* Parsons Branch Road out of Cades Cove is closed due to hazardous trees.
* Rainbow Falls Trail closed May 8, 2017, through November 16, 2017, Monday 7 a.m. through Thursday 5:30 p.m. weekly. The Rainbow Falls parking lot at the Rainbow Falls trailhead will be closed May 8 through June 15 Monday through Thursday to facilitate heavy re-construction.
* Closures due to fire: Chimney Tops Trail, Road Prong Trail, Sugarland Mountain Trail from Mt. Collins Shelter to Little River Road, Rough Creek Trail, Bull Head Trail.
A Hiker's Paradise
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is “Paradise Found” for people who like to walk in the mountains. Over 150 different trails are maintained in the park—more than 800 miles in all—offering hikers a lifetime’s worth of exploration and adventure. Among America’s national parks, only Yellowstone and Yosemite have more miles of trails.
Hikers enjoy the Smoky Mountains during all months of the year with every season offering its own special rewards. During winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas along trails and reveals stone walls, chimneys, foundations, and other reminders of past residents. Spring provides a weekly parade of wildflowers and flowering trees, an event celebrated by hikers from across the country. In summer, walkers can seek out cool retreats among the spruce-fir forests and balds or follow splashy mountain streams to roaring falls and cascades. Autumn hikers have crisp, dry air to sharpen their senses and a varied palette of fall colors to enjoy.
One of the most daunting tasks facing hikers is choosing a trail. Start by deciding on what you would like to see. Waterfalls? Old-growth forests? Mountain streams? Views? Then decide how far you would like to hike. If you haven’t hiked much recently, be conservative. Five miles roundtrip is a good maximum distance for novices.
Be sure to allow plenty of time to complete your hike before dark. As a rule, hikers in the Smokies travel about 1.5 miles per hour. Many people travel slower. Sunset times vary from 5:22 p.m. in December to 8:56 p.m. in June.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most popular national park and foot traffic on some trails is heavy. However, most trails receive surprisingly light use. The park’s most popular trails are: Abrams Falls, Alum Cave, Chimney Tops, Forney Ridge (to Andrews Bald) Laurel Falls (to the falls), Rainbow Falls, Ramsey Cascades, the Appalachian Trail (between Newfound Gap and Charlies Bunion), and Trillium Gap (to Grotto Falls). Most other trails offer solitude.
GSMA Staff Recommended Hikes
Most trails in the national park were converted from old roads or railroads. Since most routes were linear rather than circular, there are relatively few short loop hikes in the Smokies today. Listed below are some of the best for day hikers. Coordinates (A1) refer to the map on the back side of the Day Hikes of the Smokies map/guide.
Rich Mountain Loop
Distance: 8.5 miles
Highlights: Views of Cades Cove, mountain laurel blooms in May and good fall colors in October.
Park in the large parking area at the start of Cades Cove Loop Road. The trail starts across the road from the parking area, just past the barricade. Follow Rich Mountain Loop Trail to Indian Grave Gap Trail and continue on to Crooked Arm Ridge Trail.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Highlights: spring wildflowers
Park near the barricade at the start of Little River Trail above Elkmont Campground. Follow Little River Trail to Cucumber Gap Trail and continue on to Jakes Creek Trail. Follow Jakes Creek Trail down to the old cabins and walk the road back to your vehicle.
Distance: 4.1 miles
Highlights: Tom Branch and Indian Creek falls.
Park at the Deep Creek trailhead (at the end of the Deep Creek Road). Follow Deep Creek Trail to Indian Creek Trail and follow the latter to Loop Trail. Follow Loop Trail to Deep Creek Trail and descend to the trailhead.
Distance: 6.1 miles
Highlights: mountain streams, wildflowers.
Park in the designated hikers parking area in Smokemont Campground. Walk to the Bradley Fork trailhead in D-Loop and follow Bradley Fork Trail to Smokemont Loop Trail. Smokemont Loop Trail returns you to Smokemont Campground.
Distance: 7.4 miles
Highlights: old-growth forest.
