2016 has been a big year for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently celebrated its 82nd birthday, and in August, the National Park Service will turn 100 years old. To mark these festivities, WBIR in Knoxville asked the park what the top five most popular hikes in the Smoky Mountains are. Read on to see which trails made the list:
The Appalachian Trail is one of America’s national treasures. Spanning 14 states and 6 national parks, this 2,180+ mile trail stretches all the away from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. More than 71 miles of the trail run through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you plan on hiking the entire Smoky Mountain section of the Appalachian Trail, you’re going to need about 7 days. However, more casual hikers can enjoy walking part of the Appalachian Trail at various locations in the national park. Here are a few of our favorite hikes that include journeys on the Appalachian Trail:
- The Charlies Bunion trail begins at the Newfound Gap parking area and starts with a scenic hike along the Appalachian Trail. The entire round trip length of the hike is 8.1 miles.
- About 5.1 miles into the famous Rocky Top trail, hikers will reach the Appalachian Trail at Spence Field where they will encounter spectacular views of the Smokies. The Rocky Top hike begins at the Cades Cove picnic area and lasts 13. 9 miles, round trip.
- When you visit Newfound Gap, you can pick up the Appalachian Trail and enjoy a 7.9 mile hike to Clingmans Dome.
Located in Cades Cove, the Abrams Falls Trail takes hikers to one of the national park’s most beautiful waterfalls. Almost 1,000 people make this hike every day during peak season, so if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, you will want to explore the trail early in the day.
Hikers will find the Abrams Falls trailhead soon after crossing Abrams Creek on the Cades Cove loop road. The entire round trip length of the hike is 5.2 miles. The highlight of the trail is of course Abrams Falls, the gorgeous waterfall named after the Cherokee Chief Oskuah, who took the name Abram and once ruled a village downstream from the waterfall.
Please note that there are strong currents beneath the waterfall and slippery rocks along the water, so be mindful of your safety during this hike.
The Laurel Falls Trail is another one of the most popular hikes in the Smoky Mountains. Much like Abrams Falls Trail, the star of this hike is the incredible Laurel Falls waterfall. Named after the mountain laurel that bloom along the trail in May, this 80 foot waterfall is a sight to behold.
This easy 2.3 mile round trip hike begins at a parking lot along Little River Road at the top of Fighting Creek Gap. Since it features a paved trail and is quite short, Laurel Falls is a big hit with families. However, parents will definitely want to keep a close eye on their little ones, as the trail passes next to some extremely steep drop-offs.
The Alum Cave Trail is one of the most unique hikes in the Smokies. Beginning at a parking lot along Newfound Gap Road, this 4.4 mile round trip hike takes visitors to the famous Alum Cave. While technically not a cave (it’s actually a concave bluff), this remarkable landmark is 80 feet high and 500 feet wide. Alum Cave was mined for salt as far back as the 1830s, and during the Civil War, the Confederate Army used saltpeter from the bluff to make gunpowder.
On the way to Alum Cave, hikers along the trail will see breathtaking views of Little Duck Hawk Ridge and Myrtle Point. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons (also known as duck hawks), who are known to nest in the area.
There is no shortage of things to see along the Trillium Gap Trail! Beginning at a trailhead off of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, this 13.9 mile round trip hike will take you all the way to the top of Mount LeConte, the highest peak in the state of Tennessee.
If you’re looking for a shorter hike, however, you can stop when you reach Grotto Falls, about 1.3 miles into the trail. Grotto Falls has the distinction of being the only waterfall in the national park that you can walk behind. The Grotto Falls section of the trail is also hugely popular because hikers have the chance to see a herd of llamas, who bring supplies to the LeConte Lodge on most Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. It’s easy to see why the Trillium Gap Trail is one of the most beloved hikes in the Smoky Mountains!
For more information about everything to do in the Smokies, check out our Great Smoky Mountains National Park page!