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Adventure

Try These 8 Easy Hikes on Your Next Smoky Mountains Getaway

Enjoy a Smoky Mountains vacation filled with outdoor adventure

The Vacationeer

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is known for the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the jewel of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. With 500,000 acres of forests, fields and wildlife to explore, it can be hard to know where to start.

If you’re looking for easy hikes to try on your next vacation, here are eight trails to start your adventure in the Smoky Mountains.

Fern Branch Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee 

Porters Creek Trail

Round Trip Hours: 3 hours
Round Trip Distance: 4 miles

Porters Creek Trail, frequented by locals and tourists alike, is located in the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This area is at a lower elevation, making for a gentle hike with a steady incline.

The first mile of the trail meanders along the banks of Porters Creek on a gravel road until you come along a farmstead, where the Porters Creek community settled in the early 1900s. Along the way, you’ll also pass John Messer’s barn, built in 1875, and the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club's cabin, built in the 1930s.

Finish up your hike with an incredible view of Fern Branch Falls. This waterfall is a series of cascades and makes for a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Gatlinburg, just six miles away.

Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee 

Laurel Falls Trail

Round Trip Hours: 1 hour
Round Trip Miles: 2.3 miles

The Laurel Falls Trail leads to the 80-foot Laurel Falls waterfall, both named for the abundant mountain laurel in the area. The paved path is moderately steep and not wheelchair- or stroller-friendly. However, the cascades are beautiful year-round.

The Laurel Falls Trail is a park favorite and can get quite crowded. The parking lot fills up by 9 a.m. during the summer and on weekends. Get there early to avoid the crowds and secure your spot.

Forest in autumn along the middle prong of the Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

Fighting Creek Nature Trail

Round Trip Hours: less than an hour
Round Trip Distance: 1.2 miles

The Fighting Creek Nature Trail begins near the Sugarlands Visitors Center, the starting point for many hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Fighting Creek Nature Trail is a short, simple loop that’s great for all ages. The trail follows along a tributary of the Little Pigeon River into the depths of the park’s forest. Keen eyes can identify various trees, including sassafras, hickories, sweet birch, shortleaf pine and sycamore.

Remember, black bears are common in this area, and trails may be temporarily closed for local bear activity.

Little River in the forest of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee in summer 

Gatlinburg Trail

Round Trip Hours: 1-2 hours
Round Trip Distance: 3.8 miles

This popular hike offers fresh-air exercise, lovely river views and convenient access to town from the visitor center. Gatlinburg Trail is a great family-friendly option for its flat and gravelly terrain. It’s also one of a few trails in the park to allow dogs and bicycles.

The 3.8-mile roundtrip hike hugs the Little Pigeon River’s rapids and occasional cascades. Keep your eyes peeled for relics of old homesteading in these riverside woods.

Mingo Falls, a waterfall in the woods of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee 

Mingo Falls

Round Trip Hours: less than an hour
Round Trip Distance: .5 miles

Mingo Falls, one of the tallest and most spectacular waterfalls in the Southern Appalachians, lies just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. Head to the trailhead by car from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the Mingo Falls Campground.

The half-mile trail takes you up 160 stairs to the wooden bridge at the base of the 120-foot-tall Mingo Falls.

A branch of mountain laurel with pink blossoms hangs over a stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

Elkmont Nature Trail

Round Trip Hours: less than an hour
Round Trip Distance: 0.8 miles

Elkmont Nature Trail is another kid-friendly hike. This trail includes markers that include information about the history and ecology of the area and even identifies remnants of the railroad. Meander this short and easy trail through “tree tunnels” created by overhanging branches. Come in the spring to see daffodils, laurel, rhododendron and other wildflowers along the forest.

If you’re looking to spend more time in the area, try camping at the Elkmont Campground close to the trailhead.

Sunrise at Clingman's Dome, a concrete structure with views of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee 

Clingman’s Dome Trail

Round Trip Hours: 1 hour
Round Trip Distance: 1.2 miles  

At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome boasts the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The “Dome” lies within both Tennessee and North Carolina. On clear days, visitors may see as far as 100 miles.

Stop by the observation tower for stunning panoramic views of the Great Smokies and unforgettable photo opportunities.

Grotto Falls, a tall waterfall in the forest of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee 

Grotto Falls Trail

Round Trip Hours: 2 hours
Round Trip Distance: 2.6 miles

Enjoy a relaxed hike on the Grotto Falls Trail along scenic landscapes, vibrant foliage and breathtaking views behind a cascading waterfall.

The trail is one of the more challenging hikes on this list, so prepare for a gentle but steady ascent. Wear sturdy shoes to be more comfortable walking across uneven paths. Don’t be afraid to take breaks and enjoy the scenery. No matter your pace, the 25-foot falls at the end are worth the trek.

Read “7 Insider Tips for Exploring the National Parks of the United States” for ways to make the most of your time at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Vacationeer

The Vacationeer

The Vacationeer is a collective of Hilton Grand Vacations storytellers whose goal is to inspire travelers to go further. We're always on the lookout for new destinations to explore, useful travel tips, and unique ideas to help you plan the most memorable vacations possible.

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