Park at Cataloochee Campground and walk up the road a short distance to Caldwell Fork Trail. Follow Caldwell Fork Trail to Boogerman Trail. Continue along Boogerman Trail to Caldwell Fork Trail and take it back to the trailhead.
Hikes with Views
Round-trip Distance: 3.6 miles
Park in the large parking area at the end of Clingmans Dome Road and take the Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald. Caution: this trail is very rocky.
Chimney Tops Trail
Round-trip Distance: 4 miles
The Chimney Tops trailhead is signed and located on the Newfound Gap Road 6.7 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center (7 miles north of Newfound Gap).
Round-trip Distance: 8 miles
Park at the large parking area at Newfound Gap and take the Appalachian Trail north.
Round-trip distance: 1 mile
Park at the large parking area at the end of Clingmans Dome Road. The trail to the observation tower is paved but steep.
Day Hiker’s checklist
The one essential piece of equipment for hiking in the Smokies is a rain jacket or poncho. Bring it along even on sunny days when there’s not a cloud in the forecast. Sooner or later you’ll be thankful you did. During the cooler months, rain pants can also be a big help. In warm weather, however, they tend to lead to overheating.
If hiking in the high country between September and May, always carry warm clothing, including hat and gloves. Many a balmy morning has turned into a frigid, wet afternoon on Mt. Le Conte or the Appalachian Trail.
Cotton is not recommended in cold weather or at high elevations. Carry clothing that will keep you warm when wet, such as wool or synthetic “fleece.”
- Foot Wear - Truly water-proof boots can be a big plus in the Smokies. Not only will they keep your feet drier during rainy weather, they also give you a little extra assistance when crossing shallow streams.
- Water - Carry two quarts per person on longer hikes, or carry a good water filter. All water obtained in the backcountry must be treated before drinking! Get a filter that is effective against Giardia since it may be present in any spring or stream.
- Food - Carry high-energy snacks and eat often.
- Map - A variety of park trail maps - including waterproof maps - are available at park visitor centers. Keep one in your pack at all times and know how to use it. Cellular phone service is rare in the park.
- Flashlight - A good flashlight or headlamp are welcome if you are caught out on the trail after dark.
- Matches - Waterproof are best.
- Emergency whistle - To signal rescuers when lost. All children should carry one.
- Crampons - Small, clip-on crampons can be very helpful when hiking high-elevation trails during cold weather.
If you are faced with a situation where outside help is needed, don’t panic. Take a few minutes to sit down and fully assess the situation and plan your actions. If possible, write down your location, the victim’s name, and the suspected nature of the problem. In the heat of the moment, such essential information is often lost or confused. Also, this will help you focus clearly on the problems at hand. Plan your route to the nearest trailhead where help may be obtained, or back to your car as the situation dictates. Other passing hikers or backpackers at backcountry sites may be of assistance. Keep in mind cellular phone service is rare in the park, and that the best reception is often atop the higher ridges. The general information number is (865) 436-1200.
Emergency service by calling 911 is also available in many areas.
With a little common sense and good judgment, the chances of your having anything but fun are remote. Proper planning will further reduce the likelihood of problems on your outing.
Parking & Trailheads
The majority of trailheads are not indicated with prominent roadside signs. Be sure to follow the directions in this guide carefully to find the proper parking area.
The amount of parking available at trailheads is highly variable. Often the parking areas for the most popular trails fill by mid-morning during the busy season. If you find your intended trailhead is full, consider it an opportunity to seek out one of the park’s many, many lightly used trails.
Theft from parked cars is a perennial problem in most national parks. Thieves almost always target purses, cameras, laptop computers, portable stereos, and other easily exchangeable commodities. The best defense is to keep valuables on your person. Locking them out of sight in your trunk may be effective, but then again most trunks are also easily broken into. Be aware that thieves may be in the parking area watching as you slip your purse into the glove box or stow your video camera in the trunk. Do not leave a note on your dashboard saying how long you will be hiking. Notify park rangers by calling (865) 436-1294 or 436-1230 to report a theft or suspicious activity.
Dogs on a leash are only allowed on the Gatlinburg and Oconaluftee River trails.