10 of the Best Open Trails in the Smoky Mountains to Hike Right Now
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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened on May 9, and everyone is excited to be able to explore the Smokies again! The first phase of the reopening includes many of the roads and trails in the park. However, many secondary roads remain closed during the first phase. That means some of the trailheads throughout the park aren’t accessible yet. To help you figure out where you can hike when you visit, we’ve made a list of the top 10 open trails in the Smoky Mountains!
1. Abrams Falls
If you’re hoping to see a waterfall along your hike, take the Abrams Falls Trail! The Abrams Falls Trailhead is located in Cades Cove, which is open during the first phase. You’ll find the trailhead about 5 miles along the Cades Cove Loop Road. After crossing Abrams Creek, you’ll turn right onto a gravel road, where you’ll drive until you reach a parking area where you’ll see wooden signs that mark the trailhead. The trail itself is a 5.2 mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall. Although it’s only 20 feet high, the large volume of water rushing over the falls and the picturesque pool at its base make up for its lack of height.
2. Gatlinburg Trail
The Gatlinburg Trail is one of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s also one of only two dog-friendly trails in the park. This trail is an easy hike that everyone in the family can do. It travels 1.9 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. The Gatlinburg Trail is also open to bicycles!
3. Huskey Gap
You can get to the Huskey Gap Trail from Newfound Gap Road! From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, drive 1.6 miles south along Newfound Gap Road to reach the trailhead. Huskey Gap Trail has a roundtrip distance of 4.2 miles. It’s a great trail if you’re hoping to spot some Smoky Mountain wildflowers! Along the trail, you’ll see a stone fence from one of the old homesteads in the area, a small stream, large tulip trees and more.
4. Rainbow Falls Trail
Another great waterfall hike in the Smoky Mountains is Rainbow Falls Trail. You can access this trail from Cherokee Orchard Road. After driving about .6 miles along the Cherokee Orchard Loop Road, the trailhead will be located on your right. The Rainbow Falls Trail gains about 1,500 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the waterfall, and it’s a 5.4 mile roundtrip hike to the falls. Rainbow Falls is a gorgeous, 80-foot-high waterfall. On sunny afternoons, you can see a rainbow produced by the mist of the falls! You can turn around at the falls, or choose to hike beyond the falls for about 4 miles to reach the summit of Mount LeConte.
5. Bullhead Trail
The Bullhead Trail actually begins from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. If you’re looking for a challenge, this is the perfect hike for you. The trail ascends quickly as you climb the Bullhead, a heath-covered bald off Balsam Point. It has an elevation of about 4,300 feet. Along this trail, you’ll pass rock cliff faces, two small caves, and “The Pulpit.” The Pulpit was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and allows hikers to stand and view the mountains, including Brushy Mountain and the Greenbrier Valley. You can choose to turn around at The Pulpit or continue for another 4.2 miles to the summit of Mount LeConte.
6. Twin Creeks Trail
Another one of the best open trails in the Smoky Mountains to hike right now is the Twin Creeks Trail. The Twin Creeks Trailhead is located along Cherokee Orchard Road. If you’re hoping to pay a visit to the House of the Fairies on your trip to the Smoky Mountains, this is the trail to hike! You’ll see several old buildings from the Voorheis Estate. To get to the House of the Fairies, you’ll take a small path that juts off from the trail after you pass the Resource Center.
7. Anthony Creek Trail
The trailhead for Anthony Creek is located in the Cades Cove Picnic Area. This trail provides easy access to the Appalachian Trail, Spence Field, Thunderhead and Rocky Top from Cades Cove. You’ll pass a horse camp, hike through a hemlock forest, cross Anthony Creek, and so much more. For some of the most spectacular views, hike the trail about 5 miles to Spence Field!
8. Bote Mountain
For a longer hike, choose Bote Mountain Trail. This trail is 13.3 miles out and back. The trail begins on Laurel Creek Road and is known for wildflowers and bird-watching. Along this hike, you’ll have an elevation gain of more than 3,500 feet. At the peak of Bote Mountain, you’ll have gorgeous views of Thunderhead and Defeat Ridge. This trail is another popular way to get to Spence Field!
9. Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
For a short hike the kids will love, hike along the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail! This trail is flat, wide and paved. It’s handicap accessible and great for strollers. This half-mile hike takes less than 30 minutes, so if you’re looking for something short and fun, this is the trail for you. You’ll be able to see several old chimneys and stone fences along the trail. Just a few hundred yards from the Sugarlands Visitor Center is a small parking lot where you can leave your car while you hike!
10. Kephart Prong Trail
If you find yourself closer to the North Carolina side of the Smokies, this is one of the best trails in the Smoky Mountains. The trailhead is located along Newfound Gap Road, about 22 miles south from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The Kephart Prong Trail is 4.2 miles roundtrip and begins by crossing the Oconaluftee River. About .2 miles into the trail, you’ll see an old stone sign for the Civilian Conservation Corps camp, which was created in 1933 and used by the CC until 1942. When you hike this trail, you’ll be surrounded by trees and flowers, with the constant sounds of the Kephart Prong flowing. About 2.1 miles in, you’ll reach the Kephart Prong shelter, which is where you turn around.
More Trails in the Smoky Mountains
We bet you can’t wait to try these open trails in the Smoky Mountains! While these are your best options for hiking if you’re visiting the national park soon, remember that the park is home to hundreds of miles of other trails for you to explore as well when more secondary roads reopen. If you’re interested in learning more about less crowded trails in the Smokies, read our blog, “5 of the Best Smoky Mountain Hikes to Do to Avoid a Crowd.”