Everyone in the family can benefit from a trip through the Great Smoky Mountains. All throughout the year, the sheer beauty of the mountainside offers chances to appreciate nature in all its glory. Beyond that, the trails are full of learning opportunities, while the walk allows everyone to get in their steps for the day. But what are the best GSM family hikes?
Here’s a look at the most popular trails for families:
The Porter’s Creek trail takes you along the banks of the creek where you can see the babbling waters, aquatic vegetation, and even wildlife if you’re lucky. Everything from newts and snakes to butterflies and birds make their home around the creek.
Since this seven-mile, moderate hike takes your family through a heavily wooded area, it feels secluded and provides plenty of shade on hot days. About one mile in, you’ll get to see the old cemetery filled with the graves of the first settlers. Then, another mile down, you can gaze upon the historic farm site where John Messer lived and built his awe-inspiring cantilevered barn.
If you want to reach the waterfall, you’ll have to take the left trail that appears after the gravel path ends. After about one more mile, expect to see the base of the waterfall appear before you.
With its steady incline at the first half, the Kephart Prong trail serves as an excellent challenge for families. Kids love to power through this moderate 3.9-mile hike and show off their physical fitness.
As they work on making it to the end of the path and back again, they are rewarded with plenty of opportunities to explore the creek. The crossings take everyone right over the water, providing a memorable view of the landscape.
Since you encounter the creek so often on this hike, the trail can end up a bit muddy. So, bring along the galoshes on wet days. At the end, you can rest at the shelter before heading back. Keep your eyes peeled for deer and other wildlife roaming around while you relax.
Clingman’s Dome Tower
Although it’s only 1.2 miles long, the Clingman's Dome Tower Trail will let your family gaze upon hundreds of miles of the Smokies. As you make your way to the observation tower, you’ll reach a stunning 6,643 feet, putting you high above the rest of the landscape.
The trail up to the tower is paved, but incredibly steep, so strollers and wheelchairs are a no-go. There are plenty of benches to rest on along the way, so bring water and snacks to enjoy while you all take a breather. Bring a jacket, too, as it gets chilly up at that elevation.
While walking this trail, don’t miss the chance to stop at the ranger station to see if they’re holding any talks that day. The rangers are full of knowledge about the Smokies and are quite talented storytellers. Your family will forever remember their talks if you get the opportunity to hear one.
As the name implies, the Laurel Falls trail features tons of mountain laurel shrubs plus a superb waterfall. The laurels start blooming in late spring and continue through most of the summer, lighting up the trail with vivid white and rose tones.
At just 2.4 miles total, the hike itself goes quickly, but everyone will undoubtedly want to marvel at the waterfall for a while. At 80-feet-tall, Laurel Falls is a true sight to behold and creates a calming aesthetic with its rushing water sounds. The falls are at their best after a period of heavy rainfall has filled the creek above.
The trail is paved, but not well-maintained, leaving many broken sections that make stroller and wheelchair use difficult. Beyond that, this popular trail gets rather crowded as the sunshine makes it appearance.
The Abrams Falls trail also features an awe-inspiring waterfall at the end, but the hike in is a bit challenging. Marked as moderate difficulty, this trail is 5.5 miles total with lots of rocks and roots on the path.
Steady footing is a must, especially through all the steep inclines. So, wear hiking boots and bring along a trekking pole if you need extra help staying steady.
At the end, your family’s reward is a view of the wondrous waterfall, which boasts a 25-foot drop. The water splashing into the pool below makes for a breathtaking sight. Plan to stick around for a while to take in the sights and sounds of the waterfall and rest up for the trip back.
Deep Creek Loop
The Deep Creek Loop takes your family on a 5.4-mile journey through the forest and along the riverside. Although it’s marked as a moderate hike, the trail is easy to traverse, but it does get a bit muddy. The trail ranges from dirt and rocks to gravel and paved sections.
At the end of the trail, your family can chill at the overlook to get an amazing view of the park all around. Expect to see a lot of other people taking in the fantastic sights all around since this trail remains pretty busy year-round. If you’re up to it, look for the hidden cave or take the detour through Deep Creek Canyon to stretch out your trip even more.
Unlike many of the other trails through the Smokies, dogs are welcome to join their families on this hike. They must stay on a leash at all times and be on their best behavior. Pick up after them as you go to protect the ecosystem all around you.
As you explore these trails, your collective fitness levels and hiking expertise will increase by leaps and bounds. When that happens, many more trails will open up to your family. So, keep exploring and checking off trails to enjoy everything the Smokies have to offer.