Last Updated on August 30, 2023 by Maggie McKneely
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to some fantastic hiking trails! Here’s a shortlist of the best hikes near Pigeon Forge, TN, the Gateway to the Smokies.
Awesome Hikes Near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Pigeon Forge is one of the most popular vacation spots in the United States. It’s got a little bit of everything for everybody – waterparks and adventure parks for the kiddos, distilleries and wineries for the adults, and let’s not forget Dollywood! It’s a hub of entertainment, but it’s not a place you’ll find much peace and quiet.
For that, you need only go a few miles east to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There you’ll find gushing waterfalls, vibrant, lush ancient forests, and one of the most diverse collections of wildflowers in the country – and not a tacky tourist attraction in sight. To explore the park, there are over 850 miles of hiking trails to choose from. It’s the perfect activity to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Pigeon Forge.
With so many trails to choose from, it was impossible for me to check them all out on my recent trip to the Smokies. So I asked some fellow travel bloggers to give their recommendations for the best hikes near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
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Where to Stay
But first: if you’re planning a hiking trip to the Smokies, you’ll need somewhere to stay! For lower budget or my rustic options, there are a number of excellent campgrounds near Pigeon Forge. If camping isn’t your thing, there are also lots of cute places to stay in either Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg – cozy cabins, mountain retreats, and even apartments right downtown.
5 Awesome Hikes Near Pigeon Forge
Charlie’s Bunion is one of the best hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a great choice for a day-hike from Pigeon Forge.
The highlight of this hike is a scramble onto a jagged rock face with 180-degree views. You’ll walk through prime wildflower habitat. If you keep your eyes peeled, you have a good chance of spotting some of the park’s rare species of salamanders. And you’ll pass an epic northern ridgeline view.
The hike starts from Newfound Gap. It climbs three miles to Icewater Springs Shelter, which is a good spot to take a break and soak in the view. You can see the entire Sawteeth ridgeline — the most remote part of the park — from just outside the shelter.
The last mile to Charlie’s Bunion is a steep, rocky descent. A wood sign marks the side trail to the viewpoint. Be very careful on the rocks and keep a close eye on children.
The hike totals just over 8 miles with 1,600 feet of elevation gain. The park gives it a “strenuous” rating but I’d characterize it as “moderate” if you’re an experienced hiker. It’s suitable for families with kids over 10 years old.
For safety, wear close-toed shoes with good traction (this list of outdoor gifts has several great options). This is the most crowded hike on the ridge in the Smokies — avoid visiting during peak hours (10 am to 2 pm) and don’t try to pass other people on the ledges. Additionally, this is an extremely dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm — if the weather looks questionable, don’t even think about attempting this hike.
Contributed by Carrie Mann from Trains, Planes, and Tuk Tuks
One of the most popular hikes near Pigeon Forge is the Laurel Falls trail, and for good reason. The 80ft. waterfall is both beautiful and relatively easy to get to.
The trail was originally built in the 1930s to provide fire crews with access to the Cades Cove area. By the 1960s, it had become a popular hiking destination and the trail had begun to erode. To prevent any further damage, the trail was paved, and today it’s one of only 3 paved trails in the entire park. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy hike, though – the trail is cracked and washed away in some places, and it is certainly not handicapped-friendly.
The 2.5-mile trail takes hikers through lush rhododendron and mountain laurel groves as it winds away from the main road and into the mountains. Just before the falls, the trail crosses a narrow wooden bridge before reaching the base of the upper falls; the lower falls continue on beneath the trail.
The trailhead is located 3.5 miles from the Sugarland Visitors Center on Cades Cove Road. Parking is limited and this hike is VERY popular, so plan to get there early or on a weekday (this also makes a good cloudy/misty day hike!) Another note is that there are steep drop-offs along the trail, and the rocks around the waterfall are slippery. If you do this hike with kids, be sure to keep an eye on them!
The Grotto Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a 2.6-mile hiking trail located on the outskirts of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s an easy-to-moderate hike that features 585 feet of slow elevation gain and countless waterfalls along the Roaring Fork River, making it one of the best hikes near Pigeon Forge.
It’s situated off the pristine Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which is an 8-mile one-way driving trail that features some of the best scenery inside the national park. Even though it’s inside the national park, there’s no entrance fee to visit Grotto Falls.
But you’ll still want to arrive at the trailhead early because it’s one of the most popular trails in the park and it gets extremely crowded on weekends by 10 a.m. Once you complete the relatively easy 1.3-mile hike to Grotto Falls, you’ll be surprised to find that you can actually walk behind the falls.
You may also be surprised by the sounds of the roaring falls downstream of Grotto — and you may be enamored to find some of these waterfalls can hold their own against Grotto. After you check out Grotto Falls, make your way downstream to catch a glimpse at the four or five unnamed falls that cascade over moss-covered rocks.
Keep your eyes peeled while on the trail because you might get a two-for-one experience. The nearby Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which is at the trailhead of Grotto Falls, is also known as being one of the best spots in the park to see black bears.
Contributed by Jarrod Heil from Ramble Around the World
There are many, many waterfalls in the Smokies, but Abram Falls is particularly spectacular and the trek there is easily one of the best hikes near Pigeon Forge.
Along the Cades Cove loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find a little gravel road that leads to a large parking area at the trailhead for Abram Falls. When visiting the Falls be sure to prepare for lots of traffic and check when the Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motor vehicles. Though the trail is only 4.8 miles down the loop, it could take you an hour or more once you get into Cades Cove.
The trail weaves 5.2 miles through the woods while you rise and fall with the rocky ridges. You’ll also follow Abrams Creek for a bit on the trail. The hike is labeled as moderate but it is completely worth it once you see this gorgeous natural wonder.
Abrams Falls is the largest waterfall by volume in the Smokies and it comes as no surprise once you see it for yourself. Be careful at the base of the falls if you choose to swim because strong currents have claimed a few lives. The large rocks and tree roots around the pool at the base of the Falls make for a perfect picnic destination.
Another word of caution – weather changes quickly in the Smoky Mountains. Take it from me. My sister and I did this hike in July and were caught in a surprise thunderstorm. We were soaked to the bone. Be sure to check the weather and bring your rain gear just in case!
Contributed by Anna Cook from Stuck on the Go
Hiking to the summit of Clingmans Dome is a must-do when visiting the Smokies. At 6,643ft, Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains, yet the hike to the top is one of the easiest in the park and very family-friendly, making it one of the best hikes near Pigeon Forge. After all, there’s a paved road that goes almost to the summit, and from there it’s just a short 0.5 miles jaunt the rest of the way.
If you’re an avid hiker, this isn’t exactly a “hike” – the trail is paved and only a half-mile from the parking lot. But if you’re more of a “sit in the car and watch the trees go by” sort of tourist, don’t think that this is a simple walk to a pretty overlook – the trail is only a half-mile, but it’s straight up the whole way, right from the very beginning.
Along the way, there are meadows filled with bee balm, coneflower, and other wildflowers that only grow here because of the high altitude. Just before you reach the summit, you’ll cross the Appalachian Trail, that famous 2,200-mile trek that goes from Georgia to Maine. It’s here at Clingmans Dome that the trail reaches its highest elevation.
At the summit is the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower. Built in 1959, the concrete tower provides a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains.
Things to keep in mind: the summit of Clingmans Dome is almost 2,000ft higher than the valley, so bring a jacket and be prepared for changeable weather. Also, though the trail is paved, it is not wheelchair accessible.
Next time you’re visiting the Smokies, make sure to check out one of these excellent hikes near Pigeon Forge! If you have any questions or other recommendations, let me know in the comments.
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