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A Guide to Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains: Main Routes

With more than 800 miles to explore and 150 trails by which to explore them, there are no shortages of hiking opportunities in the Great Smoky Mountains. Below are a few favorites [source: Doran]:

  • Chimney Tops: This moderate-to-strenuous little 4-mile hike is well worth the scramble to the top, where you'll find 360-degree panoramic views that are among the best in the entire park.
  • Alum Cave: Also great in the views department is the moderate 4.4 mile Alum Cave Trail. Though Alum Cave is really a hollowed out bluff as opposed to a cave, dripping water in summer and magnificent icicles in winter create the sensation of being in a cave. This trail also features Arch Rock, a unique rock formation geology-lovers will appreciate.
  • Waterfalls: Enjoy waterfall views from several different Smoky Mountain hiking trails including Abrams, Chasteen Creek, Grotto, Henwallow, Juney Whank, Indian Creek, Laurel, Rainbow and Ramsay Cascades Trails.
  • Old Settlers Trail: History buffs will love this fairly strenuous 8.8 mile hike. Old rock walls, cemeteries, chimneys, wagon traces, foundations and bits of dishware offer ample evidence of early settlement in this area of the Smokies.
  • Easy Hikes: There are plenty of easy and fairly easy hikes in the Smokies. These range from the .4 mile Spruce-Fir trail to the 3-mile Baskins Creek Falls trail, where you'll find a great view of the 25-foot Baskins Creek Waterfalls.
  • Difficult Hikes: rates hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park using the Petzoldt energy-mile system. Any hikes rating more than a 10 are said to be strenuous. Very experienced hikers may want to try their hands at the six hiking trails in the Smokies that rate above a 20. These include four approaches to Mt. LeConte (via Trillium Gap, Bullhead, Boulevard Trail or Rainbow Falls), Mt. Sterling via Baxter Creek and Rocky Top/Thunderhead.

There are also lots of great hikes like the Cades Cove Nature Trail that the whole family can enjoy. We talk about hiking with kids next.