5 Hikes That Will Leave You in Awe at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Get those hiking boots on and be ready to explore the amazing mountain views

What comes to mind when you think of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? The beautiful rolling hills, the rushing streams, and the vast array of wildlife? All of that is undoubtedly part of what makes this park so unique.

Established in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. But back in the 1800s, the land the park sits on was almost destroyed by clearcutting and other logging forms due to the timber industry rush.

The U.S. National Park Service wanted to buy the land and establish a park but didn’t have enough money at the time. What happened next was one of the most unique ways a national park has ever been established.

The U.S. government, business tycoon John D. Rockefeller Jr., and many local citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina started to buy the land piece by piece, and the park started to come together.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains a unique and beautiful park. Numerous trails snake through the park, each with its own scenery and views. It would be impossible to see everything the park offers in just one visit, but we’ve compiled a list of five hikes that will leave you in awe of this natural wonder.

Rainbow Falls Trail

If you enjoy picture-perfect waterfalls that look like they came right out of a postcard, you won’t want to miss out on Rainbow Falls.

This hike will take you to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park, and along the way, you will pass over bridges surrounded by lush green forests and other smaller waterfalls that make up the many streams that are located in the park. Just make sure you are ready for a bit of an incline as you reach the middle of the trail.

Total distance: 5.09 miles

Elevation gain: 1,617 feet

Difficulty: Moderate - hiking

Route type: Out & back

Other info:

  • Roads leading to this trail can be closed seasonally. Check the National Park Service for more information.
  • Steep inclines are on this trail. Bring proper hiking footwear.
  • Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail

Want to get a look at the entire park? Then it’s time to hike up the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail!

While it is only a mile hike, be ready to give those legs a workout. Many benches are available along the paved trail for rest breaks so you can take the trail at your own pace. But we promise the views from the top are more than worth it. On a clear day, you can see 360 degrees around you for miles, and the lookout makes it easy to walk around for great pictures.

Total distance: 1.18 miles

Elevation gain: 331 feet

Difficulty: Moderate - hiking

Route type: Out & back

Other info:

  • Roads leading to this trail can be closed seasonally. Check the National Park Service for more information.
  • Dogs are not allowed on this trail.
  • This trail is fully paved.

Laurel Falls Trail

Scenery and history all in one. That’s exactly what you will find on Laurel Falls Trail. Originally built and paved so that fire crews could get access to the Cove Mountain Fire Tower, this breathtaking hike is easy enough for anyone, but there are some sections with steps.

While the trail can get busy at times, the view of the 80-foot-high Laurel Falls is more than worth it. The falls themselves are gorgeous, but the surrounding cliffs and mountain laurel bushes that make up much of the trail give the area an otherworldly feeling.

Total distance: 2.42 miles

Elevation gain: 396 feet

Difficulty: Easy - hiking, walking

Route type: Out & back

Other info:

  • No dogs allowed on this trail.
  • Can be quite busy, recommend going in the early morning.
  • Do not climb the rocks around the falls as they are very slippery.

Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

One of the most popular trails in the park, Alum Cave Trail is known for its unique rock formations and drop-dead gorgeous views.

The hike up to Mount LeConte is no simple journey as it can take close to 6 or 7 hours to reach the summit. Along the way, you will visit a few incredible sites like Little Duck Hawk Ridge and Alum Cave Bluff, which is known for its orange clay. Once you reach the top, you can either book a cabin or lodge (though these must be booked in advance) or set up your camping equipment and spend the night in a tent with a breathtaking view.

Total distance: 10.9 miles

Elevation gain: 3,061 feet

Difficulty: Hard - hiking

Route type: Out & back

Other info:

  • No dogs allowed on this trail.
  • The summit can be very chilly, pack warm clothes.
  • This trail is meant for those who have some experience with long hiking.

Chimney Tops Trail

With the feel of a botanic garden and the moderately easy trek to the top, Chimney Tops Trail is perfect for those who want to enjoy the views without having to put in a lot of effort.

This is one of the few trails where you can actually see the results of your hike as you make your way up. Once you reach the well-maintained log stairs, you know you are close to the top. The very last section might be a little challenging as it is pretty much all one big climb, but the reward is an incredible view of the Smokies.

Total distance: 3.6 miles

Elevation gain: 1,286 feet

Difficulty: Moderate - hiking

Route type: Out & back

Other Info:

  • No dogs allowed on this trail.
  • This trail has been damaged by forest fires. Respect what is blocked off by the park rangers.
  • Lots of uphill hiking, recommend good, comfortable hiking footwear.

Enjoy the Views!

The Smokey Mountains are an iconic American landmark and a must-see for anyone who loves the outdoors. These five hikes are just a taste of what the park has to offer, but they are some of the most popular and beloved trails in the park. So put on your hiking boots, pack a lunch, and hit the trail! You won’t be disappointed.

Happy trails.