Is It Safe to Hike in Gatlinburg? Advice From a Local

hiking in Gatlinburg

A local talks about how to safely hike in and around Gatlinburg and recommends three of his favorite trails

I’ve never had a safety issue and I’ve been around the Smoky Mountains for more than 30 years. So, I don’t think of the Smokies as dangerous. But as someone who has also lived on this planet for nearly five decades, I know that any place at the wrong time, in the wrong situation can be dangerous. In this article, we will discuss whether or not it’s safe to hike in Gatlinburg and offer three suggestions on where to hike, each of varying difficulty.

Yes, it is safe to hike in Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The area features a wide variety of hiking trails and options appropriate for all hikers. While no place in the world is 100% safe, hiking the trails around Gatlinburg is, by and large, a perfectly safe activity. 

Is it safe to hike in Gatlinburg?

Yes, it’s safe to hike in Gatlinburg. Is there potential for bad things to happen? Sure. You could …

  • Get lost
  • Become injured
  • Encounter a bear
  • Get bitten by a snake
  • Encounter a person with bad intentions

All those things COULD happen. But they could happen almost anywhere. For instance, there was a bear in our neighborhood last year. I twisted my ankle and fell on the sidewalk outside Anakeesta. I’ve encountered weird, creepy people at the mall. 

Statistically, hiking in the mountains doesn’t come with more dangers than living your everyday life. Unless you count the car ride to the mountains, your regular life is probably more dangerous than your hike. Still, proper precautions and planning are required. You should understand the trail you’re hiking, its difficulty and elevation change. You’ll also need a pretty firm grasp of what you can handle. 

For instance, several years ago, my uncle Jay went hiking at a state park in Kentucky without understanding the severity of the climb before him. He had a heart attack and had to be walked off the trail by rangers and flown to the nearest medical facility. He survived and is doing well today. But I promise he’s not going trailblazing again without knowing exactly what he’s in for. In the mountains, proper shoes and provisions are also highly recommended. 

Also, the National Park Service has a whole list of what to do if you encounter a wild animal on the trails. Read up. Be ready. Wild animal attacks in the mountains are rare but they are possible. Finally, remember it gets dark early in the mountains. Once the sun falls behind the ridge, hiking is a whole new ballgame. Give yourself enough time to get in and comfortably out. 

A trailhead sign for The Gatlinburg Trail
Located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, The Gatlinburg Trail is walkable from downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3 best places to hike near Gatlinburg

1. The Gatlinburg Trail (Easy)

I am loathe to call this hiking. The Gatlinburg Trail is a 1.9-mile one-way walk from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg. It is relatively flat, and it’s paved. It’s used by joggers and is one of two trails in the national park that allows bicycles and dogs and possibly dogs on bicycles. However, it’s a nice spot for a scenic walk for those who might not be up to more traditional trails. There are beautiful views of the river and a pedestrian footbridge. 

View of Alum Cave in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Melinda Fawver/shutterstock.com)

2. Alum Cave Trail (Moderate)

Alum Cave Trail is one of the six ways to summit Mt. LeConte, an adventure that should only be undertaken by hikers in good shape. The Alum Cave Trail is moderately difficult, but it’s much closer to strenuous than easy. It’s a 2.5-mile one-way hike from the trailhead on Newfound Gap Road. There is 1,200 feet of elevation change and the steep trail follows the edge of the ridge in sections. It’s not for those squeamish about heights. The Alum Cave is a bluff cave that offers beautiful views of the valley below. 

Trillium Gap Trail
Hike to Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Vezzani Photography/shutterstock.com)

3. Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls (Difficult)

The Trillium Gap Trail is a strenuous, 14-mile, all-day hike up to Mt. LeConte with a trailhead on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It is for the most serious of hikers. However, the first section of the trail serves as the path to Grotto Falls, one of the prettiest spots in the mountains. Grotto Falls is a 25-foot waterfall where the path leads through the Grotto under and behind the waterfall. The hike to the falls is about 2.6 miles round trip of moderate difficulty though serious hikers rate it as easy. 

With proper planning and preparation, hiking the Smokies around Gatlinburg is as safe as any outdoor activity can be. The stories of serious injury or harm to hikers are quite rare but do happen. Ultimately, your drive to the mountains will come with far more risk than any walk through them. 

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains soon? Make sure to check out our coupons page before your trip!

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