We use cookies to improve your browsing experience on our website, analyze site traffic and personalize content. By closing the message or continuing to browse this site, you agree to the use of cookies as explained in our Privacy Policy.

Skip to main content

blog

Destination Ideas

Your Guide to Hiking in Gatlinburg: Trails, Tips, Food & More

Posted June 14, 2021

A woman wearing a purple tank top, jean shorts and glasses poses underneath a pair of wedged rocks in Gatlinburg, TN.A woman wearing a purple tank top, jean shorts and glasses poses underneath a pair of wedged rocks in Gatlinburg, TN.
Headshot of Becca Clark

Becca Clark

Becca is a copywriter for Holiday Inn Club Vacations and Smoky Mountain enthusiast. Her first visit was when she was 10 years old and she’s been obsessed ever since. Between family vacations, school trips, a honeymoon road trip and now visiting her parents, she’s lost count of all the times she’s visited the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. And you can most definitely count on her returning again and again.

Given the charm of the Smoky Mountains and hiking being a fun way to explore the outdoors, I know many people might be searching for the best places for hiking in Gatlinburg.

But in my experience, I would highly recommend using Gatlinburg as your home base and then venturing out of the town to see all the Smokies have to offer.

I happen to have quite the relationship with this part of Tennessee.

Becca and her husband enjoying the view on Foothills Parkway
Enjoying the view on Foothills Parkway with my husband

I vacationed in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge almost every year for nearly two decades and my parents actually moved up to the region a few years ago, so my husband, my daughter and I get to visit multiple times a year.

As you can imagine, I’ve done my share of touristy things (hello, Dollywood®!), but I’ve also done a ton of hiking throughout the years.

And now I’m sharing my Smoky Mountain hiking knowledge with you in this guide!

Read on to learn everything you need to know about hiking in/near Gatlinburg, including the best trails, tips, places to eat after your adventures and great local attractions for your non-hiking days.

6 Best Hiking Trails Near Gatlinburg

First up, I’m going to count down 6 of the best places to hike in and near Gatlinburg, ending with my top favorite.

6. Rainbow Falls Trail

A waterfall cascades over a rock formation at Rainbow Falls Trail in Tennessee.

This is one of my top trails that just so happens to be less than 5 miles from Gatlinburg. It leads to a beautiful 80-foot waterfall, and it can be moderate to difficult depending on your fitness level.

You’ll notice my favorite trails have waterfalls because, while I enjoy a good hike, I really enjoy having something to look forward to — and a waterfall is perfect for that!

Pro tip: If you’re new to hiking, I’d recommend starting with an easy trail and working your way up to this one just to make sure you can actually walk the rest of your vacation!

Length

5.4 miles

Difficulty

Moderate to difficult

Approx. Time

3–5 hours

Location

Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Gatlinburg

Tips for Hiking Rainbow Falls Trail

  • The trail gains about 1,500 feet in elevation, so plan to take breaks and bring plenty of water.

5. Alum Cave Trail

A dirt trail under a rock formation surrounded by pine trees at Alum Cave Trail in Tennessee.

This trail is about 30 minutes from town, but it is so cool!

You’ll get lots of opportunities for incredible mountain sights and this one “ends” in a concaved bluff. It’s basically a cave wall with a partial roof but has lots of open space where you get to overlook much of the mountains.

Length

5 miles

Difficulty

Moderate

Approx. Time

3–4 hours

Location

Newfound Gap Road

Tips for Hiking Alum Cave Trail:

  • This one tends to be busy (it has two parking lots), so plan to arrive early to secure your space.
  • This trail also continues another 5 miles (one way) to the summit of Mt. Le Conte if you decide to keep going.

4. Spruce Flats Falls

A waterfall cascades over a rock formation at Spruce Flats Falls in Tennessee.

Spruce Flats Falls is a relatively easy (though moderate at times) hike to a beautiful waterfall.

It has four different tiers that cascade down into a giant pool and is, in my opinion, one of the most scenic waterfalls in the area, especially when the flowers bloom in spring.

