Horse Trails: Top Destinations For Horseback Riding In The National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is host to more than 800 miles of hiking trails, about 550 of which permit horseback riders. You'll know you're on a horse trail when you make a quick lateral move to dodge some road apples. There are a handful of conveniently located horse camps in the park where you can saddle up your steed and adventure out. Let's take a look at some of the best places to explore on horseback.

Horse trail sign

Horse Trail Overview

As an avid hiker, I've ventured out on many horse trails on foot with the knowledge that horses always have the right of way. It is important to yield to these extraordinary beasts and give them plenty of room to navigate around you if you come across a horseback rider while you are on foot. If you're bringing your own horse to the Smokies, take a look at the horse camp rules on the park website.

Horse Trails In The Smoky Mountains

Mt. Cammerer

I've hiked to Mt. Cammerer on foot at least a half dozen times, and have been passed by travelers on horseback on multiple occasions. The most common starting point on horseback is from the horse camp near Big Creek Campground off the Waterville exit (I40 exit 451). From here you'll take Big Creek Trail to Low Gap, then hop on the AT all the way to Mt. Cammerer Trail.

Mt. Cammerer

The summit of Cammerer is the home of White Rock firetower, originally built by the CCC back in the 1930s and restored in the 1990s with help from the wonderful Friends of the Smokies. Just a few tenths of a mile from the tower, you'll find a spot to safely hitch your horse before you make the final rocky climb for some excellent views. Also, there's more than one way to get here via horseback. Check out Lower Mount Cammerer Trail for a longer, steadier ride to the top.

Horses on Middle Prong Trail

Middle Prong Trail

From the Townsend Wye, go toward Cades Cove and take a quick left onto Tremont Road. Drive past Tremont and all the way down the gravel road to reach the trailhead for Middle Prong. There is some room here for horse trailers if you're an early riser. This 4.1 mile trail makes an easy out-and-back next to the peaceful sounds of rushing water and several noteworthy cascades.

Middle Prong Trail

Jakes Creek Loop

If you're interested in lots of trail with varying terrain and 20+ water crossings, explore this big loop hike near Elkmont. You can start it from Jakes Creek Trail near the ghost town or closer to Tremont from Middle Prong Trail mentioned above. No matter which way you decide to go, there's plenty of horse trail to be enjoyed.

4 Trail Loop

Other trails on this enjoyable Smoky Mountain loop include Miry Ridge Trail, Lynn Camp Prong, and Panther Creek Trail. Just do a thorough readup on these trails beforehand; Panther Creek trail alone has 10 water crossings including one that feels a lot more like a river than a rock-hop after periods of heavy rain.

Mt. Sterling

You want views, you say? Set out to another excellent firetower atop Mt. Sterling. This horseback ride also starts from Big Creek Trail on the northeast side of the park and continues up Swallow Fork Trail to Mount Sterling Ridge Trail. Lucky for you, horseback riders don't have to take the dreadful Baxter Creek Trail (not horse friendly and honestly barely hiker friendly), a shorter, steeper trail; stick with the scenic route.

Mt. Sterling

This is a lovely route in the late springtime particularly on Swallow Fork Trail, and a top-notch choice for the peak of fall colors in October. The views don't get much better than the ones at the top of the firetower. PS: in one of the first photos in this post from Mount Cammerer you can see the summit of Mount Sterling, the high crest in the center.

Spence/Russell Field Loop

Another great loop hike on horseback or on foot starts near the Cades Cove campground on Anthony Creek Trail to Bote Mountain, the AT, and Russell Field Trail. You'll hit two backcountry shelters at Spence Field and Russell Field. The ridge on the Appalachian Trail provides some really nice views along the way. The entire trek is 13.2 miles round trip.

Spence/Russell Field Loop

For the most up to date reference on horse trails in the Smoky Mountains, check out the national park's website for the official trail map. Find a fairly comprehensive list of horse trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park below. Be sure to check out our hiking page for all kinds of useful guides for different hiking trails.

Horse Trails in the Smoky Mountains

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