Hiking Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. They are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and form part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province. The range is sometimes called the Smoky Mountains and the name is commonly shortened to the Smokies.

The awe-inspiring beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws an estimated 11 million visitors each year, making it the most visited National Park in the United States. Named for the natural haze seen hovering over them, the Great Smoky Mountains, or “Smokies” as they are often called, are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range and are located between the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.

Home to a biologically diverse ecosystem, the Great Smoky Mountains boasts over 10,000 species of plants and animals (including 100 native tree species). The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only a nature lover’s paradise; it’s also a hiker’s dream. There are over 800 miles of maintained trails ranging from short 30 minute walks to strenuous week-long backpacking hikes. With so many trails to explore, hikers are faced with a very difficult decision-which trail to choose.

Some of the most popular hiking destinations in the Smokies are its beautiful waterfalls, which can be found along almost every stream and river providing refreshing cool breezes and rewarding photo opportunities. Over 2,000 miles of streams wind through the Smoky Mountains, and the waterfalls that adorn them range from small sparkling cascades to large roaring falls. One of the most photogenic is Abrams Falls. Though only 20 feet high, the beauty of its large volume of water and the depth of the pool below it makes up for its small height. Another waterfall hikers don’t want to miss is Mingo Falls. Mingo Falls is actually located just outside the park on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Tumbling an astonishing 120 feet, it’s one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in all of the southern Appalachians.

Other popular hiking destinations in the Smokies are the remnants of its past. A variety of old log homesteads–nearly 80 historical structures–from the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be found throughout the park. These gristmills, churches, houses, barns, and schools have all either been preserved or restored. You can even see demonstrations of historic gardening practices and cornmeal grinding and get a feel for how settlers lived 100 years ago.

Endless scenic views are yet another draw for adventurous hikers. From rocky bluffs overlooking valleys of colorful flowers to natural arches, ancient trees, and seemingly never ending blue mountain vistas, there is so much to be explored and enjoyed when hiking the Great Smoky Mountains.

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