Gatlinburg is the gateway to one of the most beloved National Parks in the United States. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a 500,000-acre nature area that straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee border. It is a landscape rife with woodland, bursting with waterfalls, and entrenched with deep valleys and jagged mountain ranches. It is a hiker’s playground with 800 miles of backcountry hiking trails including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail.
Many visitors head to the town of Gatlinburg to start their journey. From there, they can venture into the winding mountain roads of the National Park to explore its hidden beauty. Be sure to stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. You can talk to the park rangers about your itinerary and pick up some maps while you’re there.
The nature trails listed here are easy to follow and provide a level surface. The few that have difficult climbs offer plenty of space for resting, making them perfect for families with children, beginners, or elders who want to see the beautiful mountains of Tennessee.
So, to get you started, here is a list of easy hikes in Gatlinburg, Tennesse that you and your family will love.
1) Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
|6.7 miles point to point||1,200 ft||3-4 hours|
This trail is a stunning scenic drive, named after the stream that turns into a torrent following heavy rain. The road passes through dense woodland filled with nesting birds, wildflowers, and black bear sightings aren’t uncommon. The path is smooth, and the walking conditions are excellent making it one of the easy hiking trails in Gatlinburg for you to enjoy.
2) Laurel Falls Trail
|2.4 miles out and back||396 feet||1 hour|
The mesmerizing Laurel Falls is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Smokies. Visitors flock from all over to ascend Cove Mountain and witness the 80-foot-high water feature. The falls tumble down a rocky shelf and are surrounded by blooming laurel bushes in the month of May. A great trail for beginners, short and well-paved with a fantastic reward.
Since Laurel Falls is an easy trail to hike near Gatlinburg, it can become crowded during peak seasons in the fall and summer months. If you hope to see Laurel Falls during these times, it is recommended that hikers try to make it to the trailhead early because parking is limited. It’s best to get there before 8am, so get up early, and enjoy a hearty breakfast at one of Gatlinburg’s famous pancake houses.
3) Gatlinburg Trail
|3.9 miles roundtrip||1-2 hours|
One of the best scenic and easy hiking trails in Gatlinburg, this path follows the West Prong Little Pigeon River to the Sugarlands Visitor Center and back. The path slips along the riverbank and passes the foundations of several historic homesites. This is the only pet-friendly trail in the area. You also have easy access to downtown Gatlinburg from this trail.
4) Walker Sisters Home
|4 miles roundtrip||138 feet||1-2 hours|
A peaceful hike along a gravel path to an old schoolhouse and famous cultural site. The six Walker sisters resisted the development of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. They were so in love with their home, that they refused to leave and were granted a special lease to live out the rest of their lives in peace. Visit their quaint wooden house and marvel at the tale of family and fortitude. There are two possible access routes, one via Little Brier Gap Trail and the other via Little Greenbrier Trail.
5) Baskins Creek Falls
|3.1 miles roundtrip||912 feet||1-2 hours|
A picturesque hiking trail that involves a creek crossing and a short scramble up to a two-tiered, 40-foot waterfall. The route drops into a valley before rising past the Baskins Creek Cemetery to the waterfall. One of the most underrated and easy hiking trails in Gatlinburg.
6) Trillium Gap Trail
|2.6 miles roundtrip||545 feet||1-2 hours|
A trail that ventures deep into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, up the mammoth peak of Mount Le Conte. Despite this challenge, it is still one of the most accessible and easy hiking trails in Gatlinburg. Dense woodland, stunning mountain vistas, and a mysterious grotto with a waterfall – the Trillium Gap Trail has it all! A busy path that is best visited early in the morning to beat the crowds.
7) Cataract Falls
|1.1 miles roundtrip||29 feet||30 minutes|
A short walk to a 25-foot waterfall close to the visitor’s centre. A well-marked and simple trail that can be muddy at certain times of the year. Great for families and small children. Despite its convenient location, this trail is something of a best-kept secret with a relatively low footfall. It’s hard not to be won over by the peace and serenity of the Cataract Falls trail.
8) Elkmont Nature Trail
|0.8 miles roundtrip||95 feet||30 minutes|
This is a quiet hiking trail that loops through a wonderful woodland in a short distance. It is an interpretive trail aimed at educating hikers about the surrounding natural landscape. Plenty of wildflowers and nesting birds in the spring. Some muddy areas and creek crossings with a small hill climb at the end. The educational aspect makes this one of the top 10 easy hiking trails in Gatlinburg for visitors to try.
9) Rainbow Falls
|5.1 miles roundtrip||1,614 feet||2-3 hours|
A steady climb through the forest up towards an 80-foot waterfall. The trail name is apt given that rainbows are often seen above the waterfall in the summer months. The trail is mostly covered as it passes through the woodland. The route is well-marked but littered with obstacles such as rocks and roots! Views improve with the height, culminating in the sublime falls.
10) Clingmans Dome
|1.2 miles roundtrip||331 feet||1 hour|
Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail with the summit rising to 6,625 feet of elevation. It’s a paved trail that’s a steep and challenging path but it’s a short trail with places to stop and rest along the way. At the end of the trail, you’re rewarded with 360-degree panoramas from the summit. On clear days the view stretches up to 100 miles across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Clingmans Dome parking lot has plenty of spaces, but it does get crowded. Have patience while you navigate through the winding roads and wait for a spot to open up. It’s well worth the wait, and you can even enjoy some amazing views from the parking lot! Arrive early and enjoy the serenity of the morning.
Fun Fact: The Appalacian trails starts here! The full Appalachian Trail is 2,190 miles long and takes hikers 5-7 months to complete. However, there is a 71-mile section of the trail that runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap. Hiking this section will take about 7 days where you will see some key sites such as Charlies Bunion, Rocky Top, and Mt. Cammerer.
One of the reasons why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is such a popular destination is because of all the family-friendly hiking trails and scenic views. There are miles of trails in the Smokies that can be easily accessed with a car or bike, so there are plenty of opportunities to explore this stunning national park on foot.
What to Pack for Hiking in Gatlinburg
If you’re looking to gear up for your hiking adventures near Gatlinburg, here are some hiking essentials that I recommend for a day hike!
The first thing you’ll need for a day hike is a good hiking backpack. I really like my TETON Sports Oasis Daypack because it includes a water bladder and the side pockets and compartments allow for easy access to my car keys, cell phone, and snacks.
But if you want to be comfortable on the trail, something more robust is necessary. Here is a list of hiking backpacks under $100 that are worth considering!
You definitely want to invest in the right hiking shoes. It’s vital to have a pair of shoes that are waterproof, durable, and will keep your feet secure.
Hiking boots are not only necessary for colder weather hikes, but they can also provide protection against rocks, creeks, bushes, and branches. Tennis shoes aren’t going to cut it if you stub your town on a rock or tree stump.
Hiking socks are thicker and cozy but also provide support and protection for your feet.
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