While the Smoky Mountains have certainly assembled an impressive collection of attractions, theme parks, resorts, restaurants, and unique businesses, the real draw has always been the mountains themselves. If you book a cabin in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg and do not once set foot upon a hiking trail of some sort, you have done yourself a disservice.
Some people’s immediate response will be that they are not exactly built for hiking. At least, if they were at some point, the career of a professional hiker sailed away long ago. Even the most slow-footed or short-winded of us can still appreciate plenty of what the Smokies have to offer. To help inspire you to get out there and try at least one genuine hike, here is a list of the more gentle treks that can be accessible to people of all abilities and ages, even the very old and the very young.
Clingmans Dome Trail
If you walk only one trail during your entire trip — perhaps even your entire life — make the Clingmans Dome Trail one. No matter how much huffing and puffing it takes to get there, it will be worth every breath. In fact, the view will take away any breath you have left, so motivate yourself to get to the top any way you can.
The trail is admittedly steep, but it is paved the entire way and is barely over a mile out and back. You will spend your time winding up a concrete path to reach a 360° view observation tower above Clingmans Dome. And what a view! On a clear day, the observation deck lets you soak in views up to 100 miles. Best of all, the steep ascent means a breezy downhill walk back when you are done.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.National Park Service
Grotto Falls Trail
At 2.6 miles out-and-back, Grotto Falls may sound like a long hike but the creek you follow keeps you cool and the waterfall offers a rare chance to walk underneath it and come out the other side. Families with kids of all ages can be seen along the trail — a sign that it should not be too rough even for a beginner. Also occasionally seen on the trail: llamas! These pack animals are used to carry supplies to the LeConte Lodge twice a week and are sure to delight with their charming expressions.
The Gatlinburg Trail
Even if the last two hikes seem too much, the Gatlinburg Trail is a breeze. At only half a mile out and back, it offers the least strenuous trip possible. A paved blacktop trail that is wheelchair-accessible leads through a shady glen and past guide signs that point out local plants and animals.
Paved, and wheelchair-accessible, Laurel Falls Trail is 2.3 mile out-and-back trail is hugely popular with visitors, which often spells huge crowds. If you do not mind being in good company, the light walk takes you along a branch of the Little River to a gorgeous 8’ waterfall surrounded by tranquil scenery.
These treks will hopefully give you a taste of adventure so you can go out and try more strenuous but more rewarding hikes like Grotto Falls Trail, Alum Cave Bluffs Trail and, who knows, maybe someday Chimney Tops Trail to truly climb a mountain and earn the view from the top. Book a cabin in Pigeon Forge today to prepare yourself for a day of hiking and a night of relaxing out on the town.