When visiting the Smoky Mountains, I always make it a top priority to hike the beautiful trails of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Some of the trails are more scenic and challenging than others, but it seems it always make it worthwhile to visit the Gatlinburg area after my successful hike.  Here’s three trails that I would strongly recommend your family or friends try when visiting Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge on your next family vacation.  Of course, you could always try river rafting, zip lines, or horseback riding, but the Smokies were made famous by the love of hiking the National Park.  Bring plenty of water, a snack, and first aid kit when possible.  Try to hike with a friend and don’t confront animals you see on the way.  It’s their home and we want to respect their habitat.  Have fun hiking up the mountains of the Southern Appalachian Trail!  We’ll see you in the Smokies…

Laurel Falls Trail – Described as moderate in difficulty, this 4-mile roundtrip hike rewards the hiker with a visit to one of the favorite waterfalls in the Park. This trailhead is very busy during the summer and weekends year-round. Access to the trailhead is via the Little River Road halfway between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground. The hiker can travel an additional .75 mile beyond the falls to see an old-growth forest.

Alum Cave Bluff Trail (photo right)- From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, drive 8.6 miles east on Newfound Gap Road. There you will find two parking areas, where a gravel path leads to The Grassy Patch and the beginning of a 2.3 mile hike to Alum Cave Bluff. This moderately difficult hike is 4.6 miles round-trip or 5.1 miles on to LeConte Lodge. The round-trip to the cave bluff takes about 2 and 1/2 hours, but allow about 3 and 1/2 hours to LeConte Lodge. The Alum Cave Trail is the most popular and well-known route to Mount Le Conte. Features include Arch Rock, 1993 summer storm damage, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluff.

Rainbow Falls TrailThe Rainbow Falls Trail is fairly challenging if completed all the way to Mt LeConte. Allow an hour and a half to Rainbow Falls and four hours to Mt LeConte. Hikers will gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation by the time they get to Mt. LeConte. The Point of departure is at Cherokee Orchard Road – Turn at light #8 in Gatlinburg and follow the Airport Road 1 mile out of Gatlinburg into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The name will change from Airport Road to Cherokee Orchard Road. About 2.5 miles after entering the Park, Cherokee Orchard Road approaches the Rainbow Falls parking area. You will find the trail head at one edge of the parking area. Features of interest include the 2.8 mile point when you arrive at Rainbow Falls. At the 6.6 mile point you will come upon an Alum Cave Trail junction which leads left 0.1 mile to the LeConte Lodge.



Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are nestled just a bit off the beaten path when it comes to the main U.S. interstate highway system. However, there are numerous highways and secondary roads into Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Greater Smoky Mountain area, and these routes will lead you through and to some of the most beautiful country vistas and amazing views of the mountains that you’ll find anywhere!

The major east-west interstate highway route through eastern Tennessee is I-40. This connects with another eastern artery, I-81, which is just northeast of the Gatlinburg area (between White Pine and Dandridge). Interstate-40 also connects with the north-south artery of I-75 just west of the Gatlinburg area in Knoxville.

Here are some specific directions into the area from whatever direction you may be coming from:

•From Nashville, Tennessee going East: Consider taking I-40 to Exit 364 at State Route 95 South to Lenoir City, then take U.S. 321 East, continuing through Maryville and Townsend, then make a right onto Scenic Highway 73 to Gatlinburg.
•From Lexington, Kentucky going South: On I-75, consider taking I-40 West from Knoxville to Exit 364 at State Route 95 South to Lenoir City and U.S. 321 East and follow the same directions as those above into Gatlinburg.
•From Roanoke, Virginia going Southwest: On I-81 South, consider taking I-40 East to Exit 435 or 443 (Foothills Parkway), turn onto U.S. 321 and continue until you reach Gatlinburg.
•From Asheville, North Carolina going Northwest: On I-40 West, take Exit 443 (Foothills Parkway) or Exit 435, then turn left onto U.S. 321 and continue until you reach Gatlinburg.
•From Chattanooga, Tennessee going Northeast: Take I-75 North to Exit 81 at State Route 95, then follow Highway U.S. 321 East continuing through Maryville to Townsend, then make a right onto Scenic Highway 73 East to Gatlinburg.

McGhee Tyson Airport (airport code TYS) in Knoxville, Tennessee is located within 50 miles of most resort accommodations in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. Car rentals are readily available at the airport. The drive east from the Knoxville airport down U.S. 321 through Maryville and Townsend is a pleasurable scenic drive.