While Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg grew into a tourist mecca over the years with hundreds of attractions – including theme parks, shopping, and restaurants – the Smoky Mountains are, first and foremost, the outdoor adventurer’s paradise! Every visit to the Smokies means new trails, new sights, and another memorable and rewarding hike in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
The best part of hiking in the Smoky Mountains is the long list of views; there is not a trail you can hit where you won’t enjoy serene rivers, gorgeous rock formations, or inspiring heights of rolling mountains! Here are a few of my faves that are great for beginners and the seasoned trekker:
Andrew’s Bald via Forney Ridge Trail
Bring a small blanket for this hike, because you will want to hang out on Andrew’s Bald for hours. Like a scene from The Sound of Music or that field where Belle is singing, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,” during Beauty and the Beast, the climax of this short, peaceful hike opens up to a field, the highest bald in the Smokies, with 360-degree views of the mountains! It only takes 1.8 miles of trail to reach Andrew’s Bald which makes it a great little adventure for families or a romantic picnic opportunity for couples.
The trailhead for Forney Ridge Trail is located at the end of the parking lot for Clingmans Dome, which you should definitely hit up since you are already there! No pups allowed on this trail, but I would suggest packing a picnic or a book to hang out on the bald for a while. The trail is decently easy, and it recently had some reconstruction to help make the 900-foot climb and descent in elevation a little easier!
Alum Cave Trail/Summit of Mt. LeConte
The range in geographical terrain makes this hike one of my absolute must-see treks. Walk along peaceful creeks under the lush green forest canopy before reaching a majestic rock formation, Arch Rock, a little over a mile into the trail. From Arch Rock, the trail opens up to some pretty incredible views like Inspiration Point, where you can see the “Eye of the Needle,” a physical hole in the top of a distant mountain ridge. The roundtrip to Alum Cave Bluff is 4.5 miles and moderately difficult; it’s a great hike if you have older kids.
Alum Cave is the turnaround point; snap pictures of the awesome rock formations and the breathtaking views, eat a snack, and head on back. However, more avid hikers can use Alum Cave as a warm-up to the summit of Mt. LeConte, another mile of hiking and steep in elevation. It’s worth the workout; Mt. LeConte is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi! Leave early in the day to make the roundtrip trek to the summit in one day, because this is an 11-mile hike!
Road markers for Alum Cave Trail can be seen along the road from the Sugarlands Visitor Center driving towards Newfound Gap, where you can park in a lot right at the trailhead. This trail is dog friendly, so book a pet-friendly cabin and enjoy a hiking trip in the Smokies with everyone’s favorite family member!
Perks of Staying In a Smoky Mountain Cabin
Balancing a workout with relaxation completes my dream vacation. Whether it’s a hiking trip with friends or just my better half and me, there are hundreds of cabin options. There is nothing better after a long day of hiking than a soothing soak in the hot tub and then a delicious meal at one of the dozens of restaurant options in downtown Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg! There are 3 good reasons to book a cabin for the perfect hiking trip in the Smoky Mountains:
- You are close to hundreds of trails when you stay in a cabin, and the last thing you will want to do after all those beautiful sights and exercise is sit in a car for hours. You can get to the trails early and then find some hearty eating in downtown Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg after you’ve worked up an appetite!
- Extend your adventure! Don’t go right back home where the stresses of work, school, and chores are waiting for you; stay in the mountains without having to “rough it.”
- Many of our Pigeon Forge, TN Cabins lodgings have extra amenities you may not have at home: indoor pools, hot tubs, pool tables, and Smoky Mountain views! Enjoy a therapeutic soak in the hot tub as the jets massage your tired feet and back after your hike. Watch a movie in the cabin theater room before passing out in your homey bedroom with cozy furnishings…before hitting up new trails the next day.
Every hike is like a new learning experience for me. Whether it is figuring out I need better shoes or that a hydration system would have been nice, I have slowly been stocking up on items that have definitely improved my most recent hikes. You don’t have to learn the hard way, though! After a ton of day hikes and a few overnight trips while section hiking the Appalachian Trail, I am here to lend a little advice! There is no need to drop hundreds of dollars on hiking equipment when you are hiking under 10 miles, but there are a few things that will benefit your feet, knees, and back for a more enjoyable experience that doesn’t end in ice packs. These are the items that are going to help you during these day hikes in the Smokies:
The Right Shoes
I made my first big hike in worn-out Nike running shoes; my legs hurt for days! It is super easy to find affordable hiking shoes, especially in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. If you are working your way up to harder, longer hikes, shoes are your first and best investment!
To Dress Accordingly
You can safely assume I have been rained on before, without the proper rain jacket. Check the weather and prepare for the worst, because it never hurts, (unless you pack an annoyingly heavy jacket in a warm climate.) Rain ponchos are super compact and can cover you and your backpack, so it’s best just to always keep one in your pack!
An Appropriate Backpack
If you are going on the short hike to Andrew’s Bald, a drawstring bag will do! But if you are heading to the summit of Mt. LeConte, you are going to need a better pack. Day hikes do not need a backpack larger than 40 liters, and even that size is playing it extra safe! Your kid’s school backpack is not the smartest move, however. Again, speaking from my experience on the Appalachian Trail with an Adidas tennis backpack…Look up reviews online or talk to someone at your local outfitters shop. Find a pack with good support; my shoulders are SO much happier ever since investing in a backpack with a hip belt!
Take breaks like a pro and rest in a hammock! Some of the best naps I’ve ever taken have been along the trails. I have an Eno, but there are several other great brands and affordable knock-offs, too! (Always check reviews, though!)
This is that magic towel that keeps you cool and soaks up water like something out of Harry Potter. On hot days, this thing is perfect to throw some water on and lay on the back of your neck. They can also dry you off if you decide to stick your feet in a river!
You finally make it to the top of Mt. LeConte and go to take a picture with your phone when you watch, in agony, as your phone has just enough charge to say, “powering down” or give you that sad white apple in the middle of a black screen.
This may seem extra extra, but there are affordable attachments for camera phones that will help your pictures do a little more justice to the incredible beauty of the Smoky Mountains!
My Usual Pack List for Day Hikes
- Camelback (filled up)
- Granola Bars
- Phone/Camera Attachment
- Portable Charger
- Frogg Togg
- Extra Shirt and Socks
- Thin Rain Jacket/poncho
You are in the Smoky Mountains where there are a TON of outdoorsy things to do, so naturally, there some great outfitter companies with a range of selections for every level of explorer! These are the current top-rated companies (according to Google and Yelp)!
Nantahala Outdoor Center Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
3275 Wears Valley Rd B
Sevierville, TN 37862
157 Old Mill Avenue
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863