Smoky Mountain Trails - 5 Best Hikes For An Epic Adventure (With Videos) - Mountain IQ
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Smoky Mountain Trails – 5 Best Hikes For An Epic Adventure (With Videos)

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

No American hike bucket list can be complete without exploring at least one of the beautiful Smoky Mountain Trails.

If you are thinking of exploring the Smokies we have put together our top five that you simply cannot miss.

​The Mountains are some of America’s most visited and are well known for their diversity of plant life and being home to the American Black Bear.

Get a Trek Quote

We do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like to check prices and availability of ​Smoky Mountains trails, click below.

Great ​Smoky Mountains ​Overview

Smoky Mountains

Quick Facts

  • ​The Smokies are a designated UNESCO world heritage site
  • An estimated 1 500 Black Bears call the park home
  • The park has been called the ‘Salamander capital of the world’ with 30 salamander species in five different families.
  • In 2016 over 11 million people visited the National Park
  • The park is named for the mist that surrounds the mountains
  • There has never been a temperature recorded above 80 degrees

The Smoky Mountain Range runs along the Tennessee - North Carolina border in south-eastern USA. The mountains are home to over 850 miles of hiking trails, making it a hiker’s paradise.

The mountain range is best known for being the home of the Smoky Mountains National Park, which is America’s most visited National park.

Topography

Stretching from the Pigeon River in the northeast to the Little Tennessee River to the southwest, the Smoky Mountain Range form part of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

The Smokies are the tallest in the range but only form a small portion thereof.

Elevation within the park ranges from 875 feet to 6,643 feet, with sixteen of the peaks rising above 5,000 feet.

The rocks in this area are predominantly sedimentary type, which are formed by deposits of rock, which over millions of years become layers of hard rock.

Wildlife and Plants

The Smokies are home to a variety of flora and fauna, the most famous famous probably being the great American Black Bear.

In total, the park is home to 65 different species of mammals, some of the best known being groundhog, white tailed deer and chipmunk.

With 200 species of birds, the park is every bird-watching enthusiast's dream. Interestingly, of these birds, 85 migrate from the neo-tropics. 

Plants are something that the Smoky Mountains National Park is renowned for. Due to the diversity in temperature, rainfall and geology the park calls over 1,600 flowering plant species resident.

This is alongside five forest types that support 4,000 non-flowering varieties of plants. 

Hiking

The hiking trails in the Smokies accommodate a variety a people, with trails ranging from easy day hikes, to more challenging multi-day hikes. 

With so many options you can be sure that you will find something that caters to your preference.

Regional Map

Smoky Mountains National Park is situated on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.

Although there is always free information available online, nothing beats a hard copy, especially when you are busy hiking.

For this reason we recommend National Geographic’s waterproof, tear resistant topographic map of the Smokies National Park.

Top 5 Trails In Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Porters Creek Trail Smoky Mountain

Photo by Chris Brown

  • Area: ​Greenbrier
  • Permit: ​Only needed if you are staying overnight in the backcountry
  • Difficulty: ​Easy to moderate
  • Distance: ​4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ​700ft
  • Best Time to Hike: ​April and May, there will be many wildflowers in bloom
​Route Description

The hike starts off easily and meanders along an old gravel road. The path winds through a forest following the banks of Porter’s creek. After crossing a footbridge you will reach a fork in the path, and for the next two junctions you should veer left. 

After crossing a second footbridge the path will wind its way to Fern Branch Falls. The hike ends here but you can choose to make it longer, by continuing onwards to Backcountry Campsite 31.

Accommodation

​Le Conte Lodge (there are no other motels or lodgings in the park available, and the lodge can only be reached by foot) or Smokemont is the closest group campsite.

​Trail Top Tips
  • Be aware of parking lot thieves who may break into your car to steal valuables.
  • Consider packing a bear pepper spray as a protection against harm from potentially aggressive wildlife.
  • If you hike during spring you might come accross yellow trillium in certain areas.
  • The hike is a good option all year round, as it can still be hiked when there is thicker snow at higher elevations.
Video Overview

Watch Hikethesouth’s video to get an idea of of the beautiful views and pristines forests of the Porters Creek hike.

Get a Trek Quote

We do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like to check prices and availability of ​Smoky Mountains trails, click below.


2. ​Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Smoky Mountain

Photo by daveynin

  • Area: ​Newfound Gap Road
  • Permit: ​Only needed if you are staying overnight in the backcountry
  • Difficulty: ​Moderate
  • Distance: ​4,4 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: ​​1,125ft
  • Best Time to Go: ​Hikes can be enjoyed throughout the year, with each season bringing its own rewards, but in winter icicles can be a hazard

Route Description

The hike takes you through an old hardwood forest, beginning by crossing Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek.

About 1.3 miles in, you should reach your first prominent landmark - Arch Rock. The trail winds beneath the arch and at reaching the top, you will begin climbing towards Alum Cave.

About halfway on the round trip trail you will reach the Cave. You can choose to turn around at this point or continue onwards to the summit of Mount Le Conte.

