Scenic Drives and Easy Hikes in the Smoky Mountains

View from Newfound Gap Road - image courtesy National Park Service

View from Newfound Gap Road – image courtesy National Park Service

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular park in the nation. With more than 800 miles of trails that lead to waterfalls, stunning vistas, peaceful meadows and a diverse variety of plant and wildlife, the Park offers a vast range of hiking and viewing-point options.

Here are some recommended scenic drives and light day-hiking trips that are easy on the feet and suitable for both young and old. Sneakers can usually be worn on these easy trails, though sensible walking shoes are better, and you should always tread carefully, especially if a trail turns a little rough and muddy.

Other tips for comfort: dress in layers and carry a light jacket with you – the temperatures of some these high locations can be 10-20 degrees cooler than in the lowlands. The trails run through deep forests, high ridge tops, and along gushing streams, and waterfalls – all offering stunning scenic views of the Park.

Taking a Scenic Drive

Always opt to drive to these locations in the early morning when there is little traffic and still some available parking.

  • Newfound Gap Overlook. Drive through the Park along US 441 to take in beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains region. At about 15.5 miles down the route, along Newfound Gap Road, you’ll reach the highest point and cross into North Carolina from Tennessee. This point allows for simply breathtaking views of both states as far as the eye can see.
  • Clingmans Dome. Here at the highest point in the Park, one can see seven states from this observation point if visibility is good. Get off Newfound Gap Road 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap and go down Clingmans Dome Road for seven miles until you reach a large parking lot at the end. From here, it’s a half-mile walk along a paved – but quite steep – path to the observation tower.
  • Carlos Campbell Overlook. Ideal for visitors who are short on time, this viewing point is located just 2-3 miles along Newfound Gap Road. With one of the best scenic and photographable views of the Park and especially of Mt. LeConte, this viewing point is very much worth visiting.

Easy Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Laurel Falls. A highly popular hike among park visitors because of its proximity to Gatlinburg, this paved path spans 2.6 miles and is dubbed the easiest waterfall hike on the Tennessee side of the Park. Laurel Falls reaches a height of 60 feet, and this trails cuts through a beautiful series of cascades.
  • Big Creek / Mouse Creek Falls. This trail for novice hikers is relatively smooth and features a gradual climb of only 580 feet over the two miles it takes to get to 45-foot high Mouse Creek Falls. The Big Creek Trail follows an old railroad built by a logging company in the early 1900s during a logging boom. Improved by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s, the trail is well maintained, a breeze of a trail.
  • Little River Trail. The Little River is a pretty cascading stream with large boulders and several small waterfalls. The trail goes along the stream and gently climbs an old gravel railroad bed. This trail is especially beautiful during the Park’s famous wildflower season of mid-March to April. You’ll see a host of wildflowers simply walking along the path.
  • Porters Creek. This easy hike of 4 miles starts out of Greenbrier, just east of Gatlinburg, and consists of a stroll along a rushing, cascading stream through a lush forest, with structures dating from the early settlement period of the area, and a 50-foot high waterfall known as Fern Branch Falls.
  • Chimneys Picnic Area. Featuring wonderful river views, this is the perfect place for a lazy picnic with friends and family. Chimneys Picnic Area is located on Newfound Gap Road (US-441) approximately 4.5 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.