Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee has some spectacular hiking trails, and they include everything from short hikes with beautiful waterfalls to long treks with gorgeous scenery that are perfect for backpackers. The first time I went was a fantastic experience for my friends and me. Below, I’ve listed some of our favorite trails and a little bit about them.
Abrams Falls Trail (2.5 miles to the falls and 2.5 miles back): This hike is a roughly 5-mile hike which will take roughly 3 hours to hike, and it is easy to moderate in difficulty. The best feature is the waterfall, which isn’t very high but the massive amount of water that’s usually running over it more than compensates. I always enjoy going shortly after a rainstorm so it’s even more impressive. The main drawback is that this is a fairly popular trail, so be prepared for other folks lounging in the natural pool with you.
If you would rather go on a very short walk just to see an impressive waterfall, then Mingo Falls might be what you’re look for. It’s only 0.4 miles (just a couple minutes) from the start of the trail and the waterfall itself is about 120 feet, which is pretty spectacular to witness. But personally, I prefer an evening excursion to Abrams Falls.
Chimney Tops (around 2 miles): If you want a relatively short but challenging hike I recommend Chimney Tops, which will take at least two hours because of the steep climb. It’s fairly comparable to Little Devils Stairs in Shenandoah National Park and is a pretty strenuous hike with a rock scramble close to the top. For brief periods, the rock scramble resembles something closer to rock climbing on a sheer cliff, which is immensely fun and challenging and something that I highly recommend. If you’re with a group and some folks would rather not take this hike, there’s a convenient place for them to sit and enjoy the water by a pair of bridges near the parking area.
Welch Ridge Loop (31 miles): Finally, if you’re a backpacker and want to spend a weekend hiking somewhere with a bit more solitude than the rest of the trails, the 31-mile Welch Ridge Loop might be a great place for you. If has a great ridgeline where I’ve seen a couple amazing sunsets. Later on down the trail you can take a short excursion to Lake Fontana, which is absolutely exquisite. The water there is clear and blue and a fantastic place for a refreshing swim. The ineffable experience of hiking through lush forests down to beautiful lake to swim in solitude is absolutely tremendous I’ve also heard of people seeing/feeding wild horses there, but I didn’t notice any the two times I went. Regardless, it’s a gorgeous route with amazing scenery.
So have fun hiking. And don’t forget your water!