Straddling the border that lies between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a marvel that has to be seen in-person to be fully appreciated. Mysterious mists swirl around the forested peaks at this national park, creating once-in-a-lifetime views and photo opportunities. Nature trails in the park offer something for every hiker, whether you’re interested in seeing historic cabins, embarking on strenuous climbs, or snapping photographs of memorable vistas. As you look for Great Smoky Mountains vacation rentals, consider each property’s proximity to these popular day hikes.
1. Andrews Bald
When you’re short on time, the challenging 3.6-mile round-trip hike to Andrews Bald is a great option. The rugged, unpaved trail starts from the Clingmans Dome Parking lot and drops to a ridge for a mile. At the end, it climbs through a forest and emerges in a large, grassy meadow with spectacular views of the southern mountains and Fontana Lake. Bring water, and allow about 3 hours to complete the hike. Thanks to stone steps, the trail is safe for older kids who can handle 1,200 feet of elevation change each way; little ones love hunting for the raspberries and blackberries that line the path.
2. Abrams Falls
While you’re driving or biking the Cades Cove Loop Road, pull over at stop number 10 for the beautiful 5-mile hike to and from Abrams Falls. The rocky trail stays near Abrams Creek, eventually ending at a stunning waterfall in the woods. Pack water and a snack to enjoy on the sandy beach, which has a picture-perfect view of the falls. If you’re planning to take children on this four-hour, moderate-to-difficult hike, be vigilant; the rocks can be slippery, and the river’s extremely strong currents present a high risk for little ones with a tendency to wander.
3. Alum Cave Trail
One of the most popular day-hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the unpaved Alum Cave Trail offers options for every type of hiker. Families with kids can pack drinking water and hike in 2.3 miles through old-growth forests to the Alum Cave Bluffs, where you can sit under the overhang and enjoy views of the mountains before heading back. If you’re feeling energetic, continue on for another 2.5 miles to the base of Mount Leconte; children are not recommended on this section, due to exposed sections on the cliff face. Allow about 4 hours for the first section and 6 to 8 hours for the full trail.
4. Ramsey Cascades
Strenuous and rugged, the 8-mile Ramsey Cascades Trail offers a challenging 5 to 7 hours of hiking. After a 2,000-foot climb past rivers and through a hardwood forest, you’re rewarded with views of the Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park. Stay comfortable and safe by packing drinking water and wearing sturdy hiking boots with ankle support. Athletic teenagers can complete this hike, but smaller children may have trouble navigating the rocky path and steep climbs. Parking is available in the Ramsey Cascades Trailhead lot near the Greenbrier park entrance.
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5. Porters Creek Trail
With its gentle slope and 2-mile round-trip distance, the Porters Creek Trail is an excellent choice for kids. The trail winds through the woods to Porters Flat, where you can check out a cantilevered barn, a cabin, and a springhouse. While you’re there, look for other signs of historic residents, including stone walls and old cemeteries. To get to the trail, park in the Porters Creek Trailhead lot that sits about 6 miles from vacation rentals in Gatlinburg; pack drinking water, and plan to spend at least 1 to 2 hours.
6. Chimney Tops
One of the most-loved trails in the park, the unpaved, 4-mile Chimney Tops hike offers intense climbs and 1,400 of elevation gain for adults and experienced young hikers. Along the way, you cross over rushing streams, climb through forests, and scramble up steep slopes. The views from the top are well worth the effort, and the return trip is mostly downhill. Hiking boots with ankle support are a must for the rocky sections of the trail, and it’s important to bring drinking water. To reach the trailhead, park in the large lot that’s located 6.7 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
7. Charlies Bunion
If you’re after awe-inspiring views, the hike along the firm-packed Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion is the perfect choice. Start at the Newfound Gap parking lot, making sure to load your pack with water and snacks. Over 4 miles, the route gains 1,600 feet and travels along wind-blown cliffs, ending at a breathtaking rocky area that overlooks mist-covered mountains. Active teenagers can handle the 8-mile hike, which is well-trafficked and takes a minimum of 5 hours to complete.
8. Kephart Prong Trail
Learn about the history of the Smoky Mountains on the 4-mile Kephart Prong Trail, which terminates at the site of a 1940s-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The dirt trail winds through the forest, offering moderate climbs and beautiful river views. Kids love spotting salamanders and crossing the four log bridges over the water; the last two bridges are best suited to older children. Drinking water is not available on the trail, so it’s important to pack it in for the 2 to 3-hour hike from the Kephart Prong Trail parking lot on Highway 441.
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