13 Short & Easy Hikes in Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountains

Are you looking for some short hikes in Gatlinburg and surrounding areas so you can explore the beautiful outdoors?

With a variety of trails to choose from, ranging from easy to moderate difficulty levels, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, short hikes in Gatlinburg are a great way to get some exercise, take in breathtaking views, and connect with nature.

Some of the most popular hikes in Gatlinburg include Laurel Falls Trail, Clingmans Dome Trail, and Alum Cave Trail. There are easy trails that need to beautiful, picturesque waterfalls. Others provide you with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

No matter which trail you choose, you’re sure to have a memorable experience on your short hike in Gatlinburg.

Why Gatlinburg is Ideal for Short Hikes

Gatlinburg is a popular destination for hiking enthusiasts who are looking for a quick and easy trail. The town is surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which offers a variety of trails for all skill levels. Here are some reasons why Gatlinburg is an ideal destination for short hikes:

  • Accessibility: Gatlinburg is easily accessible from major cities in the Southeast, making it a popular weekend getaway destination.
  • Variety: Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a more challenging hike, Gatlinburg has a trail for you. The town offers a variety of trails that range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.
  • Scenery: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its breathtaking scenery, and Gatlinburg is no exception. The town is surrounded by lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and stunning mountain views. Many of the hiking trails in Gatlinburg offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, making them perfect for nature lovers and photographers.
  • Family-friendly: Short hikes in Gatlinburg are perfect for families with young children or anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors without committing to a full day of hiking. Many of the trails are easy to navigate and offer plenty of opportunities for picnicking and wildlife viewing.

Overall, Gatlinburg is an ideal destination for anyone who wants to experience the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park without committing to a long and strenuous hike.

Top 13 Short Hikes in Gatlinburg

If you’re looking for a quick adventure in Gatlinburg, then you’re in luck. There are plenty of short hikes that offer stunning views of the Smoky Mountains. Listed from shortest to longest, here are the top 13 short hikes in Gatlinburg you don’t want to miss.

1. Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail

As just a mere 0.5 mile loop, the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is the shortest trail in the area. It is likely the most accessible trail in the park as well. Strollers and wheelchairs are welcome on this hike, since it’s paved and relatively flat.

Most can finish this trail in 20-30 minutes, but be sure you enjoy the views while you are walking. You’ll hike along the West Prong Little Pigeon River, and there are plenty of benches for resting. Be sure to look for the chimneys and fences in the short distance, remnants of the Sugarland settlement that lived there long before the park was founded.

2. Elkmont Nature Trail

The Elkmont Nature Trail is a 0.8-mile loop that’s perfect for families with young children or older people that may not be able to handle the more difficult trails in the Smokies. At the trailhead, you can purchase an educational brochure that describes the 13 markers found on the self-guided hike.

Also, be on the lookout for the daffodils blooming during your walk. They are a sign of previous homesites. There aren’t any still standing, but the flowers were planted when people still lived in the area. So, finding the flowers will show you where homes once stood.

3. Cataract Falls

Cataract Falls is a 1.1-mile round trip hike that’s perfect for those who want a quick adventure. The trail is relatively easy for children and older people. There is a bit of different terrain, featuring pavement as well as packed dirt. It can be a bit muddy after a good rain, so note that as you plan your trip.

The hike ends at a small 25-foot waterfall. It’s not the most spectacular waterfall in the Smokies, but it’s a beautiful site that’s well worth the short hike.

Clingmans Dome Lookout
Clingmans Dome | Credit: Evan Nichols, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Clingmans Dome Lookout

As the highest point in all of the national park, Clingmans Dome is a must-see for anyone visiting Gatlinburg. The hike is 1.2 miles roundtrip, but it’s steep, so be prepared for a workout. The trail is paved so any footwear will do for the hike. Once you reach the lookout, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

The parking lot for Clingmans Dome is small and fills up fairly quickly. Be prepared to drive around waiting for a spot. You can also get some stunning views of the park from the lot itself – make sure you don’t miss these before or after your hike!

Laurel Falls Hiking Trail in Gatlinburg

5. Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is probably because it’s one of the shortest hikes in Gatlinburg that features a stunning 80-foot waterfall at the end.

The 2.4-mile paved hike is mostly flat and relatively easy, making it suitable for children. There are a few bumps and cracks along the walk, so strollers and wheelchairs are not advised. Plan your hike to Laurel Falls early in the morning or late in the evening, around 5pm, as this is a very crowded trail during the day.

