4 of the Best Trails for Backpacking in the Smoky Mountains

March 20, 2024

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker’s paradise, with more than 800 miles of hiking trails meandering across its terrain. These mountains are full of diverse landscapes that range from open fields to dense forests to crystal-clear streams and spectacular waterfalls. It’s no wonder so many people enjoy exploring the wonders of nature in the Smokies on foot! If you’re looking for an epic overnight hike, check out these best trails for backpacking in the Smoky Mountains.

1. Mount LeConte Via Alum Cave Trail

view from hike along Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConteOne of the most popular hikes for backpacking in the Smoky Mountains is the Alum Cave Trail up to Mount LeConte. This hike is approximately 11 miles from the trailhead to the summit. You will gain just over 3,000 feet of elevation along the way, making this a fairly challenging hike. Some people choose to complete the hike out and back on the same day, but many hikers prefer camping overnight at the backpacking shelter at the top of Mount LeConte. If you want to make this hike a bit longer, you can continue beyond the Mount LeConte Trail Center about 0.8 miles to Myrtle Point. This viewing place offers incredible mountain views and an especially amazing sunrise in the morning.

2. Twentymile Loop

One of the most scenic routes for backpacking in the Smoky Mountains is Twentymile Loop. This hike starts at the Twentymile Ranger Station off Highway 28 near the Tennessee-North Carolina border. After about 4.5 miles you’ll reach the Appalachian Trail at Sassafras Gap. You can camp at Campsite #113 at Birch Spring Gap less than a mile away, or head south on the Appalachian Trail to Shuckstack Fire Tower to catch breathtaking 360-degree views at sunrise or sunset. Then, continue your northward journey on the Appalachian Trail over Doe Knob to the next trail junction where you’ll take Gregory Bald Trail west for just over 3 miles. This bald is known for spectacular flame azalea blooms and stunning views of the mountain landscape. Campsite #12 is near the bald. Finally, make the 6.3-mile descent to the trailhead via the Wolf Ridge Trail. Along this journey you’ll log a total of about 17.6 miles.

3. Big Creek Loop

bridge crossing Big Creek in the Smoky MountainsBig Creek Loop is a great route for backpacking in the Smoky Mountains, covering a total of 21.5 miles. This hike has large elevation gains but is considered one of the most picturesque overnight hiking trails, with two waterfalls, swimming holes, and spots with panoramic mountain views. Your excursion starts with a climb on the Chestnut Branch Trail for 2 miles to the Appalachian Trail. Continue south on the Appalachian Trail 3.3 miles to the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower spur trail. From the fire tower, descend for 2.1 miles to the Low Gap Trail. After 2.5 miles you’ll reach Campsite #37 at the Big Creek Trail junction right on the banks of Big Creek. You can then hike up the Swallow Falls Trail for 4 miles to the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail. From there, it’s another 1.4 miles and more elevation gain to reach Mount Sterling at 5,842 feet. Take the Baxter Creek Trail 6 miles down to Big Creek where you’ll descend another 5 miles back to the campground.

4. Mount Cammerer Via Low Gap Trail

If you’re looking to go backpacking in the Smoky Mountains, you can’t go wrong with a hike to Mount Cammerer via the Low Gap Trail. This hike starts at the Low Gap Trailhead at Cosby Campground and covers about 11.2 miles to the Mount Cammerer Lookout Tower. You’ll gain a total of approximately 3,150 feet of elevation, making this hike a bit challenging. Mountain poles may be helpful on the looser terrain. This hike travels through a beautiful mountain forest and up to a high meadow before reaching the Mount Cammerer Lookout Tower. This tower offers stunning views of the surrounding mountain landscape. Many people choose to spend the night at Cosby Campground and start first thing in the morning to complete the hike in a day before ending back at the campground in the evening.

Hiking Safety Tips

These are just a few of the routes you can take to go backpacking in the Smoky Mountains. Other great backpacking trails include Deep Creek Loop, Forney Creek Loop, Charlie’s Bunion and Kephart Loop, and Shining Rock Mountain. Before you set off on your adventure, make sure you take a look at these hiking safety tips and wildlife safety tips so you can have a safe and successful adventure!