12 Easy Short Hikes Near Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains

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Are you planning a trip to Gatlinburg and want to see the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park without committing to an all-day trek? If so, consider including these short hikes into your travel plans to experience the park’s breathtaking landscapes and diverse ecosystems in just a few hours.

Gatlinburg, located at the doorstep of the national park, is an ideal starting point for various short hikes that cater to a range of skill levels and preferences. These short hikes are all less than 5 miles long and have a beautiful location to see, such as a waterfall, a mountain view, or a historic site. 

Whether you’re a solo adventurer, a family vacation, or a romantic getaway, Gatlinburg has the perfect short hikes for all skill levels. In this guide, we’ll explore the 12 best short hikes near Gatlinburg that you should try!

Recommended: Is Gatlinburg a Walkable Town?

Trip map created using Wanderlog, a road trip planner app on iOS and Android

When is the best time to visit Hikes in Gatlinburg?

The best time to visit short hikes near Gatlinburg depends on your personal preferences and plans. However, October is the best month to visit these short hikes. Nights can be cold, so bring warm clothes. From September to mid-November, the weather is cool with crisp air.

In September, the temperature is around 70-80 ºF; in November, it drops to 50-60 ºF. Autumn is dry, making it great for hiking. The Middle Prong Trail in Tremont and Alum Cave Trail are two popular hikes to visit in the fall. 

Spring, in March or April, is the least crowded time. Some of the best trails to visit during Spring are Cades Cove, Clingman’s Dome, and Alum Cave Trail. Spring is also the perfect time to see waterfalls due to elevated flow volume. Abrams Falls, Ramsey Cascades, and Rainbow Falls look incredibly amazing during this time.

Summer is hot and humid, with temperatures around 90ºF in July and August. It is the best time to enjoy outdoor activities like horseback riding, water rafting, ziplining, and more. 

Winters are mild, and snow may fall, especially in higher elevations. Cades Cove and Gatlinburg are not too cold, and there isn’t much snow. The snowiest months are January and February, especially in high places like Newfound Gap, Clingman’s Dome, and Mt. LeConte.

Some roads, such as the Roaring Fork Motor Trail and Clingmans Dome Road, are closed during the winter. So if you plan to drive in the winter, check the road conditions. Weekdays are usually less crowded than weekends, so plan accordingly.

Best Short Hikes in Gatlinburg

Here are some of the best short hikes in Gatlinburg that you must explore!

Gatlinburg Trail

Roundtrip distance: 1.9 miles
Estimated Time Commitment: 1-2 hours

Begin your adventure at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From here, embark on the Gatlinburg Trail, an easy 1.9-mile roundtrip hike that meanders along the west prong of the Little Pigeon River. It’s an easy trail that takes about 1 hour and 17 minutes on average. Many people hike, bike, and run here, so you’ll probably see others around. 

The trail is open all year and looks beautiful no matter when you visit. You can bring your dog, but make sure they are on a leash. This paved trail offers a gentle introduction to the park’s wonders, making it suitable for families with small children or those seeking a leisurely stroll.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

I, Brian Stansberry, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Roundtrip distance: 5.5 miles
Estimated Time Commitment: 3-4 hours

For a slightly more challenging but still accessible hike, explore the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This 5.5-mile loop takes you through dense forests, past historic buildings, and alongside the rushing Roaring Fork Creek. The elevation gain provides a moderate workout, rewarding hikers with stunning views and the opportunity to spot black bears. 

Before going on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, stop by the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail. There, you can take a walk through the surrounding forest and an original mountain farm. You’ll see cool things like the Ogle’s handmade wooden plumbing system and a streamside tubmill.

Towards the end of the trail, you’ll see the “Place of a Thousand Drips,” a bunch of small waterfalls woven together to make one beautiful waterfall. The best months to visit are March to November. 

Keep in mind that the trail is not pet-friendly. 

Laurel Falls Trail

Roundtrip distance: 2.6 miles
Estimated Time Commitment: 2 hours

Laurel Falls Trail is one of the most popular short hikes near Gatlinburg, only 8 miles away. The Laurel Falls Trail is a medium-level hike in the Smoky Mountains, and it’s easy to get to. It’s the longest of the four paved trails in the national park. 

Take Little River Road from the Sugarlands Visitor Center towards Cades Cove to get there. Drive 3.5 miles to the trailhead, which has parking on both sides of the road. This 2.6-mile roundtrip paved trail leads to the stunning 80-foot Laurel Falls, making it an ideal family outing.

