Those new to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will want to experience nature in the unique way that hiking provides. The trails are so numerous and vary so greatly in difficulty and destination that staring at a trail guide is often overwhelming. Here are the top five hikes in terms of popularity. Keep in mind though, if you want a low-traffic hike where you will encounter fewer people, these are not ideal!
This 2.6 mile roundtrip hike is easily the most popular trail in the Smokies. If you have unsteady feet or need to use a stroller then this paved path is your best option for a great view of Laurel Falls. There is a little bit of elevation gain to the cascading falls, but this is still an easy to moderate hike. The trailhead is easily accesible by driving towards Cades Cove from Sugarlands Visitors Center for about 3.5 miles.
On the back side of the Cades Cove loop road is the trailhead for Abrams Falls. A moderate difficulty 5 mile roundtrip hike will take you to the falls and back. The trail follows along a creek, crossing over at three points on narrow log bridges. The waterfall itself is not tall, only 20 feet tall, but has a high volume of water pouring out over the rocks. This is the perfect place to rest, eat a snack, and dip your feet in the water. Bring your bathing suite and a towel as there is a pool of water that is deep enough to swim in.
This hike is somewhat easy and very short but brings you to the highest peak in the Smokies at rougly 6,600 feet. Only one mile roundtrip and paved, you come up to an observation tower. Inside the observation tower there are map boards that display what exactly you are looking at. Temperatures up there will be 10 to 15 degrees lower than the rest of the Park so bring an extra layer. The trail lies approximately half way between Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN off of Newfound Gap Road.
This one is a toughie and I do not suggest it during wet weather. Although only 4 miles roundtrip, this strenuous hike offers an amazing view. There are two peaks that have earned the name Chimney Tops and it is easy to spot them from the road. The trail is very steep and gains elevation quickly over the 2 miles to the top. Once at the top, though: well worth it. Chimney Tops provides a 360 degree view of the Smokies. The trailhead is less than seven miles from Gatlinburg on Newfound Gap Road.
Coming in at 3 miles roundtrip is a hike that takes you to another beautiful waterfall and takes moderate effort. It lies on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail that begins in Gatlinburg, TN. The Motor Nature Trail provides a booklet for your driving tour with numbered stops and narration. Stop #5 is the one you want for Grotto Falls. This 25 foot waterfall is unique because you can walk behind it and view from a different angle.