Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Less than an hour's drive away, practically our backyard, lies a mecca of trails for the recreational to long-distance hiker! Over 800 miles of scenic trails weave through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ranging from short leg-stretchers to strenuous treks. Whether you plan a day-hike or head out for an extended backpacking adventure, the park trails are well-maintained, nicely signed and easy to navigate. There are many camping options available. Note that leashed dogs are allowed at the campgrounds, picnic areas, and along the roads, but are not permitted on any of the trails. Bicycles are limited to paved roads. With so many trails and so many guide books to assist you with routing, Outdoor Knoxville's goal is to categorize some of the park's features and highlights. The park trail map will help you with locations.
Arch Rock: Walk through this natural bridge on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. The stairway is equipped with a handrail to safely assist when the rock steps are slippery or ice coated.
Balds make wonderful picnic stops and are a favorite camping spot for stargazers. Balds are large meadows or treeless areas located at mid to high elevations in the park, dating back at least to the early 1800s, but their exact origin is unknown. Heath balds, which are composed of shrubs such as mountain laurel, rhododendron, blueberry, huckleberry and sand myrtle, can be found on the eastern end of the park. Grassy balds, which are found mostly in the western end of the park, are dominated by grass species and are home to some rare shade-intolerant plant varieties.
Andrews Bald: From the Forney Ridge Trail, this high-elevation grassy bald showcases the vibrant colors of its flame azaleas and Catawba rhododendrons during mid June. Visit again in September for blueberries. Rated an easy day hike.
Gregory's Bald: There are several trails that lead to this bald with varying mileage and difficulty. Flame azaleas are in their glory in mid to late June, with hundreds of blooms in white, pink, yellow, orange and the intense orange-red. There are a few blueberry and service berry bushes as well. trail map and info
Maddron Bald: This big heath bald is off the Snake Den Ridge Trail and is rated as a strenuous day hike. The bald hosts mountain laurel, rhododendron, mountain myrtle and blueberry bushes.
Russell and Spence Fields: On a clear day the stunning views of the North Carolina side of the Park is match only by June's spectacular display of mountain laurel covered in white and pink flowers. The orchard of serviceberry trees that fringe the grassy Spence Field is blanketed in white blossoms in May. Hike is rated strenuous.
Silers Bald: From the Clingmans Dome Trail, this semi-bald hosts a few small, gnarled trees on it's grassy fields. Blackberries are abundant in season. Rated a moderate day hike.
Clingman's Dome Observation Tower: At an elevation of 6,643 feet, this is the highest point in the Park offering views of 100 miles on a clear day, unfortunately, due to air pollution, most days only offer a 20 mile view.
Mt Cammerer Fire Tower: The summit elevation of 4,928' features views of the Pigeon River Gorge from the edges of a rocky outcropping. Walk around the deck of this grand stone fire tower. trail map and info
Shuckstack: At only about 4,000' feet high, the views are still outstanding. On a clear day, Gregory Bald and Spence Field are visible, but my favorite is Fontana Lake which takes the shape of an eagle from this vantage point.
The most popular large waterfalls on well-worn trails are Abrams, Grotto, where you can walk behind the falls, Laurel, and Rainbow Falls. But with so many miles of rivers and streams flowing through the park, there are numerous other falls and cascades to visit. Many offer fun swimming holes in the pools below the falls. Please note that the rocks near and around the falls are very slippery from algae and mist — do not attempt to climb to the tops of waterfalls.
Abram Falls: 20 feet high with a long, deep pool at it's base that has very strong current and undertow and can be extremely dangerous. Hike is 5 miles round-trip, moderate in difficulty. trail map and info
Grotto Falls: 25 feet high, the Trillium Gap Trail actually runs behind the waterfall! The hike is 2.6 miles roundtrip, easy in difficulty.
Hen Wallow Falls: 90 feet high, access is from a signed side trail by way of steep switchbacks. Hike is 4.4 miles roundtrip, moderate in difficulty.
Indian Creek Falls/Tom Branch Falls: each waterfall is 25 feet high. The hike is an easy 1.9 mile roundtrip which passes by both falls.
Juney Whank Falls: 90 feet high divided into an upper and lower section. The hike is 0.5 miles roundtrip, easy in difficulty.
Laurel Falls: 80 feet high and one of the most popular falls so parking is often limited. The paved Laurel Falls Trail is 2.3 miles roundtrip, easy in difficulty.
Mouse Creek Falls: 45 feet high. The Big Creek Trail follows an old railroad built during the logging boom at the start of the 20th century. The 4 mile roundtrip hike passes by a smaller 6' waterfall and pool, the trail is moderate in difficult.