The paved trail and observation deck make it especially accessible to seniors and people with limited mobility.

Please note: Dogs and bicycles are not allowed on the trail. 

Grotto Falls Trail

Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Roundtrip distance: 2.6 miles
Estimated Time Commitment: 2-3 hours

Explore the Grotto Falls Trail if you’re looking for an easy-to-moderate trail with a beautiful waterfall. This Gatlinburg Trail is 2.6 miles round trip and is located 6 miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

The best and easiest way to reach Grotto Falls Trail is by taking the Trillium Gap Trail, which you can access from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This 25-foot-tall waterfall is the only waterfall in the national park that you can hike to behind! 

Wear sturdy shoes for walking on uneven paths. To get to the streams that lead to Grotto Falls, you’ll walk through a path filled with hemlock trees, wildflowers, and rocky terrain.

The area is shady because of the water rapids and dense forest, making it a cool escape from the summer heat. But watch out! You may encounter wildlife, like salamanders, on the rocks. 

This hike pairs well with the Baskins Falls hike, as both trails are along the Roaring Fork’s gorgeous drive. 

Pets are not allowed. 

Hike to Andrews Bald

Scott Basford, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Roundtrip distance: 1.8 miles
Estimated Time Commitment: 2-3 hours

The Andrews Bald Trail, located just 12 miles from Gatlinburg, is among the top short hikes in the area. Hike 1.8 miles down the Forney Ridge Trail to reach Andrews Bald. The Forney Ridge Trail, located close to the Clingmans Dome Parking area, is a starting point. Bring water, as the Clingmans Dome parking lot doesn’t have drinkable water.

You’ll hike through a shady, forested area until the trees open up to a spectacular view! You’ll arrive at Andrews Bald after a short hike. Andrews Bald was named after Andres Thompson, a livestock herder in the 1840s.

In the Appalachian mountains, there is a “bald area” on a mountain surrounded by forests. It is known for its unique plant life and stunning mountain views.

Going there is easier because it is mostly downhill, but the way back is challenging, mostly uphill. The path is rocky and can get muddy, so wear shoes with good traction.

You’ll hike through a forested area until the trees open up to reveal a breathtaking view! Along the trail, you’ll see Fraser firs, patches of raspberries and blackberries, and Innocence or Quaker Ladies, which are small, blue wildflowers. July is the best time to see them in full bloom.

Walker Sisters Home through Little Brier Gap Trail

Roundtrip distance: 4 miles 
Estimated Time Commitment: 1-2 hours

Take a short 1.5-mile roundtrip hike on the Metcalf Bottoms Trail. The trail is easy, and there is ample parking, a picnic area, restrooms, and a pavilion. It starts at a lovely bridge and takes you through fields of wildflowers. The trail leads to an old cemetery and the historic “Little Greenbrier School.” 

If you’re up for more, you can walk from the school to the famous “Walker Sisters Cabin,” which is about 1.5 miles away. These cabins were built from tulip-poplar logs in the 1870s by John N. Walker, a Civil War veteran.

John and Margaret had 11 children, seven of whom were daughters. Sarah Caroline, one of the sisters, married and left the farm, while the other six stayed on and inherited their father’s land.

Despite the national park being created in 1934, the sisters were allowed to stay under a lifetime lease. For a time, they even welcomed park visitors to their cabin, “Five Sisters Cove.”

Private Wildlife Tour in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is the only private tour completely focused on finding and observing wildlife. Your guide is a wildlife expert with nearly 30 years’ experience and will teach you in-depth knowledge about the animals and their behaviors.

By the late 1960s, all the sisters had passed away. Still, their cabin is a testament to their family’s enduring presence and symbolizes the pioneer communities that once thrived in the Great Smoky Mountains. 

You can reach this site through two different routes, either via the Little Brier Gap Trail or the Little Greenbrier Trail. Today, you can explore a springhouse, a corn crib, and their cabin.

Sugarland Valleys Nature Trail

Roundtrip distance: 0.5 miles 
Estimated Time Commitment: 10 minutes

The Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is an easy and short trail, just half a mile long. It’s special because it’s made for wheelchairs, and the path is paved, making it easy for everyone. You can locate this trail about half a mile past the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road. 

You’ll see historic homes and a creek running along the trail as you walk. Many people enjoy running and walking on this trail, but you can also find quiet times during the day. Pick up a brochure for a guided tour that will provide insights into the Smokies’ history, flora, and fauna. The trail is open all year and looks beautiful anytime you visit. 

