For those of you who are unfamiliar with, or are making your very first visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you'll probably want to know what the best day hikes are in order to maximize your time in the Smokies. Based on many years of hiking in the Smokies we've developed a list of our personal favorite top ten hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Veteran and new visitors alike can use this tool as a starting point in trying to decide where to hike during your upcoming visit.
Number One: Gregory Bald
As stunning as the year-round views are, Gregory Bald is most famous for the spectacular flame azaleas that bloom on its summit from mid to late June. Azalea lovers from all over the world come here to visit perhaps the finest display of azaleas anywhere on the planet. You'll see a rainbow of colors including fire red, wine red, orange, salmon, yellow, white, pink, and even multi-colored azaleas. Even if you can't make it in June, this hike should still be on your list for any time of the year. The commanding views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake and the eastern crest of the Smoky Mountains makes this a year-round destination, and number one on our list of the best hikes in the Smokies.
Number Two: Mt. CammererÂ
Mt. Cammerer is located on the edge of a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pigeon River Gorge. On a clear day the views are simply awesome - some even say the best in the park - including me! For an even better vantage point, step up to the deck of the stone fire tower. This "western" style lookout, which was fully restored in 1995, provides hikers with 360-degree panoramic views. Look in any direction and see row upon row of smoky blue mountains.
Number 3: Rocky Top
You'll huff and puff up the mountain for the first 5 miles of this hike, but your hard work will be paid-off once you reach Spence Field. If visibility is good the grassy meadows will afford you with outstanding views of the North Carolina side of the Smokies. If you can arrange it, hike the trail in late spring when Spence Field showcases the most spectacular display of mountain laurel you'll see just about anywhere. Spence Field is an excellent destination in and of itself, but the views get even better if you continue along the Appalachian Trail for another 1.2 miles. The panoramic views from Rocky Top are some of the best in the Smokies. From the summit you can see Fontana Lake, Cades Cove, Townsend, Maryville and beyond.
Number Four: Mount LeConte
If ever there was a classic hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte would certainly qualify. Sure, there are trails in the Park that are far longer, that gain more elevation, or have steeper climbs, but the Alum Cave Trail is unmatched in its combination of interesting geological features, history, high adventure and stunning views. Hikers will climb through Arch Rock, take a breather at Inspiration Point, maybe spot a peregrine falcon near the Eye of the Needle, marvel at the imposing Alum Cave, and hold-on tight to the cable hand rails as you pass over the rock ledges along the upper portions of the trail. Upon reaching the summit, go to Cliff Top near the LeConte Lodge for amazing views of Clingmans Dome and the rolling mountains that lie towards the west. On the other side of LeConte is Myrtle Point which offers outstanding vistas of the eastern Smokies.
Number Five: Andrews Bald
Only a 1.7 mile hike to see magnificent views? Sounds like a breeze. Well, not so fast - this is still a fairly rugged hike! But don't let this deter you. Thanks to several acres of open grassy meadow, commonly referred to as balds in the Appalachians, spectacular views of the southern Smokies await you at the end of this hike. Andrews Bald is the perfect place to open up a blanket, relax, and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Number Six: Abrams Falls
Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet high, the large volume of water rushing over the sandstone cliff more than makes up for its lack of height. In fact, Abrams Falls is the most voluminous waterfall in the park, easily making this the most scenic waterfall in the Smokies. As a result, the moderate 5.2-mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall is one of the more popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Number Seven: The Jump-off
After a long steep climb from the parking lot your effort will be amply rewarded with outstanding views on either side of the ridge traversed by the Appalachian Trail. Swing onto the spur trail and head up to the Jump-Off for even better views. The Jump-Off sits atop a 1000-foot cliff on the northeastern side of Mt. Kephart. With spectacular views of the Smokies, this is an excellent place for a quiet picnic lunch.
Number Eight: Charlies Bunion
A long steep climb from the parking lot quickly leaves most of the crowds behind. Eventually you'll reach a long stretch of trail that traverses a ridge where you'll be hovering around an altitude of roughly 6000 feet. Being at the highest point along this narrow ridge, with views on either side of the trail, you'll feel like you're walking along the spine of the Appalachians.
Number Nine: Porters Creek
The Porters Creek Trail just about has it all. You'll stroll along a beautiful cascading stream through a lush old-growth forest, while walking past many remnants of the early settlers in this area before reaching a little known waterfall. If you hike this trail during the spring you'll have the additional benefit of witnessing spectacular displays of wildflowers. The forest floor was carpeted with bloodroot, hepaticas, violets, white trilliums, fringed phacelia, rue anemone and many other wildflowers during a recent early spring hike. Roughly 1 mile from the trailhead is a short side trail that leads to the John Messer farm site, which includes a cantilevered barn built around 1875. There's also a cabin that was built by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club in the mid-1930s. At roughly 2 miles, Fern Branch Falls slides and tumbles nearly 50 feet off the ridge just off the side of the trail.
Number Ten: Alum Cave
During the warmer months of the year, water drips off the ledges from the top of the bluff. In the winter, these water droplets form into large icicles. In order to enter and exit the bluff, hikers are sometimes forced to dodge icicles falling from the top of the bluff, some of which are more than 3 feet long. Needless to say, extreme caution is needed here during these conditions. Most importantly, the views from the cave are beautiful. Just before reaching the cave make sure to look towards the east at the Eye of the Needle where you'll have a good chance of spotting nesting peregrine falcons.
If you think the above hikes are too long or too strenuous, check out our list of the Best Easy Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
While planning your visit, be sure to visit our accommodations page for a variety of lodging options in the Great Smoky Mountains area.