Gatlinburg trails: Best 5 hiking trails in the Smokies, ranked

Clingmans Dome Hiking Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Clingmans Dome Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Theron Stripling III/stock.adobe.com)

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For some, vacationing is an art. 

It’s about feel and flow and beauty and emotions. 

For others, it’s science; a feat of engineering.

In Gatlinburg, vacationing can be both art and science. 

There’s a lot to do. 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, 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 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. 

Read Also: Easy hikes in the Smoky Mountains; Our top 6 ranked

5. Gatlinburg Trail

An easy hiking trail that is just under four miles out and back, the Gatlinburg Trail is one of the two in the Smokies that allows dogs as well as bicyclists. Running along the Little Pigeon River, it’s beautiful and not very strenuous at all.

Crossing the river on a footbridge, you’ll eventually come to the remains of old cabins – rock fireplaces marking where generations of Ogles or Maples or other Gatlinburg settlers lived and died.

This trail is easily accessible, shows the beauty of the forest and allows you to have a nice morning hike and be back in town by lunch. The trail starts at the Sugarlands Visitor Center on the outskirts of Gatlinburg. 

Grotto Falls downstream
The view from downstream at Grotto Falls inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park located along Trillium Gap Trail (photo by PT Hamilton/stock.adobe.com)

4. Trillium Gap 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 Grotto Falls, a 25-foot high waterfall you can hike behind.

The 3-mile round trip hike is considered moderate difficulty. 

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. 

Read Also: Grotto Falls hiking guide: How long is it? How do you get there?

Clingmans Dome
On a clear day at Clingmans Dome, you can see for hundreds of miles (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

3. 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 from the parking lot is not effortless.

Strollers or wheelchairs are not practical on this path. Bikes and pets are not permitted.

The highest point in the National Park, however, is worth the work. With sweeping 360-degree views of the mountains, 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.

Read Also: The secret tunnel under Clingmans Dome that you never knew existed

The Ramsey Cascades are located in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (stock photo/TheSmokies.com)
Ramsey Cascades is located roughly six miles from Gatlinburg (photo by Theron Stripling III/stock.adobe.com)

2. 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 to the region’s ecology.

Many remnants of life before the National Park remain in the area.

Read Also: Secrets in the Smokies: 5 little known facts and stories

Sugarland Cellars
Here’s a trail for those who prefer drinking over hiking (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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 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.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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