Spending time outdoors has endless benefits; it encourages healthy living, makes exercise more fun, boosts vitamin D intake and can make you happier overall. As you plan your next vacation, keep these benefits in mind and shake up your travel plans with an outdoor adventure in Gatlinburg, a destination known for its scenic Smoky Mountain landscape and endless opportunities for outdoor exploration.
To inspire you, we’ve rounded up the best trails in Gatlinburg where you can enjoy fresh air and reap the many benefits of the great outdoors. Whether you’re hiking solo, with your friends or with your dog, the trails on our list are conquerable by hikers of all levels year-round. At the end of the day, retreat to a cozy cabin rental in Gatlinburg (FlipKey has more than 2,500!) where you can continue to enjoy the awe-inspiring Smoky Mountains from the comfort of a hot tub or wrap-around deck.
The best trails in Gatlinburg
Alum Cave Trail
The Alum Cave Trail isn’t the steepest or longest trail in Gatlinburg, but its stunning panoramic views and interesting geological features make it a must-visit. Embark from the trailhead on Newfound Gap Road to begin your trek to the summit of Mt. LeConte. Just over a mile in, you’ll find Arch Rock, a prominent landmark and one of the trail’s highlights. Maneuver through this narrow, arched tunnel in order to continue along the Alum Cave Trail.
As the trail steepens, the spectacular views and natural landmarks become even more rewarding. Hike past mountain laurel and rhododendron bushes on the way to Inspiration Point. This is a great spot to catch your breath and take in the views of the rugged valley below. You won’t regret it…
Climb farther up the trail and you’ll reach the namesake: Alum Cave. This landmark is actually a gigantic, concave bluff that dwarfs hikers in size and offers shelter from the elements on less than ideal days. Use caution as you enter the cave if you’re hiking during the winter, though. Icicles frequently drop from the top of the 80-foot bluff and shatter on the surrounding rocks. Upon entering, let the feeling of accomplishment inside you swell as you gaze out over the mountainous landscape.
Why hike this trail? To see out-of-this-world sunrises and sunsets from the top!
Chimney Top Trail
If you’re in good shape or a veteran hiker, don’t let the Chimney Tops Trail intimidate you. The steep two-mile climb and rugged landscape can be managed with a bit of both bravery and caution. Take comfort in knowing that while the Chimney Tops Trail is challenging, it is one of the shorter hikes in Gatlinburg. Phew!
The first section of the trail is easy and pleasingly picturesque. It winds among rhododendrons and mountain laurel past the rushing waters of Road Prong Creek. As you follow the trail and get deeper into the Great Smoky National Park, you’ll cross over wooden bridges and ascend stairs carved into the side of the mountain. After about a mile, you’ll reach the halfway point at the Beech Flats trail junction. Many hikers choose to turn back at this point, but the views at the top are worth forging on for another mile to the summit. Veer to the right to stay on the path toward the Chimney Tops.
The last mile of the trail gains elevation at the same rate as some of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. It climbs over 960 feet until leveling out at a bare rock summit. Here, hikers are rewarded with incredible 360-degree views of Gatlinburg scenery. To the east, Mt. LeConte and Mt. Kephart dominate the landscape, while Sugarland Mountain commands views of the west.
Why hike this trail? You’ll experience a sense of accomplishment from completing this challenging hike that will make you feel on top of the world (literally!).
Beginning at the Sugarland Visitor Center, the Gatlinburg Trail is an easy 3.8-mile out and back hike that winds through a portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail itself is mostly flat and follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River through the landscape. While the park is open year-round, its natural beauty peaks in the autumn months when leaves turn eye-popping shades of red and yellow. If you prefer fewer crowds, bundle up and go for a hike during the winter when you can stop to reflect along the river uninterrupted. Tranquility, found.
If you’re a novice hiker or traveling solo, the Gatlinburg Trail is a great choice because it isn’t too challenging and is rarely empty. It’s also one of only two in the area where your dog can hit the trail at your side.
