12 Hiking Trails in the Smoky Mountains Ranked by Difficulty
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The Great Smoky Mountains draw people in every year with their beauty and abundance of activities. The most popular pastime in the national park is hiking. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been hiking before or hiking is your hobby, because there is a perfect trail for everyone in the Smokies. Check out these 12 hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains ranked by difficulty:
1. Spruce Flats Falls – Easy
Spruce Flats Falls is a unique 1.8-mile hiking trail located near Townsend and Cades Cove. It’s technically not on the park map, but it is a moderately traveled trail. After hiking through the woods, hikers will pass a cistern, and right past this landmark are sweeping mountain views. As you keep going, you will come up on Spruce Flats Falls. This waterfall is 30 feet tall and has 4 tiers where water rushes down into a pool at the bottom.
2. Laurel Falls – Easy
Laurel Falls is a popular trail that is about 2.6 miles roundtrip. This trail has a paved path, unlike many others in the national park. As you climb up the mountain, there are certain spots where you can look out and see the mountains in the distance, but the best view is at the top of the trail where you see Laurel Falls for the first time. This 80-foot-tall waterfall is split into two tiers, and the amount of water gushing down is a sight to behold.
3. Grotto Falls – Easy
Grotto Falls is another popular hiking trail in the Smoky Mountains. It is 2.6 miles roundtrip, and the trail is well worn. You’ll hike beside the creek for most of the trail, until you reach the falls. Grotto Falls stands at 25 feet tall, but it is unique because this is the only waterfall you can walk behind in the national park. This trail is used by the team at LeConte Lodge to guide llamas with supplies up and down the mountain 3 times a week.
4. Gatlinburg Trail – Easy
Another easy hike in the Smoky Mountains is the Gatlinburg Trail. Located right outside of downtown Gatlinburg, this trail is 3.9 miles roundtrip and doesn’t have significant elevation gain, which is what makes it easy. In the beginning, you’ll hike beside the river and then cross it on a bridge. Hikers make their way through wooded areas and pass several remains of homesteads. During certain times of the year, you can see the mountains through the trees. Plus, the Gatlinburg Trail is one of the only dog friendly hiking trails in the national park.
5. Baskins Creek Falls – Moderate
The first moderate trail on our list is Baskins Creek Falls. This trail is located near Gatlinburg and is 3.1 miles roundtrip. The first part of the trail is simple with a short uphill climb, and then the trail levels out. During the last half of the trail, it descends until you reach Baskins Creek Falls, a 40-foot-tall waterfall with 2 tiers. The climb going back to the trailhead is what makes this hike moderate.
6. Alum Cave – Moderate
Alum Cave is a 4.4-mile, heavily traveled trail, and once you hike it, you’ll see why! Located near Gatlinburg, the trailhead takes you through Smoky Mountain forests. About 1 mile in, you’ll see Arch Rock, a cool geological feature. There are rock staircases that have been built to make the trek easier for hikers all along the trail. Near the end, you’ll come up on Alum Cave, which is actually a bluff with breathtaking views of the mountains. People like to sit under the bluff and enjoy the view before they head back down the mountain.
7. Abrams Falls – Moderate
One of the popular hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that is ranked as moderate is Abrams Falls. This trailhead is located about halfway along the Cades Cove Loop. The trail weaves through old forest growth, and there are beautiful wildflowers in the spring and summer along the hike. At the end, you’ll see Abrams Falls, which is the shortest waterfall in the park at 20 feet tall. While it is considered small, the sheer force and amount of water that rushes over the falls is impressive!
8. Rainbow Falls – Moderate
Rainbow Falls is a hike you won’t want to miss while you’re in the Smokies. This trail is 5.4 miles roundtrip. Instead of hiking through the woods during the first part of the trail, hikers will make their way through a boulder field. You’ll make your way through the woods and trek alongside LeConte Creek. Once you reach the waterfall, you’ll see why this trail is so popular. Rainbow Falls stands at 80 feet tall, and it is the tallest single-drop waterfall in the national park.
9. Ramsey Cascades – Strenuous
Ramsey Cascades is the first strenuous hike on our list. People who hike on a regular basis will enjoy going on this 8-mile roundtrip trail. The path runs through one of the oldest forests in the national park, and hikers will make their way through the woods alongside the Ramsey Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Once you reach the falls, you will see the tallest waterfall in the Smokies standing at 100 feet. There are several tiers where water rushes over the rocks into a pool at the bottom.
10. Charlies Bunion – Strenuous
Another hiking trail in the Smoky Mountains that is strenuous is Charlies Bunion. The trailhead is located near Clingmans Dome along Newfound Gap Road. The roundtrip length is 8.1 miles, and the views are well worth it. Not even a mile into the trail, you will be rewarded with incredible views of the North Carolina Smokies. You’ll continue to see sweeping mountains in the distance as you make your way to the rock cropping. Once you reach Charlies Bunion, you’ll have great views of Mount Kephart, the Jump Off, and Mount Guyot.
11. Gregory Bald – Strenuous
If seeing sweeping mountain views is what you’re after when you go hiking, then Gregory Bald is the perfect trail for you! There are a couple of trail options to get to the bald. If you take Parson Branch Trail, the roundtrip length is 8.8 miles, but if you take Gregory Ridge, it is about 11.3 miles. Hikers will make their way through the woods and across streams until they reach the bald. Gregory Bald provides amazing views of Rich Mountain, Fontana Lake, and Thunderhead Mountain.
12. Mount LeConte via Alum Cave – Strenuous
We can’t rank trails in the Smokies without mentioning one that leads to Mount LeConte! There are 5 different trails hikers use to get to the summit, but the most popular way to get to Mount LeConte is the Alum Cave trail. Once you reach the Alum Cave bluff, continue along the trail. Hikers will make their way across several narrow rock ledges and steep drop offs. After getting through this portion of the trail, it flattens out and takes hikers back through the woods, where LeConte Lodge will come into view.
It doesn’t matter if the trail you choose is easy, moderate, or strenuous, because you’ll have an amazing time on these hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains. Before you head out on a hike, learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!