Grotto Falls in Gatlinburg

6. Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls is a 2.6-mile round trip hike that’s perfect for most hikers of all ages. You’ll begin at the Trillium Gap Trailhead, which is just off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The most interesting fact about this trail is that it runs BEHIND the waterfall, the only trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National park that does this!

The round trip takes about 2-3 hours, but you may want to slow down and enjoy the picturesque views along the way. It’s a popular trail, so you may need to be patient if you want good photos with no one else in them.

7. Little Brier Gap Trail

Little Brier Gap Trail is an easy 2.6-mile hike rich with history and natural beauty. The trail offers beautiful flowers and the occasional wildlife, but it is best known as the route to the Walker Sisters Cabin, a quaint home shared by five sisters who refused to leave as the national park was being created. Instead, they were granted a lifetime lease and got to live out their days in their childhood log cabin.

The trailhead begins at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse, which was built by the sisters’ father, John Walker, and their brothers in 1881 and doubled as a baptist church until 1925. Though this trail doesn’t offer the spectacular mountain views that several other short hikes do, the rich history is something you shouldn’t miss!

Baskins Creek Falls in Gatlinburg
Baskins Creek Falls | Credit: ZachN 0421, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

8. Baskins Creek Falls

The hike to Baskins Creek Falls is 3.1-mile roundtrip and perfect for those who want to escape the crowds. It’s one of the less trafficked trails and most would rate it as an easy to moderate hike.

The trail starts off easy, but the you do have to cross the Falls branch without a bridge. Depending on the recent weather, this may not be the easiest feat. There are also some steeps paths on the trail down to the waterfall, so make sure you wear shoes with good traction.

After you’ve taken in Baskin Falls, be sure to take the turnoff for the old cemetery too.

Andrews Bald Hiking Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

9. Andrews Bald Trail

A longer hiking option that begins at the Clingmans Dome parking lot, the Andrews Bald Trail is a 3.5 mile round trip hike that offers beautiful views of the park and North Carolina mountains once you reach the end. The trek in is mostly downhill, which can make for a more moderate hike on the way out.

Chimney Tops a short hike in Gatlinburg

10. Chimney Tops Trail

The Chimney Tops Trail is a 3.6-mile round trip hike that’s perfect for those who want a challenge. The trail is steep and strenuous, but the views at the top are worth it. Due to a wildfire in 2016, you can no longer climb to the actual summit. However, there was a new overlook built that still offers fascinating views of Mount Le Conte and the pinnacles, which makes the strenuous hike well worth it.

You’ll find the trailhead for Chimney Tops Trail off Newfound Gap Road. After your hike, you can enjoy lunch at the Chimney Picnic Area, a well-maintained attraction which is another 2.4 miles from the trailhead.

Gatlinburg Trail

11. Gatlinburg Trail

The Gatlinburg Trail is a 3.8-mile round trip hike that’s perfect for families, making it another of the best short hikes in Gatlinburg. It’s one of only two trails in the park that allow leashed dogs and bicycles. You can start this hike near stop light #10 on River Road just outside downtown Gatlinburg, or at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

This trail is relatively flat and features stunning views of the surrounding mountains. You’ll also be able to see the river, which you cross once with a pedestrian bridge.

12. Twin Creeks Trail

The Twin Creeks Trail is a 4.5-mile round trip hike that’s super close to Gatlinburg while offering the natural beauty of the Smokies. There’s nothing too outstanding at the “end” of this hike but it’s a great option for families or those pressed for time.

During your walk you’ll see some history in the Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin, built in the 1880s. In the spring, you will also spot gorgeous wildflowers blooming. An October hike, on the other hand, will allow you to see the fall foliage. There will also be a few creeks to cross along the way.

Little River Trail one of the short hikes in Gatlinburg

13. Little River Trail

Though the Little River Trail spans a total of 7.6 miles roundtrip, there is no specific “end point” so you can make this hike as short as you want it. Most hikers choose to turn around that the Cucumber Gap Trail junction, which makes the total walk just 4.9 miles.

Little River Trail extends alongside an old logging road used in the early 1900s. You will still spot some old railroad rails and cables along the way. You’ll be following the Little River, which offers stunning views and great photo opporunities. About 2 miles in, you’ll see the Huskey Branch Falls, a small 20-foot waterfall you can cross to continue.

