The Best Smoky Mountains Summer Hikes for All Levels

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From cascading waterfalls to breathtaking views, the Smoky Mountains have it all. But with so many trails to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which hike to take. Here are the best Smoky Mountains summer hikes for all levels. Whether you're looking for a leisurely stroll or a challenging climb, these hikes will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the region.

Beginner Hikes

If you are new to hiking or just want a leisurely stroll through the mountains, there are plenty of easy hikes in the Smokies.

A great trail for beginners is the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. This trail is a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail that is less than a mile long. The trail winds through a peaceful forest and offers scenic views of the river and the surrounding mountains.  If you travel a little further on the gravel path, it will lead you to Cataract Falls.  

The Laurel Falls Trail is another popular trail for beginners, with its paved path and gradual incline. The trail is 2.3 miles round trip with a little over 300 feet in elevation gain.  It leads to a stunning 80-foot waterfall.

Intermediate Hikes

For those with some hiking experience, the Smokies offer a variety of moderate hikes.

For a longer, yet still relatively east, hike, the Big Creek Trail is 4.2 miles round trip with just over 600 feet in elevation gain.  At the 1.5 mile mark, there is a beautiful spot with a 6 foot waterfall to take a break and cool off - Midnight Hole.  The cool spring fed will rejuvenate you for the rest of the hike whether you continue to the 45 foot waterfall or just head back from that point. 

Hen Wallow Falls provides lush, beautiful scenery as you hike the 2.2 miles to the 90 foot waterfall.  The round trip of 4.4 miles is made challenging by the 900 foot elevation gain.  

Advanced Hikes

For experienced hikers looking for a challenge, the Smokies offer some of the most strenuous hikes in the country.

The Ramsay Cascades Trail is 8 miles round trip with steep inclines and rocky terrain.  It has an elevation gain of 2,190 which makes the trail challenging, but stunning waterfall at the end makes it worth the effort.

The Mount LeConte can be accessed via several trail heads, all of which boast between 3,000-4,000 elevation gain and 12-15 miles of round trip hiking with steep inclines and rocky terrain. While a difficult hike, it is the 3rd highest peak in the Smokies, rewarding hikers with stunning views of the mountains. 

Overnight Hikes

The Appalachian Trail, which runs for more than 71 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the nation's most popular trails.  If you plan to hike the full Smoky Mountains section of the Appalachian Trail, you should allow for at approximately 7 days, or the hike can be shortened by using Newfound Gap or Clingmans Dome as a mid point, then taking 3-4 days. Hikers are required to camp only in designated campsites or in shelters, of which there are 12 available. And don't forget that you'll need to arrange transportation at the end of your hike, as it is a one-way trek.

Preparedness & Safety

When choosing your hike in the Great Smoky Mountains, first be sure to check the backcountry section of the National Park website for possible closures and warnings: Temporary Road and Facilities Closures.

Be sure to also plan ahead and be prepared.  Here are some Important hiking safety tips from the National Park Service.  Always be sure to allow plenty of time to complete your hike before dark. As a rule of thumb, hikers in the Smokies travel about 1.5 miles per hour, but many people travel slower. Sunset times vary from just after 5:00 p.m. in December to almost 9:00 p.m. in June. 

You can download the park maps here.

What's your Why?

Maybe you love hiking and the adventure of it... Or maybe a family member or friend is dragging you on the hike... Whatever your why for hitting the trails, let the beauty of the mountains, the fresh air, and the peaceful surroundings refresh and inspire you.  So, grab your hiking boots, your water and enjoy!