Why hike this trail? It’s more of a pleasant nature walk (with your dog!) than a vigorous hike.
Grotto Falls Trail
Take a short drive out of Gatlinburg to get to Grotto Falls Trail. Upon entering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, you’ll find a parking area just off of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Set out from the Trillium Gap Trailhead on the opposite road in order to pick up the path leading to Grotto Falls.
A round trip hike to Grotto Falls takes the average hiker about two hours to complete. The trail meanders through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for just over two and a half miles until reaching the cascading Grotto Falls. Large hemlocks shade the worn path all year long, while colorful wildflowers dazzle hikers during the springtime.
As you near the end of the trail, you’ll hear the roar of water as it plunges into a pool. The 25-foot high, Instagram-worthy waterfall is a spectacular site and a cool and shady spot for hikers to take a break. Watch your step while exploring the area surrounding Grotto Falls because it is perpetually wet and slippery. Commemorate your hike with a photo looking through the falls.
Why hike this trail? It’s the only trail in the Smokies where you can take a photo from behind a waterfall.
The best time to hike in Gatlinburg
The best time to go hiking in Gatlinburg depends on preference. If you want the trails to yourself, plan your trip for January or February. The weather isn’t as cold as you might think and many travelers find it preferable to the peak summer heat. Another perk of visiting during the winter is that the bare trees allow for better, unobstructed views.
If colorful natural beauty is what you’re visiting for then visiting during the spring and autumn months is ideal. Springtime brings vibrant wildflowers, lush mountain laurel and all of the trees are heavy with leaves. During autumn, hues of red, yellow and orange brighten up the trees and the fall foliage is phenomenal.
Top rentals near the best trails in Gatlinburg
Whether your group is entirely made up of avid hikers or you simply want to relax, the Bearskin Lodge has something for every traveler. This magnificent cabin comfortably sleeps up to 27 people and is just a short drive from many of the best trails in Gatlinburg.
The Bearskin Lodge also has one-of-a-kind game room that features stand-up arcade games, a pool table and an air hockey table. If you’re too tired from exploring Gatlinburg during the day, cozy up in the home theater room to watch a movie or spread out and make use of all eleven TVs in the cabin. (Yes, you read that correctly!) Creature comforts provided at this Gatlinburg rental include a fully-equipped kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a washer and dryer, wireless internet and so much more.
This cozy cabin rental is less than four miles from the main entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park where travelers will find some of the best trails in Gatlinburg. It is ideal for couples in search of a secluded getaway and travelers who want to have the option of outdoor adventure at their fingertips.
While many log homes offer only the basics, A Smoky Mountain Dream is anything but bare. The cabin features a gas fireplace with beautiful floor-to-ceiling stonework, an outdoor hot tub to soak in after an exhilarating hike and access to resort amenities like a kid-friendly playground and spacious pavilion. Cook dinner in the fully-equipped kitchen or make the short drive to downtown Gatlinburg where you’ll have your pick of great restaurants.
If you’re planning an action-packed vacation exploring the best trails in Gatlinburg, you’ll want to book this brand new cabin as your retreat. It has many of the comforts of home with an upscale kitchen, spa-inspired master bath and total privacy, while its unobstructed views of the Smoky Mountains, four firesplaces and luxurious Jacuzzi tub will keep you in vacation mode. The cabin is located within Bear Foot Mountain resort near the center of Gatlinburg, so many of the city’s top restaurants are at your fingertrips for when you’re in need of a hearty meal after your day of hiking.
Although this cabin is only three miles from downtown Gatlinburg, you’ll feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle when you stay here. Its tranquil setting makes it the perfect place to relax and recharge surrounded by nature. Sit on the porch swing and you’ll hear birds chirp, leaves rustle and water flow as you enjoy the great outdoors.
Offering enough space to comfortably house 10 people, it includes four bedrooms and four bathrooms, a large, fully-equipped kitchen and lots of personal touches that incorporate the local flora and fauna throughout the cabin. During your stay, challenge yourself to find all 140 bears that are creatively blended into the decor of this cabin. We dare you!