Finding hikes that can give you a great close-up look at Smoky Mountain fall colors and are also accessible to your youngest and oldest family members isn’t always easy, but there are actually quite a few. Here are some of our favorites!
The Laurel Falls Trail
Looking for a great all-around hike that offers the kind of sightseeing you’ll find only out in nature, a dirt trail under your feet, and a cool destination? The Laurel Falls hike is a 2.3 mile round-trip hike that begins at a parking lot near the top of Fighting Creek Gap. It is accessible to families with children, though everyone should stay close to the trail as it approaches the Falls (there are some steep drop-offs off-trail). The Falls themselves provide plenty of great photo opportunities, so bring your camera!
Do your kids love when something is “the most?” Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Smokies, and it’s accessible via a ½-mile-long paved trail. The trail can be managed with strollers, though all should be prepared that it can be quite steep and is generally too steep for wheelchairs. Hikers can look forward to an unbelievable panoramic view at the top; on a clear day, people can see nearly 100 miles in any direction. Pack a jacket – it can be up to 20 degrees cooler at the summit.
The Look Rock Tower Trail
Clingmans Dome is a lot of great things, but it isn’t dog-friendly. Luckily, dogs and their human companions don’t have to miss out on a great Smokies view, thanks to the Look Rock Tower Trail. The trail includes a view of Maryville and Alcoa, as well as the western side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dogs must be leashed, but the trail is paved and it’s just under a mile. A perfect first hike!
The Gatlinburg Trail
The Gatlinburg Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a dog-friendly 1.9 mile trail through a forest near the Little Prong River, and features the remnants of former Tennessee frontier homes (notably their foundations and chimneys). The trail begins at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and is only one of two dog-friendly trails in the national park. Make sure to observe the rules requiring leash use in the park while on the trail.
The Abrams Falls Trailhead
If the youngest members of your family are in middle school or older, you may want to try a 5-mile hike (round trip) with a few rocks on the path, and the Abrams Falls Trailhead is a great place to start increasing your hiking challenges. There are even more challenging hikes at Abrams Falls, but the 5-mile hike begins at the trailhead exit at Cades Cove Loop Road. Everyone should pack some extra socks if they’re in sneakers (or wear hiking boots), bring a rain jacket or poncho, and watch out for slippery rocks by the falls.