Visit the Smoky Mountains and experience some of the best hiking trails in the country!
Knoxville is just an hour away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America! The sprawling ridges and forests, beautiful vegetation, diverse wildlife, and breathtaking views make it an amazing place to visit time and time again. Spring, summer, and fall are all good times to hit the trails with your family or favorite hiking buddies. There are so many hiking trails to accommodate every experience level, but here are a few of our favorites…
Interested in seeing waterfalls and some history? Middle Prong Trail might be for you, located in Tremont near Townsend. It passes three major waterfalls, numerous smaller falls, cataracts, and cascades. The trail spans 8.3 miles roundtrip with a total elevation gain of 1140 feet. The highest elevation is 3046 feet with a trail difficulty rating of strenuous. While it looks to be a gravel road, Middle Prong Trail was a railroad bed used to haul logs out of the area. Part of the trail passes through the former site of a lumber camp community called Tremont, which was one of the last areas in the park to be logged. This is a very popular hike and one of our favorites!
Alum Cave is located at Newfound Gap Road with a roundtrip length of 4.6 miles or 5.1 miles if you continue to LeConte Lodge. It should take 3-4 hours to complete. The highest elevation peaks at 4955 feet with a moderate difficulty rating. This one may not be as family-friendly due to the plant and tree roots along the hike, plus a few steep sections. Also worth noting, Alum Cave is not a cave, but rather a jutting ledge of black slate formed over the trail to make it appear like a cave. The name Alum Cave comes from the deposits of alum found along the “cave” walls. Plan ahead and arrive early if you want to tackle this hike–it’s very popular and parking can be tough despite two lots to accommodate visitors.
This hike is on the shorter side, 3.5 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 899 feet. Get started at Andrews Bald from Clingmans Dome via the Forney Ridge Trail. The highest elevation here is 6310 feet. Andrews Bald Hiking Trail is somewhat strenuous due to the rocky terrain but is a perfect hike for fit families. Plan on about 3 hours total for this hike and prepare to see some of the most outstanding views in the Smokies. Hiking in the Smokys calls this hike, “one of the best”!
Rainbow Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies and you should try to view them after long periods of rain for the best experience. Aim for first thing in the morning or in the later afternoon to take the best photos. The hike spans 5.4 miles roundtrip, with a total elevation gain of 1685 feet and highest elevation of 4285 feet. This is a moderately difficult hike with switchbacks and rocky sections. Access the trailhead just outside of Gatlinburg. Warning: Avoid climbing on the rocks near the waterfall due to slipping hazards caused by mist and algae.
Enjoy panoramic views and a cascading stream when you hike Chimney Tops Trail. The roundtrip hike of 3.3 miles is short and sweet, with the highest elevation peaking at 4753 feet. This moderately rated trail is located near Gatlinburg between the lower tunnel and “the loop” on Newfound Gap Road. The 2016 wildfire closed this trail for about a year, but it has since been reopened with a newly constructed observation point. The hike is steep and many hikers do not reach the top, but the first part of the trail isn’t too bad. The elevation gain of 1487 feet (960 feet in the last mile) can be compared to the rate of elevation gain found on some of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. Watch a video of Chimney Tops Trail here.
Ready to take a drive from Knoxville and head into the Smokies for a hike? For the full list of hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including kid-friendly hikes and additional hikes that include waterfalls, visit https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hiking.htm.