Rainbow Falls: 80 feet high, named for the rainbow produced by the mist on sunny afternoons, the elevation gain to the falls is 1,500'. Rainbow Falls Trail is 5.4 miles roundtrip, moderate in difficulty.
Ramsey Cascades: 100 feet high with a small pool underneath. This is the tallest waterfall in the park and the trail in gains 2,000' in elevation over it's 4 mile course (8 miles round trip), rating it as strenuous.
Wildflowers are abundant in the Smokies, with over 1,660 kinds of flowering plants found in the park, more than in any other North American National Park. Each spring, the park hosts the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, a week-long festival of programs and guided walks and hikes that explore the wondrous diversity of life in the park. Below are a few of the many trails that have abundant wildflower displays.
Chestnut Top Trail: This is a strenuous trail but the flower path begins within a couple hundred feet of the trailhead. Spring beauties will be the first to show in early March. Adding to the display as the season progresses are the white trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, bishop's cap, purple phacelia, fire pink, plantain-leaved pussytoes, star chickweed and wild stonecrop are dotting the trails. Late spring and early summer bring hairy beard-tongue, rattlesnake hawkweed and squawroot. trail map and info
Cucumber Gap Loop: For wildflower viewing, this trail is best between mid-March and April when the spring beauties and trailing arbutus are in full bloom. As the season progresses, the hepaticas, yellow trillium, dwarf cinquefoil, stonecrop, Canadian violets and umbrella leaf make their appearance while summer features mountain mint and orange and pale jewelweed.
Cove Hardwood Self-guiding Nature Trail: This 3/4 mile loop offers some excellent wildflower displays.
Kanati Fork Trail: First couple of miles of this hike display yellow violets bloom as early as March but April is prime time with cut-leaved toothwort, dwarf cinquefoil, large-flowered bellwort and white baneberry. Late summer/early fall flowers include beaked dodder, bee balm and Turk's cap lily.
Little River Trail: From mid-March through April the first couple of miles of trail showcase spring beauties and trailing arbutus. As the season progresses, look for hepaticas, yellow trillium, dwarf cinquefoil, stonecrop, Canadian violets and umbrella leaf. Summer brings mountain mint and orange and pale jewelweed.
Middle Prong Trail: Flowers and waterfalls on this hike! Along the first couple miles of trail there are foamflower, toothwort, violets, wood sorrel, and trilliums.
Porters Creek Trail: Numerous wildflowers blanket the forest floor with bloodroot, hepaticas, white fringed phacelia, violets, white trilliums during late March. April and May display yellow trillium, toothwort, wild geranium, May-apple, dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, baneberry, foam flower, halberd-leaved violets, woodland bluets and Jack-in-the-pulpits.
Rich Mountain Loop: Featuring the most diverse amount of wildflowers, look for mountain laurel, flame azalea, purple phacelia, rattlesnake hawkweed, yellow ragwort, violets, butterfly weed, just to name a few.
Schoolhouse Gap Trail: An excellent trail for spring wildflowers featuring several Virginia bluebells on the lower portion of the trail. Continuing along the trail will be beaked violets, pink lady's slippers, fairy wand, golden aster, star grass, red clover, Robin's plantain, sun drops, Catesby's trillium and lyre-leaf sage. Complementing the trail are rhododendron and mountain laurel, which begin to bloom mid-May. Other flowers to watch for are the cardinal flower, Carolina vetch and yellow ragwort. From July through October, the southern harebell, purple ironweed, blue lobelia and sweet Joe Pye weed make their appearance.
Alum Cave: First major viewpoint is Inspiration Point, aptly named for its commanding vistas to the north and west. You might be able to catch a glimpse of the Eye of the Needle hole in the rock at the top of Little Duck Hawk Ridge, but a better view will be further along the trail. From Alum Cave (a concave bluff) the views are impressive. In summer, water droplets fall from the overhang, during the winter, huge icicles form all along the ledge.
Andrews Bald: Once you've reached the Park's highest grassy bald, continue another 100 yards or so to where the grassy fields open up to stunning panoramic views. Good place to enjoy a picnic.
Brushy Mountain: From the summit you'll glean outstanding views of the entire eastern flank of the Great Smoky Mountains, from Charlies Bunion all the way over to Mount Sequoyah, Mount Chapman, Mount Guyot, and beyond. Looking towards the south, Mount LeConte will be the dominate point.
Charlie's Bunyon: Several sections along the trail reach an elevation around 6000 feet. Hiking along this narrow ridge, there are outstanding views on either side of the trail. Charlies Bunion is a rock out-cropping where the most stunning views are Mt Kephart and the Jump Off to your west and Mount Guyot towards the east.