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Five Easy Hiking Trails for Families & Beginners

Tips for hiking in winter

A family enjoys the Laurel Falls trail in the Smokies.
Photo by Jessica Mazzuca

Whether your goal is to escape alone for a moments of solitude, to share a leisurely walk with a significant other, or to give your family a firsthand experience with the wonders of nature, you'll find the Smoky Mountain area provides a number of trail options designed for those who enjoy hiking but aren't necessarily looking for strenuous exercise.  For your convenience, we've compiled a list of some the easiest trails to walk in the Smokies.

1. Laurel Falls Trail 

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Built in 1932 to provide fire crews with access to the Cove Mountain area in the event of a forest fire, the Laurel Falls Trail was paved in 1963 in an effort to halt erosion problems.  The resulting lack of exposed tree roots and bumps has made this trail especially popular with families with small children.  While the trail is only approximately two miles in length round-trip, children will need to be supervised closely on it, as it contains some steep drop-offs near the falls themselves.  The trail's popularity can also make parking an issue, so it is recommended you do your hiking there early in the morning, during the early evening hours, on a weekday, or during the off-season.  Your efforts will be rewarded, though, as the Laurel Falls provide some spectacular photo opportunities.  Just keep in mind there could be some slick rocks near the water.

2. Elkmont Nature Trail

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Another family favorite, the Elkmont Nature Trail is a self-guiding nature trail that is less than a mile long.  This short loop is designed to educate visitors on how to naturally read changing forest landscapes and even shows land that still bears the traces of the railroad years beneath the new forest growth.  For a nominal fee, you can purchase an education brochure at the trailhead.  The trail passes by 13 distinct interpretive markers, and the brochure provides an explanation of each one.  The Elkmont area is home to a rich human and ecological history, and walking the nature trail is a perfect way to observe this.

3. Cove Hardwood Nature Trail

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Despite its reputation as being one of the best places to observe wildflowers in the Smoky Mountains, the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail is not usually very crowded and it is only 3/4 of a mile long.  This self-guided nature loop is consistently ranked as one of the top five places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for day hiking to old growth.  A pamphlet is also available to read as you walk.

4. Gatlinburg Trail

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The 1.9-mile Gatlinburg Trail is one of two walking paths on which visitors can walk dogs and ride bicycles (The other is the Oconaluftee River Trail.).  Pets and bicycles are prohibited on all other park trails.  The trail runs one-way from the Sugarland's Visitor Center to the edge of Gatlinburg on River Road, running parallel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The terrain is mostly flat and there is a beautiful view of the river, which is crossed at one point by a pedestrian foot bridge.  Foundations and chimneys of several homesteads are also visible along the trail.

5.  Sugarlands Nature Trail

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Another paved nature trail, this half-mile loop is the only wheelchair-accessible trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  A guide booklet available at the trailhead provides information about both the trail and the Sugarlands area.  Remains of old Smoky Mountain vacation homes from the early 1900s are visible as the trail winds along the stream.  The trailhead is located approximately 1/2 mile past the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road.  The trail and parking will be on the left.  Cataract Falls is also located in this area.

For more information on hiking trails in the Smoky Mountain area, visit our hiking/waterfalls and explorations sections. Happy hiking!

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Posted October 1, 2012
Written by Eddie Sheridan

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