A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

May 05, 2023

The Smoky Mountains National Park attracts thousands of visitors each year to hike along the winding trails through the forests and mountains. But if you’re new to hiking or the area in general, knowing where to start can be overwhelming! We’ve got you covered with a beginner’s guide to hiking in the Smoky Mountains:

Decide the purpose of the hike

schoolhouse gap trail

The best way to determine which trail you should try is to think about what you want to see. Waterfalls? Dense forest? High-altitude views? Historic buildings? Hiking in the Smokies is a different experience every time, so you’ll never run out of things to see! Once you’ve decided the purpose, consider the distance you’re willing to go. As a novice hiker, a five-mile roundtrip hike is a great starting point. Always lean to a more conservative distance when in doubt, then go from there!

Decide on a paved trail vs. a non-paved trail

You have lots of options when it comes to hiking in the Smoky Mountains, and that includes going on a paved trail! Two of the most popular are Clingmans Dome and Laurel Falls. Fair warning– both are a little steep, but well worth it! The hike to Clingmans Dome is only 1-mile roundtrip, and with views at one of the tallest points in the park, it’s a must for any hiker! The easiest hike to a waterfall is definitely the trail to Laurel Falls. It’s 2.6 miles roundtrip and features a majestic 80-foot waterfall, and the footbridge at Laurel Falls is one of the best photo opportunities! Beginners and families with kids are guaranteed to love both of these!

There are still plenty of easy, non-paved Smoky Mountain trails to choose from! If you start at Clingmans Dome, you can access the trail to Andrews Bald from the parking lot! This 3.6-mile roundtrip hike has breathtaking mountain views (one of the best for an easy trail) and is known for bluets, a small blue wildflower, sometimes called Innocence or Quaker Ladies. Another tourist favorite is the Little River Trail because it contains a combination of nature views, water access, historic sites, and connections to other trails. This trail is just under 5 miles and is great for observing wildlife. The ghost town of Elkmont is also on the way to this trail; we highly recommend stopping by and exploring that area while you’re close by!

Decide what to bring with you

Gatlinburg TrailNever enter the national park without being prepared, even if you’re just planning to spend a couple of hours there. Essential items to bring include plenty of water and snacks, a first aid kit, and a map. Be sure your cell phone is fully charged, and you’re dressed appropriately for the weather too. Lastly, always apply sunscreen (yes, even when it’s cloudy) and bug spray to deter the pesky bugs!


A couple of safety tips to keep in mind: Remember to tell someone where you’re going, and whenever possible, hike with someone else. Also, be wary of crossing high water. If you’re unsure, it’s best to not cross. Finally, never feed wildlife. Not only does it compromise the safety of us humans, but our food can also often be dangerous to animals.

Interested in learning more about hiking in the Smoky Mountains? Check out these tips for hiking in the Smokies for the first time and start exploring!