Length

1.4 miles

Difficulty

Easy to moderate

Approx. Time

1 hour

Trail Name

Lumber Ridge Trailhead

Location

Tremont

Tips for Hiking Spruce Flats Falls:

  • Spruce Flats and Lynn Camp Prong (mentioned below) are accessible from the same parking lot, so consider bringing a picnic lunch and making a full day of it!
  • My husband and I brought our daughter on this hike when she was four months old. We put her in a carrier since the path isn’t stroller friendly, so that’s always an option if you’re hiking with kids.

3. Lynn Camp Prong Cascades

A woman wearing a purple tank top, jean shorts and glasses poses near waterfall cascades over a rock formation at Lynn Camp Prong Cascades in Tennessee.

When you’re ready to venture into the national park, a hike to Lynn Camp Prong Cascades is one of the first I’d recommend.

It’s about an hour from town, but an easy hike and well worth it with a wide trail, several small waterfalls, and even a few benches to sit on and enjoy the views (which are especially great if you’re visiting for a fall getaway to see the gorgeous foliage).

Length

1.3 miles

Difficulty

Easy

Approx. Time

1 hour

Trail Name

Middle Prong Trail

Location

Tremont

Tips for Hiking Lynn Camp Prong Cascades

  • After you reach the cascades, the trail continues for about 7 strenuous miles, so make sure you turn around accordingly.

2. Grotto Falls

Left: A waterfall cascades over a rock formation at Grotto Falls in Tennessee. Right: The backside of a waterfall beneath a blue cloudy sky and green trees.

This trail is another top favorite of mine because it leads to 25-foot Grotto Falls. This is the only waterfall in the park that you can walk and stand behind, and it’s one that kids will love.

The first time I did this waterfall I was 8, but it’s a moderate hike, and you know your kids best (or if you’ll be up for a piggyback ride if needed). It’s also about 5 minutes from town, so that’s a plus!

Length

2.6 miles

Difficulty

Moderate

Approx. Time

2–3 hours

Trail Name

Trillium Gap Trailhead

Location

Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Gatlinburg

Tips for Hiking Grotto Falls:

  • This trail tends to be busy (there’s additional parking further up the road), so plan to arrive early to get a spot.
  • Part of Roaring Fork Motor Trail closes during the winter, so the only way to access this trail will be from Rainbow Falls trailhead, which adds another 3.4 miles to your trip.

1. Baskins Creek Trailhead

A woman wearing a purple tank top, jean shorts and glasses poses near waterfall cascades over a rock formation at Baskins Creek Trailhead in Tennessee.

This hike is #1 on my list for a few reasons. First, it’s so close to town! Not only is it less than 4 miles from downtown, but it’s also a great intro hike.

And, even if you’re an experienced hiker, this trail fits in great between other hikes, zip lining, white water rafting and checking out local Gatlinburg attractions.

Best of all (well, to me at least), it ends at a 40-foot, two-tier waterfall!

Length

3 miles

Difficulty

Easy

Approx. Time

2 hours

Location

Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Gatlinburg

Tips for Hiking Baskins Creek Trailhead

  • There are a few junctions along the trail that will lead you to other places, so bring a guidebook or notes to make sure you’re going the right way. You likely won’t have cell service, so keep that in mind!


Planning a Gatlinburg getaway? Check out these stories, too:




4 Tips for Hiking in Gatlinburg

I gave you some trail-specific tips and FYIs, but I have a few more recommendations for hiking in Gatlinburg, national parks and pretty much any other hiking adventure you have.

1. Wear comfortable shoes.

Comfortable and appropriate shoes are a must! Hiking shoes are best, but at least wear sneakers to protect your toes from tree roots and rocks. Speaking from experience — those hurt!

2. Bring LOTS of snacks and water.

Don’t forget snacks and water (even if you don’t have kids!). It’s super helpful if you get tired or overheated.

And if you’re hiking to a waterfall, it’s a nice reward to enjoy before the trek back. If you don’t want to carry them with you, you can always use a cooler in the car for when you make it back.

Left: A woman's pair of hiking shoes crossed above a creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Right: A Ziploc bag full of trail mix placed in a green cup along a green coffee mug on the grass.

3. Get a guidebook.

Sugarlands Visitor Center sells them in its gift store, but you can find them at other places, too.

Guidebooks will have directions, detailed trail information and much more. It’s how I found the waterfalls on my list!

