Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains Best Hikes & Outdoors

More than 850 miles of hiking trails traverse the Great Smoky Mountains. They range from easy to difficult and provide half hour walks to week-long backpacking trips. Below are our favorites. Also, the Appalachian Trail runs for a very challenging 70 miles along the Park's top ridges.

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

With so many options, the Smokies offer a tremendous number of hiking opportunities. Stop at Oconaluftee Visitor Center on US 441 at the Cherokee entrance to get trail maps and the latest condition of trails. Download a PDF Map of Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trails

10 Favorite Hikes in the Great Smokies

Mt. LeConte & Alum Cave
Mt. LeConte & Alum Cave
(11 miles roundtrip, strenuous) The Alum Cave Trail is the most hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains. You'll see why, with interesting geological features and stunning views. To reach the 6,593-foot summit of Mount LeConte (third highest peak in the Smokies), you'll climb 2,853 feet in elevation in 5.5 miles.
Indian Creek Falls
Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls and Juney Whank Falls
See three waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Deep Creek area with a two-mile hike. Deep Creek is also a popular tubing spot each summer.
Cataloochee Valley Hiking
Cataloochee Valley Hiking
There are many hiking trails in beautiful Cataloochee Valley, home to the elk. A quick favorite is the one mile Rough Fork Trail along the cascading stream.
Chimney Tops
Chimney Tops
(4 miles roundtrip, strenuous) One of the most popular and rewarding hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. With an elevation of 4,800 feet, the rare rock summit is one of the park's most recognizable geological structures.  It's all uphill with 1,700 feet in elevation and intimidating rock cliffs at the top, but the reward is the view!
Charlies Bunion
Charlies Bunion
(8 miles roundtrip, strenuous) Hike on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap north four miles to this rocky ridge with spectacular views of the Smokies. You climb about 1,600 feet in elevation, but it's gradual.
Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome
(1-mile round-trip, moderate) At 6,643 ft., this is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An uphill, paved trail takes you to the top for panoramic views from the observation tower.
Andrews Bald
Andrews Bald
(4 miles roundtrip, moderate) At an elevation of 5,920 feet, this is the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains. The hike near Clingmans Dome is not overly strenuous, but includes a good bit of uphill and rocky sections. And you won't see the crowds that you find on other hikes in the Smokies.
Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere Hike
(3.2 miles, moderate) This loop hike in the Smokies includes a 1,200-ft. tunnel at the end of Bryson City's Lakeview Drive, known locally as the "Road to Nowhere." Lakeshore Trail starts here too, a 35-mile long trek to Fontana Lake Dam.
Mt. Cammerer
Mt. Cammerer
(11.8 miles roundtrip, strenuous) The hike up from Big Creek is a 5.9-mile constant climb with a gain of about 3,000 feet in elevation. The stone fire tower on top affords fabulous views as your reward for the climb.
Mt. Sterling
Mt. Sterling
(5.4 mile roundtrip, strenuous) Atop Mt. Sterling (5,842 ft elevation) is the historic, 60-foot tall steel fire lookout tower with nice views. You will climb 2,000 feet in elevation.
Purchase Knob, Great Smoky Mountains
Purchase Knob & Cataloochee Divide
(4-6.5 miles roundtrip, moderate) Hike the Cataloochee Divide Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains along the ridge to Gooseberry Knob and Hemphill Bald for great mountain views. End with a picnic at The Swag.
Wildland Guided Hikes
Wildland Trekking Company
This award-winning adventure tour company specializes in guided hiking and backpacking tours of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A top-rated company on TripAdvisor with all-inclusive trips and expert guides, they are one of the Smokies' premier adventure options.

Smoky Mountains Hiking Tips
Safety is important to consider when exploring the backcountry. Here are a few basics to help you get started: 

  • Backcountry camping requires a permit.
  • Let someone know your route and return time.
  • Always hike with another person. 
  • Carry a current park trail map. Don't except cell phone reception. 
  • Carry two small flashlights or headlamps. 
  • Take adequate water - minimum two quarts per person per day. 
  • All water taken from the backcountry should be treated. 
  • Wear shoes or boots that provide good ankle support. 
  • Carry a small first aid kit. 
  • Check the current weather forecast and be prepared for quickly changing conditions. 

Pets
Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, parking areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. The leash must not exceed 6 feet in length. Pets are only allowed on two short walking paths--the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Pets are not allowed on any other park trails. Pets should not be left unattended in vehicles or RVs.

Mountain & Road Biking
Bicycles can travel on most roads within the park. However, due to steep terrain, narrow road surfaces, and heavy automobile traffic, many park roads are not well suited for safe and enjoyable bicycle riding. There are no mountain biking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Oconaluftee River Trail and the lower Deep Creek Trail are the only park trails on which bicycles are allowed. Bicycles are prohibited on all other park trails. For the mountain biking mecca, go to nearby Tsali Recreation Area in the Nantahala National Forest. 

Fishing
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,115 miles of streams within its boundaries, and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year.

Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. The park allows fishing in most streams. Certain posted streams are closed to fishing, to protect threatened fishes. Detailed information, including a complete list of regulations and a map of fishable park waters, is available at any visitor center or ranger station.

You must possess a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns. Special permits are required for fishing in Cherokee.

Birding
The big range in elevations and a variety of topographies provide homes to 240 species of birds. See the birding checklist for the Great Smoky Mountains.

Horseback Riding
Guided horseback rides are available at Smokemont stables inside the park from mid-March through late November. See our Horseback Riding & Trails Guide 

Camping
The park offers several different types of campsites:

  • Backcountry - backpacking sites that require hiking several miles to reach a campsite.
  • Frontcountry - RV and tent camping in a developed campground that has restrooms but no showers or water hook-ups (Smokemont, Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee and Deep Creek are on the NC side)
  • Group Campgrounds - large frontcountry campsites suitable for groups of eight people or more.
  • Horse Camps - Small campgrounds, accessible by vehicle, that offer hitch racks for horses and primitive camping facilities. 
  • Only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and displays a certification stamp by the USDA or a state department of agriculture will be allowed for use in park campgrounds. 
  • Dump stations for RVs with potable water are located at  Deep Creek and Smokemont campgrounds.
  • See our Camping Guide.
Spend a fabulous day or two in Bryson City, Swain County and the Great Smokies with waterfalls, hiking, rafting, food and shopping. In fact, since this little jewel of a town offers so much to... read more
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over one-half million acres, making it the largest national park in the East. A scenic drive auto tour of the park offers panoramic views, tumbling... read more
Mingo Falls, called Big Bear Falls in the Cherokee language, cascades 200 feet nearly down granite boulders. It's located just five miles from the entrance to the ... read more
Gorgeous Fontana Lake is the largest lake in Western North Carolina, surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains. The 480-ft. tall Fontana Dam is the highest dam... read more
Fireflies definitely bring out the kid in us. And you'll find some rare species in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, but they only come out for a short visit! Fireflies (also called lightning... read more