The majestic hiking trails that stretch deep into the lush forests of the Great Smoky Mountains get all the attention, but not everyone wants to spend a whole day hiking just to get close to nature. The Quiet Walkways of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the unsung heroes for those who are looking for a more casual trail experience, and they prove that humble doesn’t have to mean boring.
What are the Quiet Walkways of the Smokies?
Most visitors are at least somewhat familiar with the plethora of hiking trails and nature trails that dot the landscape of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but fewer people are aware of the Quiet Walkways that are available as well. These spots are short paths that are accessible from many of the prominent roads that travel throughout the park. They’re easy to miss – most people drive right by – but if you take the time to explore a few you can get a great sense of what it’s like to be deep in the Smoky Mountain wilderness, without having to endure a strenuous hike.
Most of the Quiet Walkways are approximately 1/4-mile to 1/2 mile in length, and they are designed to be easy walks that are perfect for stretching your legs for a few minutes, and immersing yourself in the serenity of the landscape. They are marked by inconspicuous signposts labeled “Quiet Walkway” that direct you to turn off the main road at various spots, where there is typically a small (1-2 car) parking area that leads to the walkways themselves. You don’t need a backpack or hiking boots (although sturdy footwear is recommended) to explore these hidden gems, so feel free to stop in whenever you see one of the signs.
There are around 14 of these special walks in the park. Each one is unique, and they are scattered throughout various areas of the park, making them easily accessible no matter where you are located. The Quiet Walkways of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are a great way to see some of the distinctive beauty of the region up close, whether or not you are an experienced hiker.
Quiet Walkways between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Cades Cove
On several of the roads that wind between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Cades Cove on the Tennessee side of the park, you’ll find serene Quiet Walkways that you can explore at your leisure. Most of the walkways in this region are located off of either Little River Road or Laurel Creek Road, although there are a couple of others in various spots.
Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway
If you’re heading out west and you are up for a longer walk, Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway is a fantastic option. It is located near the town of Townsend TN, and it provides some beautiful river scenery. This walkway is 1.4 miles total out and back, but it is suitable for all skill levels.
Quiet Walkways off U.S. Highway 441
U.S. Highway 441 cuts all the way through the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and you can stop at several of the Quiet Walkways on it even if you’re just driving through. You can find four of them on the Tennessee side of the highway, between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Newfound Gap, which is near the Tennessee/North Carolina border. An additional five are accessible between there and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, on the way down to Cherokee, NC.