When winter releases its chilly grasp on the mountains and spring’s new life begins to emerge, the Smokies are transformed into a colorful and fragrant wonderland. The towering peaks and sloping valleys are filled with fresh greenery, enchanting birdsong, and aromatic wildflowers dressed up in their eye-popping hues. And with temperatures hovering consistently in the 60s and 70s, this is the perfect time for an outdoor adventure.
Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Spots
Breathe in the fresh mountain air, discover cascading waterfalls, and even spot wildlife like deer and elk as you stretch your legs and lungs. There are over 850 miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and even more beyond the park’s borders. Get up close and personal with the beauty of nature and explore the Smokies on foot with these invigorating spring hikes!
Porters Creek Trail
Explore both the beautiful natural landscape of the Smokies as well as a few historical spots on this moderate 4-mile roundtrip hike near Gatlinburg, TN. In early spring, the forest floor is rejuvenated with a blanket of fringed phacelias, yellow trillium, wild geranium, and dwarf ginseng. This abundance of wildflowers alone is worth the hike, but you’ll also come upon an old gravel road that leads to old historic homesites and archaic stone walls. Don’t miss the gorgeous 60-foot Fern Branch Falls that sits about 2 miles from the trailhead!
After taking in panoramic views from Clingmans Dome, take the 3.5-mile roundtrip hike to Andrews Bald for some of the most majestic views of Fontana Lake and the Smoky Mountains. Stroll down the Forney Ridge Trail for about 1.7 miles until you reach the outskirts of Andrews Bald, where you’ll be greeted by a vibrant display of flame azalea and rhododendron that bloom during late spring through early summer. It’s a truly breathtaking sight with views of the Smokies that you won’t find anywhere else.
Little River Trail
Located in the historical district of Elkmont inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Little River Trail is great for families with young children who are looking for a relaxing hike by the river. This 4.9-mile roundtrip trail meanders beside the peacefully burbling stream and features gorgeous riverside views, historic cottages, a flowing 20-foot waterfall, and bright wildflowers like rhododendrons, yellow trillium, Canadian violets, and hepaticas. The best time for wildflower spotting is mid-March through April. (P.S. Come back in June for another hike, and you’ll get to see the world-famous synchronized fireflies that visit every summer!)
Middle Prong Trail
One of the best waterfall hikes in the Smokies, Middle Prong Trail boasts three major waterfalls, as well as a lot of smaller falls along the way. This 8.3-mile roundtrip hike is a moderately strenuous trek and is located in the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition to the refreshing waterfalls, you’ll also find an abundance of wildflowers, plus historic artifacts from days gone by like a chimney from an old homestead and even the remains of an old Cadillac!
Rich Mountain Loop Trail
Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but if you want to avoid the crowds and get a different perspective of this historic area, take time for the challenging 8.5-mile Rich Mountain Loop Trail. On your way up to a maximum elevation of 3,691 feet, you’ll hike past a gorgeous meadow that’s all dressed up for spring in black-eyed Susans and butterfly weed. As you keep hiking, you’ll see more wildflowers like mountain laurel, flame azalea and violets. In the midst of these vivid colors, keep an eye out for the John Oliver Cabin, one of the oldest structures in the entire park.
Oconaluftee River Trail
Over on the Cherokee side of the Smokies, you’ll find one of only two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allows dogs. (The other is the Gatlinburg Trail, a 1.9-mile hike from the Sugarland Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg, TN) The Oconaluftee is an easy 3-mile roundtrip hike along the river with a wide smooth path that’s perfect for strollers, wheelchairs, and bicycles.
Along the way, there are opportunities to learn about the inspiring stories of the East Band of the Cherokee. The trail actually ends at the boundary of their reservation. Return to the visitor’s center, or explore the local shops. As you’re exploring and hiking, keep an eye out for the wild elk herd. These magnificent beasts are often seen in the fields around the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center and along the trail. Just be sure to keep a safe distance of 150 feet or more, and snap your photos from there.