Related Reading: 11 Top Places to Get the Best Pizza in Gatlinburg, TN

Safety Tips for Hiking in Gatlinburg

When you’re hiking in Gatlinburg, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe on your short hikes:

Be Prepared

Before you hit the trail, make sure you’re prepared for the hike. This means wearing appropriate clothing and footwear, bringing plenty of water, and packing a few snacks. You should also bring a map of the area and a compass, and make sure you know how to use them.

Know Your Limits

It’s important to know your limits when you’re hiking. If you’re new to hiking, start with shorter trails and work your way up to longer ones. Don’t push yourself too hard, and take breaks when you need to.

Stay on the Trail

When you’re hiking in Gatlinburg, it’s important to stay on the trail. Going off the trail can be dangerous, and it can also damage the environment. Stick to the marked trail, and don’t take shortcuts.

Be Aware of Wildlife

Gatlinburg is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears. If you encounter wildlife on the trail, give them plenty of space. Don’t approach them, and don’t try to feed them. Make noise as you hike to alert wildlife of your presence.

Check the Weather

Before you head out on your hike, check the weather forecast. If there’s a chance of thunderstorms, it’s best to stay off the trail. Lightning can be dangerous, especially if you’re on a high elevation trail.

Hike with a Buddy

It’s always a good idea to hike with a buddy. Not only is it more fun, but it’s also safer. If you get lost or injured on the trail, you’ll have someone there to help you. Plus, hiking with a buddy can help motivate you to keep going.

Essential Items to Pack

When planning a short hike in Gatlinburg, it is important to pack the essentials to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some items that you should consider bringing with you:

Comfortable Clothing

Wearing comfortable clothing is essential for a successful hike. Choose clothing that is lightweight, breathable, and allows for ease of movement. Depending on the time of year, you may also need to pack extra layers, especially if you plan on hiking in higher elevations.

A lightweight jacket with a hood can help combat wind and chilly air. Don’t forget to pack a hat (waterproof is ideal), gloves, and a lightweight scarf, which can be easily stored away in your pack without adding much extra weight.

Hiking Shoes

Investing in a good pair of hiking shoes is crucial for a comfortable and safe hike. Choose shoes that are sturdy, comfortable, and provide good traction. Avoid wearing sandals or flip flops, as they do not provide adequate support and can lead to injury.

Water and Snacks

Staying hydrated and fueled is important during a hike. Pack plenty of water, at least 2 liters per person, and bring snacks that are easy to carry and provide energy, such as trail mix, energy bars, or fruit.

Navigation Tools

Even if you plan on hiking a short trail, it is important to bring navigation tools with you, such as a map, compass, or GPS device. Make sure you are familiar with how to use these tools before you begin your hike.

First Aid Kit

Accidents can happen, so it’s important to pack a basic first aid kit. Include items such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, gauze, and pain relievers.

Sun Protection

Protecting your skin from the sun is important, even on a short hike. Pack sunscreen with a high SPF, sunglasses, and a hat to protect your face and eyes from harmful UV rays.

By packing these essential items, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable short hike in Gatlinburg.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest hike to a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains?

The easiest hike to a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains is the Laurel Falls Trail. This trail is a 2.6-mile round trip hike that is paved and has a gradual incline. The trail leads to the beautiful 80-foot Laurel Falls, which is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Smokies.

What is the shortest trail to the waterfall in the Smoky Mountains?

The shortest trail to a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains is the Laurel Falls Trail. This trail is a 2.4-mile round trip hike that leads to the beautiful Laurel Falls. The trail is relatively easy and is suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

What are some easy waterfall hikes in Gatlinburg?

There are several easy waterfall hikes in Gatlinburg, including the Cataract Falls Trail, which is a 1.1-mile round trip hike that leads to a beautiful waterfall. Another easy waterfall hike is the Laurel Falls Trail, which is a 2.4-mile round trip hike that leads to a stunning 80-foot waterfall. Both of these hikes are suitable for hikers of all skill levels and offer beautiful views of the Smokies.

Final Thoughts

Each of these short hikes in Gatlinburg are recommended for those seeing to get out of the town and into nature. Explore beautiful trails and experience the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced hiker, there are plenty of trails to choose from in Gatlinburg.

If you have more time, consider exploring some of the longer trails in the area. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers over 800 miles of hiking trails, so there is always something new to discover.

Before you leave, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. The stunning views, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls are truly a sight to behold. You have experienced a small part of what makes Gatlinburg such a special place. We hope you enjoyed your short hikes in Gatlinburg and come back to explore more of the area soon!

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