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Seasonal Guide to Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

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Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is a year round pass time and should be at the top of your list when you visit the Smokies. Even if you aren’t an avid hiker, there are plenty of trails and recently mapped out quiet walkways accessible to everyone in every season.

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Best Hikes to take in the Smokies in Every Season

How many trails are in the Smoky Mountains?

There are more than 522,427 acres within which there are more than 800 miles of trails to hike in the Smoky Mountains. There is sure to be a trail for you. Since there are more than 75 different trails in the Smokies, a comprehensive list would be beyond the scope of this article, but we wanted to give you a taste for some of the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains to check out in each season. 

Fall Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains Old Cabins in the Fall

Hiking during the fall is one of the best ways to see the beautiful fall foliage and, on some trails, escape the crowds.  In the higher elevations, colors may begin to show as early as mid September, so you will want to hike to the top for the best views.  As the season progresses and the peak mid-October leaves show, you can choose a mid-level to low-level elevation hikes. 

The Jump Off Trail

This trail takes you to the 6,000 foot ridgeline of the Appalachian mountains and will give you everything you want in a hiking trail. That is if what you want is a great workout, great views, and plenty of solitude.  The trailhead is accessed from the Newfound Gap Road parking area and takes you to what seems the very ridge of the Appalachian mountains affording numerous glimpses of Mount LeConte, Charlies Bunion, and Mount Guyot.

Chimney Tops

This famous hike was, unfortunately, damaged by the 2016 wildfires and remained closed after the fires for 10 months.  Reopened in October 2018 with a new viewing platform and a shorter route, the pinnacles are still closed due to instability.  The trail is between 3,300 and 4,800 feet in elevation making it ideal to enjoy in late October. 

Tremont on Middle Prong Trail

If you’d like a smaller crowd, but a serene and scenic hike, we recommend hiking the Middle Prong trail in Tremont. While there are no mountain vistas, the wide path that runs alongside the stream through the hardwood forest with its falling yellow and orange leaves is most majestic in the fall.  The trail runs along the old railroad track used by the Little River Company in the early 1900’s to haul lumber.  There is a fascinating history about this area and the people who lived in Tremont Lumber Camp.  The forest that stands today is a small glimpse of the forest which was logged and harvested in the early 1900’s, but it is still a beautiful trail.  There are three waterfalls on this 8 mile hike, and even if you only hike a short way in and back, you will be awarded with a wide open trail, a pleasant stream, and with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore with the family. 

Ramsey Cascades

If you are looking for some larger waterfalls in the fall, Ramsey Cascades are the largest in the park, cascading 100 feet over the rocks and splashing into a pool below.  This is a strenuous hike gaining 2000 feet in elevation and is 8 miles round trip.  Plan on this for the day and prepare accordingly. 

Winter Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Hiking the Smoky Mountains in the Winter can be a pleasant experience.  There are numerous easy to access trails to hike in the winter where you can enjoy frozen waterfalls and ponds, sightings of white tailed deer and other wildlife, and you might even enjoy several sunny days with temperatures in the 50’s.   Prepare accordingly with warm clothing, and perhaps microspikes or trail crampons on your hiking boots.  Also, be careful of falling icicles and always be prepared should you encounter bear or other wildlife on the trial.  Here are a few Smoky Mountain hiking trails we recommend for winter.

Laurel Falls Gatlinburg

laurel falls smoky mountains

This paved 1.3 mile out and back trail leads to a cascading 80-foot waterfall.  The trail has a slight incline and is bumpy in areas, but completely paved and should be relatively easy for most people.  If the conditions are particularly icy, the trial may be slippery and does narrow in areas so use extreme caution. While it is unlikely that the waterfall will be frozen, it is still a beautiful sight to behold.  Bear are often seen on this trail so please behave accordingly. Never approach or feed any wildlife in the area as this only leads to danger for you and could lead to the euthanasia of the bear. Read more here about how to behave if you encounter wildlife on the trail. 

Alum Cave Trail

This is a great trail in any season, but the winter can be especially beautiful.  This moderate hike begins with by crossing Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek on log bridges through an enchanting old-growth hardwood forest.  The bluffs are 2.3 miles from the trailhead and gains 1200 feet in elevation.  The water that drips from the bluffs throughout the year is often frozen during the winter months rewarding hikers with a beautiful cascade of icicles throughout the hike and underneath the bluff. 

Andrews Bald

Andrew's bald

Andrew’s Bald is accessed via a 3.6 round trip trek on the Forney Ridge trail from the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, Andrews Bald is a great place to see the snowy mountain tops that often mark a Smoky Mountain Winter. 

Porter’s Creek

This is an easy to access trail in the winter due to its lower elevation.  The road to get there is rarely closed in the winter. There are several historical buildings, a farmstead, and a cemetery for those who enjoy seeing the remnants of the settlers of this area.  At about 2 miles you will see Fern Branch Falls which is often frozen in the winter. 

Spring Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Hiking on one of the 150 Smoky Mountain trails in the Spring is always a great idea!  You will be rewarded  with beautiful wildflowers and great waterfalls. Consider joining the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 

Cucumber Gap Trail

This trail is often included in the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage and for good reason.
Cucumber Gap Trail is located in the Elkmont Camp area and is loaded with wildflowers in the Spring. Painted trillium, Dutchman’s Pipe, yellow-wood and papaw can all be seen along the trail.  The elevation change is around 400’ for this 5 mile moderate hike. 

Huskey Gap Trail

Another great trail included in the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, Huskey Gap Trail is 4.2 miles round trip with a trailhas a gradual elevation gain of just under 1300 feet.   

Grotto Falls

grotto falls smoky mountains

Allow 2-3 hours for Grotto in and out.  Wear good trail shoes and take plenty of snacks. Grotto Falls is a beautiful 25 foot waterfall located 1.5 miles in on Trillium Gap Trail in Roaring Fork.  The trail actually runs behind the falls making it a truly unique and enchanting experience

Summer Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains in the summer is one of the best ways to beat the heat. Every trail we have mentioned in the above sections would be acceptable to also visit in the summer, but here are a few more ideas to beat the heat you might want to add to the list.  

Gregory Bald

Gregory Bald Smoky Mountains

 This is not an easy hike, but for those willing to climb the 11.6 mile out and back trail to the summit of Gregory Bald in the summer, the reward is worth it.  Sitting at 4,949 the views are spectacular, but in mid to late June the mountaintop is set aflame with the color of  blooming azaleas ranging from fire red, to orange, to salmon, yellow and pink. It is said the azaleas bloom on Gregory Bald is credited with helping establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A horticulturist named Harlan Kelsey who was on the committee charged with developing National Parks in the East noted the azalea bloom on Gregory Bald as one of the finest in all the nation and worth preserving.  

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is found at the end of a 2.7 mile moderate trail (5.2 miles in and out) and is the highest single drop waterfall in the Smokies. Very popular strenuous hike in and out hike.  Allow 3-5 hours. We recommend you wear excellent hiking boots and even consider a set of trekking poles if it’s wet as the trail can become slippery in parts especially after a lot of rain. 

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome Smoky Mountains

Clingman’s Dome is one of the most popular and, yes, very likely crowded, hikes to do in the Smoky Mountains. The very steep paved, yet not too technical, trail takes you up to an observation tower where you can see as far as 100 miles  on clear day from atop the highest point in Tennessee.  Many people think the observation tower is Clingman’s Dome, but it’s actually the 6,643 foot mountaintop that lies within both Tennessee and North Carolina upon which the observation tower is built that is the “dome”.

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