Fighting Creek Nature Trail

Roundtrip distance: 1.2 miles 
Estimated Time Commitment: less than an hour 

Fighting Creek Nature Trail is a short and easy walk, only 10 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. Start your search for it near Gatlinburg at the Sugarlands Visitors Center. To start the Fighting Creek Nature Trail, look for the “Nature Trail” sign between two buildings, take the paved path into the woods, and then take the unpaved trail on the left. It’s a quiet and easy loop, even though it’s close to town. You can pick up a guide at the beginning to learn about the area’s history and landscapes. As you walk, you’ll see some old cabins along the trail. 

If you have more time, you can walk a bit further to see the beautiful Cataract Falls. Enjoy a quick and interesting nature stroll!

Elkmont Nature Trail

Roundtrip distance: 0.8 miles 
Estimated Time Commitment: 1-2 hours

If you’re looking for a simple and short hike in the Great Smoky Mountains, explore the 0.8-mile loop Elkmont Nature Trail. It’s usually an easy walk, taking about 20 minutes on average to complete. This trail is perfect for families and those who want an easy walk. It’s less than a mile long and is a self-guided nature trail. 

You can learn about the history of the Elkmont area while enjoying the beautiful surroundings. Keep an eye out for interesting features like the troll bridge along the way! You can combine this loop with other trails like Jake’s Creek Trail and Little River Trail to Avent Cabin, all in the same area. The trail is open year-round. 

Clingmans Dome Trail

Scott Basford, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Roundtrip distance: 1 mile 
Estimated Time Commitment: 1 hour

Clingmans Dome Trail is a short, paved path leading to the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, reaching 6,625 feet in elevation. The highlight of the trail is the iconic observation tower at the peak of Clingmans Dome. The tower offers panoramic views that extend up to 100 miles on clear days.

The trail is well-known for its outstanding views, making it one of the best short hikes near Gatlinburg. However, due to its popularity, the parking lot can get crowded. You must arrive early to secure a parking spot and enjoy the serene morning atmosphere.

The paved trail provides accessibility for various footwear, and the concrete structure at the summit ensures unobstructed views. While the hike is short, it is not necessarily easy due to its steep incline. You can pair this trail with a short hike to Andrews Bald, both starting from the same parking lot. The Clingmans Dome Road is closed to traffic from December to March, so planning a visit during this time may be challenging. 

Abrams Falls Trail

Roundtrip distance: 5 miles 
Estimated Time Commitment: 3 hours

Abrams Falls Trail is a great hike that’s just over 5 miles round trip. It’s one of the best short hiking trails near Gatlinburg. The trail starts at the endpoint of the Cades Cove Loop highway and takes you down to Abrams Creek.

The trail ends at Abrams Falls, a stunning 20-foot waterfall that flows into a large pool. While the pool may look tempting, swimming is not safe here due to the strong currents created by the falls. 

Enjoy the view of the falls from the marked trail, as the mist can make nearby rocks slippery and dangerous. You can appreciate the beauty of Abrams Falls from the designated trail, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience.

After your hike, you can explore the rest of Cades Cove, where you’ll find historic buildings, chances to see wildlife, and more.

Alum Cave Trail

Roundtrip distance: 4.4 miles 
Estimated Time Commitment: 3-4 hours

If you’re up for a bit more of a challenging hike, the Alum Cave Trail is a popular choice. This 4.4-mile roundtrip hike offers a diverse landscape, including unique geological formations like Arch Rock and the iconic Alum Cave Bluffs.

The trailhead is easily accessible from Newfound Gap Road. There are five trail options to reach Mount LeConte, but the most popular is the Alum Cave Trail because of its scenic highlights.

One fantastic thing on the trail is Arch Rock. It’s like a natural tunnel you walk through. The trail is decorated with pretty wildflowers as you go to Alum Cave. About two miles in, there’s a bald spot called “Inspiration Point” with great mountain views.

The main part of the hike is Alum Cave Bluffs. It’s a big cave in the mountain, 80 feet tall and 500 feet long. In winter, there might be icicles, so be careful. After enjoying all the beauty, you can go back down or keep going to the top of Mount LeConte.

The Bottom Line

There you have it, a guide to the best short hikes near Gatlinburg. I hope this list has helped you plan your adventures in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg offers many short hikes to suit all skill levels and interests. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll, a waterfall adventure, or a historical exploration, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has something for everyone. 

If you’ve had the chance to explore these beautiful paths, or if we’ve missed anyone, share your favorite spots with us. Your experiences and recommendations could be valuable for fellow hikers and nature lovers. Happy hiking!


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