With over 12.5 million visitors in 2019, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the United States. Nestled right on the edge of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, the area offers plenty of opportunities to see the beautiful region through many different activities including some of the best family hikes.
With over 850 miles of trails throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, hiking continues to be one of our family’s favorite ways to explore the region. So if you are setting out to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains with your family, be sure to check out some of our favorite kid-friendly hikes!
Hiking with Kids
First things first, let’s talk about safety! As with any outdoor family adventure, the most important thing is to keep everyone safe at all times!
Whether you are new to hiking with kids or not, it never hurts to brush up on some tips of How to Keep Your Kids Safe on a Hike.
And as with many National Parks, you often will be in bear country, so be sure to talk to your kids about Bear Safety while they are out on the trail.
Make sure you take time to pack your backpack with all of the necessities that you need for your hike. Having the right gear on the trail can make a big difference for the kids! Consider investing in some of our favorite Hiking Gear for Kids to help kids enjoy the experience!
And more than anything, make sure you have plenty of snacks and water before you head out! There are plenty of Kid-Friendly Snack ideas out there to keep your whole family happy on the trail!
Tips and Tricks
While hiking with the family will always have its challenges, we have all found different tips and tricks that work along the way. Be sure to read our Best Hiking Hacks for Families if you need some extra inspiration!
As with most kids, they usually appreciate a hike more when you have an end point with something that they are looking forward to seeing at the end of the hike.
All of the hikes covered below either end at a waterfall or a tower that offers beautiful panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains, which kids typically LOVE!
Best Family Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains
While there are a ton of hiking trails to choose from, here are our top choices for kid-friendly hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains! (And as always, you know your family best, so do keep in mind your own family’s abilities before attempting any hikes!)
Look Rock Tower
- Round Trip Length: 1 mile (approx.)
- Location: On the Foothills Parkway (near Townsend, TN)
Although some consider the Look Rock Tower trail more of a walk than a hike, it’s a great start for beginners of all ages! There is a fun observation tower (watch the kiddos closely!) at the end that offers beautiful panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
It is a little more off the beaten path and is typically not crowded. You can also go drive the “Missing Link” of the Foothills Parkway right around the corner, which offers more amazing views of the Great Smoky Mountains!
- Round Trip Length: 1 mile
- Location: Off of U.S. Highway 441 (Between Gatlinburg, TN & Cherokee, NC)
Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 ft. Although this is only a 1 mile round-trip trek, the paved trail is on a fairly steep incline.
Allow about 30 minutes to get to the top with little ones as they will most likely want to stop and take a break along the way! The Clingman’s Dome tower at the end of the trail offers gorgeous panoramic views of the mountains.
The Visitor Center at Clingman’s Dome is also a great place to stop in and pick up some additional information about the area. Be sure to allow plenty of time for parking as this is one of the most visited places in the park and definitely gets congested at times.
Go earlier in the day and on a weekday if at all possible to avoid crowds. Also be sure to check road closures as the Clingman’s Dome Road is closed during winter months.
- Round Trip Length: 1 mile (approx.)
- Location: Sugarlands Visitor Center (near Gatlinburg, TN)
The trailhead for Cataract Falls is conveniently located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg. This a great stop if this is your first time visiting the Great Smoky Mountains! There is a great museum area and even a short film that you can watch inside the visitor’s center, as well as pick up some maps and chat with a park ranger.
The short trek on the Fighting Creek Nature Trail offers plenty of opportunities to learn about native plants and trees with posted signs along the way. The hike itself is relatively flat and short which is perfect if short on time or with kiddos in tow.
This can be a more congested area at times so plan accordingly!
Spruce Flats Falls
- Round Trip Length: 2 miles
- Location: Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont (near Townsend, TN)
Spruce Flats Falls is actually one of the lesser known hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains because it isn’t technically on the official park map. This trail is easily accessible from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and offers a beautiful up-close look at the 30 ft Spruce Flats Falls.
Even though it’s a relatively short hike, it is considered more moderate because of some of the inclines and the amount of rocks and roots on the trail.
Deep Creek Waterfalls Loop
- Round Trip Length: 2.2 miles
- Location: Deep Creek Campground and Picnic Area (near Bryson City, NC)
The Deep Creek waterfalls hike may be one of our favorite trails of all time. Three waterfalls in a short distance…score!
This area is definitely more off the beaten path for most since it is in the lesser visited part of the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. However from the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg, it is only about 1 hr 15 min to this trailhead.
Once on the trail, you will only hike 0.2 miles to the first waterfall, Tom Branch Falls. Continue on for another 0.6 miles (0.8 miles total from the trailhead) to Indian Creek Falls. On your way back you can take a slight detour to see a third waterfall, Juney Whank Falls which is only 0.3 miles back to the parking lot.
- Round Trip Length: 2.3 miles
- Location: Off of Little River Road near Sugarlands Visitor Center (near Gatlinburg, TN)
Laurel Falls is probably considered the most popular hiking trail in all of the Great Smoky Mountains. It is conveniently located between Gatlinburg and Townsend and is an easy to moderate hike for families with kids of all ages.
Laurel Falls is a beautiful 80 ft high waterfall that is worth the short 2.3 miles round-trip trek. Due to the popularity of this hike, the parking lot gets very congested so try to get there earlier in the day if you can!
And while you are in that area, be sure to take some time to explore the Elkmont Historic District if you have extra time!
- Round Trip Length: 2.6 miles
- Location: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (near Gatlinburg, TN)
Grotto Falls is a 25 foot high waterfall that can be accessed from the Trillium Gap Trail off of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This hike is considered more moderate and typically takes about 2-3 hours.
This is always a favorite for kids because they can actually walk BEHIND the waterfall! Be prepared for congested parking during peak seasons as this is a very popular area. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a beautiful drive in and of itself so be sure to take time to enjoy the drive as well.
Be sure to double check road closures as this road is closed for several months during the winter.
Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls
- Round Trip Length: 4 miles
- Location: Greenbrier area (near Gatlinburg, TN)
Located right outside of Gatlinburg, the Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains is a beautiful area to explore! The Porters Creek Trail offers a little bit of everything.
The remnants of an old farmstead from the early 1900’s (with a barn and cabin!) is always fun to explore in the Smokies. And the long (and narrow!) footbridge that crosses the river is one of the unique features of the trail. At about 2 miles into the hike, you will come to 40-foot Fern Branch Falls!
While there are plenty of sights to see in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, these hikes are only a small reflection of the many ways to experience the park with your family!
No matter how you choose to enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains on your visit, be sure to give at least one of these hikes a try! Happy trails!
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