There’s a reason that the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is THE most visited national park in the United States (and not just by a small margin either). It’s got everything one could possible hope for: waterfalls in abundance, the notorious Appalachian mountains, good Southern food close in proximity (Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge), wildlife, and (insert anything else you’d hope to find in a park). The best time to visit this beautiful place? FALL. Unfortunately, everyone already knows that, so it’s a pretty crowded place, but you shouldn’t let that stop you.
You can, of course, witness the splendor of the colors without going on any hikes, but the hikes will give you even more bang for you buck…or lust for your wander….hmmm…Anyhow, there are many, many hikes in the park, but here are just FIVE I can personally attest to. Also, keep in mind that these photos were taken during the beginning of October, when fall is really just beginning, so you can imagine just how splendid the colors are in late October and November!
1. Chimney Tops
Length: Approximately 4 Miles Roundtrip
Chimney Tops is a beautiful hike traversing across a few bridges and streams before going up, up, up, and away. The elevation gain is certainly no joke. The views from the top though are incredible–even if you choose not to scramble all the way up the rocks at the top! Fair Warning: Climb at your own risk.
2. Laurel Falls
Length: Approximately 2.6 Miles Roundtrip
Laurel Falls trail is a lovely and fairly quick little hike along a paved trail that winds up and around the mountainside; the end destination is very rewarding with a nice area to rest and enjoy the 80-foot falls–as well as take comfort in the knowledge that the hike back is alllll down hill. Recommendation: Make the trek early, early in the morning if you’d like to beat the crowds.
3. Indian Creek Falls & Toms Branch Falls
Length: Approximately 2 Miles Roundtrip
A bit out of the way from the other hikes, this one allows for you to see two nice waterfalls plus a smaller one, Juney Wank Falls. It’s a fairly easy stroll along much of it (with the exception of a few areas), and I’d say pretty family friendly. We even enviously saw many people floating in tubes along the creek!
4. Ramsey Cascades
Length: Approximately 8 Miles Roundtrip
This hike is a beast (me pictured below feeling like a beast), but it’s one of the most rewarding–with fun, sketchy bridges (with only one railing), a beautiful flowing creek, and the tallest waterfall in the park. It’s long and it’s tiring, but you’ll feel like you can accomplish anything after it–or we did anyway (hey, it was several years ago, at the beginning of our hiking career–we were amateurs). I couldn’t lift my legs the next day. It was pretty great. To this day we still talk about “Ramsey.” Warning: Wear good shoes/boots. Like real good.
5. Clingmans Dome
Length: Approximately 1 Mile Roundtrip
If you’re looking for the MOST incredible views of the mountains in the park, Clingmans Dome is where you want to be. It is the highest point in the state of Tennessee, in fact, with visibility for miles. Although it’s only a half mile to the top–where you can walk to the top of an observation tower–make no mistake: it’s steeeep. There are multiple resting places though along the side of the paved trail. The higher up you go, the more unbelievable the views become. Honestly, however, the views are amazing all the same–even from the parking lot. Recommendation: Go just a little bit before sunset; there’s no better place to watch it than here.
*Note: I highly recommend you looking at the park’s website when making a visit; there are, of course, the usual closures of specific trails from time to time!