consists of Cades Cove Cellars in Townsend & Wears Valley, Bootleggers Homemade Wine, Sugarland Cellars and Little Bear Winery.
Pick up a passport at the first stop and you’ll get a special reward along the way. You can start the trail at any of the wineries for a self-guided tour. VIP Wine tours are also available. Visit their website for details.
Do you have a favorite trail in the Gatlinburg area? Let us know in the comments.