Hiking and Biking in the Great Smoky Mountains

If you’re planning on hiking or biking in the Great Smoky Mountains this summer, the Tennessee side of the park offers some wonderful waterfall hikes and bicycle rides for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels. Over 850 miles of trails wind through the national park, that extends through east Tennessee into North Carolina. On the Tennessee side of the park, two easy hikes are the Laurel Falls trail and the Abrams Falls trail. A more challenging hike leads to Ramsey Cascades. Biking is allowed on all paved roads within the park, though cyclists must steer clear of the off-road trails. For those who wish to tour the Smokies on a bike, the Cades Cove Loop Road is popular choice.

Waterfall Hikes

Laurel Falls
Location: Trailhead off Little River Road at Fighting Creek Gap.
Distance to Falls: 1.5 miles
Rated – Easy to Moderate Hike (Though paved, much of the walk winds uphill).

One of the most popular hikes trails in the park is Laurel Falls. A paved trail leads you 1.5 miles through the mountain forest to the falls. Although the paved trail makes the hiking easy, the trail does climb upward through a forest of pine trees, mountain laurel and dogwoods. There are resting spots along the trail to this 75 foot cascading waterfall. This trail is very busy, especially on weekends and during the summer and fall when visits to the park are at a peak. Some parking is available at the base of the trailhead.

Abrams Falls
Location: Trailhead at western end of Cades Cove
Distance to Falls: 2.5 miles
Rated – Easy Hike

The Abrams Falls trail is located in Cades Cove. There is a designated parking area near the trailhead. This five mile round trip hike is fairly flat. You can easily navigate the winding trail that leads to Abrams Falls — a 20 foot high waterfall cascading into a broad pool. Although Abrams Falls is not very high, the volume of water that cascades makes quite a show.

Ramsey Cascades
Location: Trailhead off Greenbriar Rd
Distance to Falls: 4 miles
Rated – Difficult Hike
The trail to Ramsey Cascades is a difficult and often challenging climb, through the mountain forest. The cascades are surrounded by thick clumps of rhododendron, which makes for a colorful scene when they are in bloom in mid to late June. At 100 feet, this is the highest waterfall in the Smokies. It cascades in terraced layers over boulders and rocks. Beyond Ramsey Cascades, the trail winds upward past more tumbling waters toward Mt. LeConte.

Cycling in the Smokies

Cades Cove Loop Road
Location: Townsend end of Smoky Mtns National Park
Distance: 11 miles – one way loop
Rated – Easy to Moderately difficult ride

One of the best ways to experience the beauty of the Smokies is a bike ride through pristine Cades Cove. The Loop Road winds for 11 miles past cabins and farmland of the families that originally settled there in the 1800’s. Highlights along the loop include Primitive Baptist Church, The Elijah Oliver Place, The Cable Mill Visitors Center and the Carter Shields Cabin. These historic landmarks provide at look at the past and are wonderful places to stop for a picnic lunch. The loop road ranges from easy to moderately strenuous, as a bike ride. Much of the cove is flat to gently rolling. However, there are a few steep hills along the one way loop. For a shorter ride, you can cut across the cove at Sparks Lane or Hyatt Lane. Utilizing these lanes that bisect the cove will save you from the steep hill climbs on the loop road.

From late spring to early fall, Cades Cove is open to hikers and cyclists, exclusively, during early morning hours. Currently, the cove is open to foot and bike traffic only – on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8:00am to 10:00am. This applies only during the months of May through September. Check with park headquarters for the latest updates on designated days and times. In addition, Bike rentals are available at the Cades Cove campground.

Tips for your Trip

Plan Ahead
The park is visited by millions of tourists annually. Most of the traffic is concentrated on the Tennessee side of the park, near Gatlinburg and in Cades Cove, near Townsend. While the Smokies are a beautiful sanctuary, it can get crowded. If you want to camp in the park, reservations should be made well in advance. If planning a day trip, arrive early to avoid the crowds.

What to Bring
Whether you want to hike or bike while in the park, bringing the right gear will enhance your experience. Sturdy shoes are recommended as well as an extra shirt or jacket, as temperatures fluctuate, even in the summer months. When hiking and cycling always carry adequate drinking water. Trail mix, energy snacks or picnic lunches are recommended to keep your energy level at a maximum.

Park Information

There are no entrance fees to the park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Visitor Information (865) 436-1200


Additional Reading
Hiking Great Smoky Mountains – Pricilla & Rodney Allbright.
The Cades Cove Story by A. Randolph Shields

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