Hiking is a great way to enjoy some fresh air while taking in some scenic views, but not all of us are the most experienced hikers. For those who aren’t familiar with challenging hikes but still want to take part in the activity, that’s no problem at all in the Smoky Mountains. Short trails with scenic waterfalls and mossy trees will have you back to outing the town in no time.
Whether you are in a time crunch or merely want something a little bit easier, this national park is full of simpler hikes to consider.
Number One: The Gatlinburg Trail
Start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to indulge in this brief 3.9-mile roundtrip hike. With an elevation gain of 235-feet, the Gatlinburg Trail is rated as one of the easiest -- which explains why everyone comes here to do their daily exercise. You can hike, walk, run, bike, and even walk your pet along this trail. An added benefit, if you want to head to Cataract Falls, it’s only a half-mile away from a side trail on this hike.
Number Two: Laurel Falls
2.3 miles roundtrip to reach an 80-foot waterfall awaits at the Laurel Falls hike. With an elevation gain of 314 feet, this hike is labeled as one of the best waterfall hikes in this national park. Getting its name from the Mountain Laurel that grows here, do not miss seeing the beautiful wildflowers bloom sometime around May. Be wary of parking, however, for this trail is extremely popular and it might be full if you go during peak season.
Number Three: Abrams Falls
Block out about 3-4 hours of your day for this elevation gain of 675-feet. Only 5.2 miles roundtrip, this trail is moderate in its difficulty -- but is still known to be relatively on the easier side. If forest scenery is your favorite, this is the hike for you. Abram Falls is definitely one hike where one can truly take in the scenic nature surrounding them like otters, waterfalls, and forest trees. The waterfall that you will reach is only 20 feet high but makes up for its height in its ability to rush out with such beauty as it plunges into the pool beneath it.
Number Four: Little River Trail
Spot an otter, take in the magnificently clean water, and trail along 4.9 miles roundtrip at Little River Trail. The trailhead starts at the Little River parking area near the Elkmont Campground -- passing through old cabins, wildflowers, and other intriguing trails. Open year-round, this is a popular trail option for families. This trail is also home to the “synchronous fireflies” which people come to view from everywhere. With an elevation gain of 412 feet, if you continue along this path it will lead to a small 20-foot cascade that plummets into the river.
Number Five: Oconaluftee River Trail
This 3-mile roundtrip trail begins toward the Mountain Farm Museum. Enjoy some history alongside the river as you learn about some of the oldest Cherokee villages, admire the traditional gardening, and watch out for livestock. With an elevation gain of only 70 feet, you can see why Oconaluftee Trail is one of the easiest trails in the Smoky Mountains. Mosey along the river and admire the trees and wildflowers, with more than 40 identified species of wildflowers being spotted on this route.
Number Six: Elkmont Nature Trail
Short and to the point, this trail is perfect if you only have a limited amount of time. Enjoy your hike through the shade as the trees and leaves cover the overhead, and spot some birds and flowers in abundance. Not overly crowded, this loop has an elevation gain of 95 feet and is only .8 miles!
Number Seven: Grotto Falls
Another easy hike with a waterfall reward inside. Only 2.6 miles roundtrip, this hike has an elevation gain of 585 feet. Follow the Trillium Gap Trailhead and proceed to catch a glimpse of the 25-foot waterfall. What’s different about this waterfall is that it is actually one of the only ones that people can actually walk behind, truly leaving an experience like no other. If you decide you are done with Grotto Falls and want something a little more challenging, continue on for 5.6 miles to reach Mt. Leconte.
Number Eight: Baskins Creek Falls
A moderately easy hike, this 3-mile roundtrip hike includes an elevation gain of 953 feet and a 40-foot, two-tiered waterfall you don’t want to miss. You’ll find the trailhead via the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, with some challenges in steepness along the way. It is also noted that after heavy rainfall, Baskins Creek Falls is not the place you want to go if you want your feet to remain dry, but it is definitely worth the picturesque ending of the waterfall.
Number Nine: Big Creek/Mouse Creek Falls
Follow an old railroad to enjoy this 4.2-mile roundtrip trail. Good for all skill levels, horses are also able to use Big Creek/Mouse Creek Falls. Trot your way upstream as you reach an elevation gain of 605-feet, appreciating one of the most photo-worthy 45-foot waterfalls you’ll want to send to your friends in the mail. Fun bonus, Midnight Hole is a swimming hole that you’ll pass on the way --great for cooling down in the heat or simply enjoying with family.
Number Ten: Indian Creek Falls
An extremely short hike with huge rewards. 1.9 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 150 feet, take in the almost immediate gratification of the 80-foot Tom Branch Falls. Be one with nature, stroll among the abundance of wildflowers like dwarf iris and beardtongue. Continue walking along the path until you reach another trail that leads to a 45-foot waterfall. The Indian Creek Falls trail may be easy and short, but definitely not disappointing when it comes to its views -- full of flowers and rushing water.
Hikes don’t always have to be difficult to still have fun doing them. The great thing about these short and simple trails is that there are still several natured beauties to spot along the way, all the while still having time in your day to do other things without straining yourself. Grab a picnic lunch, put on some hiking boots, and enjoy the scenery along the way.
While planning your visit, be sure to visit our accommodations page for a variety of lodging options in the Great Smoky Mountains area.