Part one of Smoky Mountains Hiking introduced a few easy hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains and offered some pointers on the necessities to bring along. In this installment, we’ll look at some of the moderate hiking trails for Smoky Mountains hiking. Not taking away from any of the trails mentioned in part one, but there’s something special about completing a one-way 3 hour hike to a panoramic Smoky Mountains pinnacle or gushing waterfall—a hiker’s high, if you will. Plus in most cases, the more difficult the trail, the less crowded it will be.
Moderate Smoky Mountains Hiking
The roundtrip distance of this trail leading to a 4,677 foot summit is only 4 miles, but don’t let that fool you. While the first mile of the trail is relatively easy and level walking, hikers ascend more than 900 feet in the last mile of the trail—that is some steep walking. Many people, in fact, don’t make it and instead turn around when the going gets tough. But, the hike is well worth it. The bare-rock summits at the top offer some of the best mountain views in the Smoky Mountains. Just be careful when climbing on and around these rocks, as one slip could spell disaster. To get to the trailhead from Gatlinburg, take Hwy. 441 toward Cherokee, trailhead parking is located 1 mile beyond the Chimney Tops Picnic Area.
The Rainbow Falls trailhead is located off of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which is barely outside Gatlinburg. At 80 feet high, Rainbow Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall (the water free falls and doesn’t cascade off other rocks on the way down) in the Park. It is, without question, one of the prettiest and most photogenic sights in the Smoky Mountains. On the way to the falls, you will steadily ascend 1,685 feet in elevation before reaching the waterfall at 4,285 feet. The trail isn’t by any means a killer, as the ascension in elevation is steady; still, it’s all uphill for the entire 2.7 miles to the top, but at least that means the hike back is entirely downhill.
This hike could almost be classified as difficult considering the terrain in some places is rather tricky. Yet, considering it isn’t incredibly taxing, most people still rate it as moderate. As you may have guessed by the name, the ultimate destination here are cascades. Ramsay Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the Smoky Mountains—the waterfall meanders and rushes down 100 feet of rock ledges. It is an 8 mile roundtrip hike which will take you through some of the only virgin forests (also known as old-growth forests) in the Park. The first 1.5 miles follows an old gravel road before eventually narrowing into a foot path. Hikers follow this foot path for the duration of the trail. By the time you reach the cascades, you will have gained 2,375 feet in elevation. The trailhead is located in the Greenbrier area of the park, which is off Hwy. 321 just outside Gatlinburg’s city limits.
Any one of these trails is sure to take up a better part of the day and will likely leave you rather tired. Who said Smoky Mountains hiking was easy? But, with all the natural beauty you’ll see along the way, it is, without question, worth every sore muscle you’ll have the next day.