Accommodation

​Le Conte Lodge or Elkmont being the closest group camping.

​Trail Top Tips

  • ​The trail is steep and follows the edge of a ridge in places, make sure you are prepared by wearing proper hiking shoes.
  • During the winter months icicles can fall from the roof of the cave, so caution is advised during this time of year.
  • Although there are two parking spots for this hike.
Video Overview

The Sir Pod’s video shows you the Alum Cave hike with narration of the journey.


3. ​Charlies Bunion

Charlies Bunion Smoky Mountain

Photo by kmat

  • Area: ​Newfound Gap
  • Permit: ​Only needed if you are staying overnight in the backcountry
  • Difficulty: ​Strenuous
  • Distance: ​8.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: ​1,640ft
  • Best Time to Go: ​Hikes can be enjoyed throughout the year, with each season bringing its own rewards. Spring and early summer you will be rewarded with wildflowers in bloom.

Route Description

This spectacular hike begins in the Newfound Gap parking lot.

From here you will travel along the Appalachian Trail (which takes roughly 7 days to complete) with the first part of the hike being a steady climb.

It will feel as if you are walking along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, as you will have stunning views on either side of the ridge.

Finally you will arrive at your destination, Charlies Bunion, a rocky outcropping with a spectacular view.

Accommodation

Le Conte Lodge or close to either Smokemont or Elkemont group campsites.

​Trail Top Tips

  • Carry bear pepper spray as a precaution.
  • Several sections of the hike you will be hiking above 6,000 feet.
  • Remember to carry enough water and stay hydrated using a hydro pack.
  • The trail was damaged by a fire a few years ago and still is not completely accessible.

The GreatSmokyMoutain’s provides an informative video on the hike to Charlies Bunion.


4. ​Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald Smoky Mountain

Photo by Markus

  • Area: ​Clingmans Dome area
  • Permit: ​Only needed if you are staying overnight in the backcountry
  • Difficulty: ​Moderate
  • Distance: ​1,8 miles one way
  • Elevation Gain: ​1,200ft elevation change
  • Best Time to Go: ​ Hikes can be enjoyed throughout the year, with each season bringing its own rewards

Route Description

The hike starts at the Clingmans Dome parking lot, beginning with a descent down the southern side of Clingmans Dome, after this climb down the hike flattens out onto a broad ridge.

The first section passes through a spruce fir forest.

After this ridge you will climb through the forest before finally reaching the grassy Andrews Bald.

Andrews Bald is a high elevation grassy meadow, and is the highest in the park.

Accommodation

​Le Conte Lodge or Smokemont group campsite.

​Trail Top Tips

  • The trail is popular, so if you are going on weekends or in peak season get there early to avoid the masses.
  • The trail is known for its outstanding views, so consider bringing a good camera to help capture its beauty.
  • Hike into the grassy clearing for the best view of the southern Smokies and Fontana Lake

This video provides you with a fantastic overview of the hikes and its spectacular views.


5. ​Chimney Tops Trail

  • Area: Glacier Point
  • Permit: ​Only needed if you are staying overnight in the backcountry
  • Difficulty: ​Moderate to strenuous
  • Distance: ​4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: ​1,487ft
  • Best Time to Go: ​Hikes can be enjoyed throughout the year, with each season bringing its own rewards

Route Description

One of the park most popular hikes, this is definitely not one to be missed. The hike isn’t particularly long but provides hikers with amazing views.

The hike has a relatively steep elevation gain in a short space, so this makes for a sharp climb.

When you reach the first rock pinnacle, you will have to climb to the top to see the amazing views the hike has to offer.

Accommodation

​Le Conte Lodge or Smokemont group campsite.

​Trail Top Tips

  • The trails steep climb means that it is a good idea to wear good hiking shoes and carry lots of water in a hydration pack suitable for mountain hiking.
  • The steep rock scramble near the end can be slippery when either wet or covered in ice.
  • Take going down slowly, you may need to slide down.

The GreatSmokyMountains video gives you an educational video of the Chimney Tops trail and its history.

Get a Trek Quote

We do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like to check prices and availability of ​Smoky Mountains trails, click below.

Recommended Guidebook

​For a fantastic guide book on Smoky Mountains we recommended is ​Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Travel Guide)

The guide includes itineraries, strategies for getting around the Smokies as well as colourful images and detailed maps.

Travel Insurance

​If an accident should occur that requires medical assistance and evacuation you will want proper hiking insurance that will cover the costs of air ambulance and treatment.

Medical teams and Rangers are always on duty to assist with medical emergencies at the Smoky Mountains Park.

This article on travel and hiking insurance proves great information on what type of insurance you need, as well as provides an easy quote calculator from a leading travel operator. 

Check out the World Nomads calculator for a quick calculation of the cost of travel insurance for your trip to the States.

Frequently Asked Questions

​Do I need a reservation to go on Smoky Mountain hikes?

​When is the best time to visit the Smokies?

​Is altitude sickness a risk?

​Are the Smoky Mountain hikes difficult?

What gear do I need?

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