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Best Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains From Easy to Hard

If your family vacation takes you near a national park, you should plan some time to visit. I lived in East Tennessee for a summer and as you can imagine, that led to a number of visits to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That meant trying different hikes, exploring the rivers, and spending time on the overlooks taking in the beautiful views. Since it’s important to consider everyone’s athletic ability before you commit to any specific trail, I am including options for a few different fitness levels. 

Here are three of my favorite hikes that I did in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I would consider these “easy” and they would be great for a family with mixed ability levels. 

Easy – Laurel Falls Trail

Image by Keira Ezzo

Laurel Falls 

  • 2.6 miles round-trip
  • Takes about two hours to complete
  • Pets and Bicycles prohibited

Laurel Falls is a great hike for many reasons. This out-and-back trail is flat and paved in some spots making it a leisurely walk that leads to a beautiful waterfall. This trail is recommended for families because of these factors. This flat, paved trail is a great option if you have little ones  because you can bring strollers or wheelchairs if needed. Note that it can be rough in some spots, and slippery near the fall, so use caution. 

I did this hike on one of my days off and it was a pretty populated trail, so parking can be hard to find but it’s in an excellent location to stop at the Sugarland Welcome Center. It’s also a great place to check out some of the lookouts after your hike. 

Laurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the National Park and you’ll understand why after you’ve hiked it. The waterfall is a great place to take a break, have a snack, and snap some photos of this beautiful feature. t

Moderate – Porter’s Creek Trail

Image by Keira Ezzo

Porter’s Creek – 

  • 7 miles round-trip
  • Takes about three and a half hours to complete
  • Pets prohibited 

I think Porter’s Creek Trail might be my favorite trail included here. Even though it’s the longest on this list, it is beautiful and has a lot of cool features that make it worth every mile. Though the actual hike only takes about three and a half hours, I would recommend giving yourself at least half a day to explore all of the magnificent features this hike has to offer.

You start (and finish) this hike by walking next to a river and there are some inlets that you can walk down to and explore the waters. If you’re visiting during the summer, there will be a variety of wildlife that you’ll get to see including butterflies flying around near the water. While you’re hiking, there will be a few different places to explore, like the historic farm site.

With multiple waterfalls and wildflowers, this is an amazing trail that has a little bit of everything that the Great Smoky Mountains is known for. Yes, the hike is long, but the terrain is mostly flat with some gentle rolls so it won’t leave you feeling overly tired. 

Strenuous – Chimney Tops Trail

Image by Keira Ezzo

Chimney Tops – 

  • 3.5 miles round trip (the last quarter mile of Chimney Tops is currently closed due to fire damage)
  • Takes about two hours and twenty minutes to complete
  • Pets prohibited

This was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done for a few reasons: 

  1. Tennessee summer humidity
  2. I was coming off an unpleasant cold

Though I can’t do anything about the humidity when you go to visit, I can tell you that you should definitely skip this hike if you’re feeling under the weather. The hike starts similarly to the other ones on this list, with some gradual inclines that will have you thinking “well this isn’t bad.” Just wait until you turn the corner and see the stairs. 

The second half of this hike is intense. If it isn’t the stairs, it’s the steep switchbacks in the final quarter that will get you. My friend and I did this hike and we found ourselves stopping for water and general breaks to catch our breath a lot. There was a family in front of us with a baby who was crying on the way up, and boy, did we understand that feeling.

Yes, this hike is steep and very intense, but the view when you get to the top—or modified end—is worth every moment of pain your friend might be giving you because you didn’t realize how strenuous it was. 

No matter how physically fit you are, there is a way to enjoy your trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you and your family are not looking to go hiking, visit Cades Cove, or explore the park with Pink Jeep Tours. 

All of these hikes have awesome features that will make you stop and take in the beauty of the National Park, so no matter where and how you choose to explore the park, you’re in for a treat.

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