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Hiking in the Smokies

Arch Rock

About 1.4 miles down the Alum Cave Bluff Trail, you'll come to Arch Rock. Pictured are the stairs that wind through and under the rock.

Most Popular Hiking Trails

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well known for its vast amount of hiking trails.  Visitors flock to the park to gaze at rushing waterfalls, view breathtaking vistas, explore fascinating historic settlement remains, and enjoy the sanctuary of the wilderness.

Hikes can range from simple to very strenuous.  Some hikes can be completed in a half day, a full day, or (for the adventurous) multiple days.  A person could literally spend an entire vacation walking through the Smokies.

Before You Come

  • Decide if you're a causal hiker or a serious hiker and plan your hike accordingly.  Most folks can hike a 2-3 mile round-trip but only those who are physically fit can do the full-day or multi-day trips.
  • Review how difficult the climb will be.  See further down for details.
  • If you're planning a multiple day hike, call the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Backcountry Office at (865) 436-1231 to reserve a campsite or shelter that is on your hike path and file for a backcountry permit.  Shelter reservations must be made one month in advance.  No tent camping is allowed at shelters.  You can only stay one night at a time at a shelter; you can stay up to three nights at a campsite.  Pets are prohibited in the backcountry.
  • If you are not starting and ending at the same site, have plans for someone to pick you up or drop you off.  There are several hiker shuttle services that operate in the Smoky Mountains area.

When You're Ready To Hike

Streams

Streams are very common along trails, since many trails in lower elevations are carved out along side the streams' banks.

  • Go to any Visitor Center within the park to find out the latest trail conditions.
  • Pick up a backcountry permit if you are planning to spend the night on the trails.  You may also decide to purchase a trail map (recommended for multi-day hikes).
  • Travel to the trailhead and begin your hiking adventure!

Remember to plan ahead, bringing enough water, food, a first aid kit, and any other needed supplies.

If you aren't sure where to begin your hike in the Smokies, we recommend checking out some of the park's waterfalls for starters.   You can also check out these most popular trails in the Smokies.   Or if you need something a little more adventurous, you can choose a geographical section on the left side of this page and find a trail that you would like to explore.

Difficulty of Trails

  • Easy - Beginner level with easy access to sites.
  • Moderate - Beginning level trails with uphill and downhill slopes.
  • Average - Length of less than five miles taking up half a day. Trail may include uphill, downhill sloped terrain.
  • Expert - Trail that has many obstacles and requires a full day or more to hike it.
  • Strenuous - A very difficult trail, including climbing a mountain, crossing streams with no bridges, steep ledges, vertical climbs, and steep down-hills.

Trail Length

  • Hour - A trail that can be done in two hours or less
  • Half-Day - A trail that may require water and a snack.  Hiking up to 5 miles
  • Full-Day - A trail that will take most of the day to hike.  Hiking 5-13 miles
  • Multi-Day - A trip that will take more than one day to complete. Hiking 13+ miles