7 Best Smoky Mountain Hikes

 

5. Gregory Bald (Strenuous)

Nuts & Bolts: From Cades Cove, climb 3,000 feet and trek 5.6 miles up the Gregory Ridge Trail to reach the 10-acre Gregory Bald summit.

Trail Highlights: As stunning as the year-round views are, Gregory Bald is most famous for the spectacular flame azaleas that bloom on the summit from mid to late June. Azalea lovers from all over the world come here to visit perhaps the finest display of azaleas anywhere on the planet. You'll see a rainbow of colors including fire red, wine red, orange, salmon, yellow, white, pink and even multi-colored azaleas. As one of the most beautiful Smoky Mountain hikes, it's worth the strenuous workout.

Even if you can't make it in June, this hike should still be on your list. The commanding views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake and the eastern crest of the Smokies makes it a popular year-round destination.

More: Rest Step 

Trivia Tidbit: This particular bald is named after Russell Gregory, an early settler in the Cades Cove area. He and other cove residents used the field to graze cattle during the spring and summer when the fields in the cove were needed for growing crops.

6. Mount LeConte (Strenuous)

Nuts & Bolts: Take the 5.5-mile hike up Alum Cave Trail to the Summit of Mt. LeConte. You'll climb 2,763 feet to reach the summit of the third highest peak in the Smokies.

Trail Highlights: If ever there was a classic hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte would certainly qualify. Sure, there are trails in the Park that are far longer, that gain more elevation, or have steeper climbs, but the Alum Cave Trail is unmatched in its combination of interesting geological features, history, high adventure and stunning views.

To reach the summit, climb through Arch Rock and take your first breather at Inspiration Point. Spot a peregrine falcon near the Eye of the Needle, marvel at the imposing Alum Cave and hold-on tight to the cable hand rails as you pass over the rock ledges on the upper portions of the trail.

Upon reaching the summit, go to Cliff Top near the LeConte Lodge for amazing views of Clingmans Dome and the rolling mountains to the west. On the other side of LeConte is Myrtle Point, which offers outstanding vistas of the eastern Smokies.

Trivia Tidbit: One of the unique things about Mount LeConte is the lodge and overnight cabins at the top. This is one of the only Smoky Mountain hikes where people can spend the night in one of the rustic cabins, which can accommodate about 50 guests a night—though, you'll need to make reservations well in advance.

More: Camping in North Carolina: Choose Your Adventure

About the Author

Jeff Doran is author of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Blog and an online trail guide for Hiking in the Smokies.

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