4. Check out quieter pull-offs and trails.

As you drive through Smoky Mountains National Park, be on the lookout for the brown signs. These denote quiet walkways and trailheads throughout the park, and many have pull-offs.

These are also cool spots to walk around for a few minutes if you want to explore and stretch your legs.

3 Post-Hike Places to Eat Near Gatlinburg

After burning all those calories during your mountain trek, you might be hungry and ready to refuel. Lucky for you, there are a couple tasty places in town for post-hike eats that’ll hit the spot.

A pepperoni pizza placed on a wooden plank in a bright blue kitchen.

1. Big Daddy’s Pizzeria

If you’re like me, pizza is my absolute favorite food after an active day. Big Daddy’s Pizzeria is just behind the Parkway and has ooey-gooey pizza and dessert that is to die for!

Plus, everything is made super fresh — like, they don’t even have a freezer kind of fresh.

2. Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina

Another post-activity favorite of mine is any sort of tacos or fajitas. And if that’s your jam, Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina is amazing.

It’s kind of a hole-in-the-wall spot (like, I’m honestly not sure how my husband and I found it on our honeymoon), but don’t let that fool you.

With tableside guacamole and a rooftop bar, do I even need to say more?

3. Dolly Parton’s Stampede

Pigeon Forge also has a lot of the usual chain restaurants (along with another Big Daddy’s Pizzeria), but if you’re looking for a real treat, check out Dolly Parton’s Stampede.

It’s a southern-inspired dinner show, so you’ll get entertainment and a filling meal all in one! I’m a huge Dolly fan, so I’m a little partial to hers, but there are other dinner shows, too.

3 Things to Do Near Gatlinburg for Non-Hiking Days

I always recommend checking out local attractions and even venturing out of town and taking day trips from Gatlinburg on your non-hiking days.

Left: A Man (left) woman (right) and an infant girl (middle) wear winter jackets underneath an arch made of Christmas string lights outdoors. Right: A woman with a multicolored blouse sits on a small train with a young girl wearing a pink blouse.Enjoying holiday lights and sights at The Island (left) and a little train ride with my little one at The Track (right).

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The Island

I’d highly recommend stopping by The Island. It’s great for walking off dinner, checking out fun stores and grabbing dessert.

It’s also got an area with rides for kids, and they have awesome decorations during the holidays.

2. The Track

The Track is great for kids to burn off energy. They’ve got go-karts, mini golf and an arcade for the big kids, plus a carousel, train and small rides for the littles. My daughter enjoys the rides, but I think she likes the arcade prizes the most!

It’s also close to The Island, so it’s easy enough to check out both if you want.

3. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Ripley’s® Aquarium of the Smokies™ is right in the middle of Gatlinburg and makes for a great option if it’s too rainy or chilly for a hike, or if you just want to enjoy something indoors.

Plus, with a walk-through shark tank, penguin area and more, what’s not to love?

A pair of wooden rocking chairs placed on a balcony near a wooden table holding a green wine bottle, and two glasses of wine overlook the Smoky Mountains. The balcony view from a villa at Smoky Mountain Resort.

Thinking of taking a Gatlinburg getaway? Our Smoky Mountain Resort is a great option for a home base.

You’ll enjoy spacious villas with full kitchens (so you can eat home-cooked meals), fun amenities (like waterslides and hot tubs) and you’re only 10 minutes away from some great waterfalls!

I hope my guide to hiking in Gatlinburg (and nearby) helps you plan your trip! With its great trails, yummy restaurants and places to play, there’s so much I love about the Smoky Mountains.

And although I don’t have a return date just yet, I’m thinking my daughter might enjoy some summer tubing down the river through the mountains…


All information is subject to change. This article is a curated guide and is neither sponsored nor considered an official endorsement. Please be sure to check information directly with any/all tours, guides or companies for the most up-to-date and direct details.

Checking In logo

Headshot of Becca Clark

Becca Clark

Becca is a copywriter for Holiday Inn Club Vacations and Smoky Mountain enthusiast. Her first visit was when she was 10 years old and she’s been obsessed ever since. Between family vacations, school trips, a honeymoon road trip and now visiting her parents, she’s lost count of all the times she’s visited the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. And you can most definitely count on her returning again and again.