A Guide to Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains: Hiking for Kids

Juney Whank Falls is a pretty kid-friendly destination in the Smokies.
Juney Whank Falls is a pretty kid-friendly destination in the Smokies.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an excellent place for families to enjoy the great outdoors together. Even young children will enjoy mild hikes to exciting waterfall destinations like Juney Whank, Toms Branch, Indian Creek and Laurel Falls. Older kids will love seeing history in action on slightly longer or more moderate hikes like the 7.4 mile Boogerman Loop. Besides the endless jokes a name like "Boogerman" affords, you'll also find amazing old-growth forests and the remnants of Robert "Boogerman" Palmer's estate.

In fact, any trek at all in the Smokies affords parents an opportunity to talk to kids about the amazing evolution of the Great Smoky Mountains. Kids will love learning that the Smokies belong to an ancient group of rocks called the Ocoee series. These rocks are so old that they contain no fossils: The rocks formed before most plants and animals even existed!

Kids will also be amazed to hear that the Smokies were once as steep and jagged as the Himalayas. They were formed more than 250 millions years ago, when the African and North American continents collided. Water has eroded them over time into the gentle, blue hills we see today [source: NPS.Gov]. Compare smooth river stones from streams to the angular, irregular rocks you'll find along trails to show kids how water erodes rocks over time.

In addition to self-guided family hikes, there are also lots of professional hiking and learning opportunities for kids in the Smokies. From "Sensational Salamanders" to "Animal Tracking and Nature Observation," Smoky Mountain Field School offers tons of interesting hikes, overnights and classes designed just for kids. In addition, kids aged 5-12 can explore the park with a ranger to earn their Junior Ranger badge [source: NPS.Gov].

Ready to hit the trail? There's one last thing we need to go over before you hop in the car.