8 Easy Hikes with Waterfalls & Wildflowers Near Gatlinburg
Here is a list of easy, relaxing hikes great for families, kids, and those who want a short, fun hike, yet still experience the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and its magic.
When hiking, what does "Out and back" mean?
"Out and back" is the same as saying "roundtrip" on a single trail. This term is used in hiking. So if you have a roundtrip of 10 miles, you have a 10 mile "out and back" hike. That means 5 miles each way.
Excellent Cabins for Large Groups
Cabins with Epic Mountain Views
Cabins on Lakes, Rivers & Creeks
1.) Cataract Falls Trail
1.1 mile roundtrip
Ok, the best way I can explain how to start this hike is to find the bathrooms at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It's a great and convenient place to start a hike anyways. You actually start out on what is known as Fighting Creek Nature Trail, but you will want to make a right turn at the signs pointing your toward Cataract Falls, a cute little waterfall and a lovely nature walk.
This is not the biggest waterfall, but the bridges, creeks and scenery along the way makes it fun and the waterfall is a nice ending! It is possible to take a stroller, but there are many tree roots you will need to contend with, but my sister and I did it with 4 of her grandbabies, one in a stroller and it was not too bad. Better than carrying a toddler the entire way.
2.) Sugarland Valley Nature Trail
A half-mile loop
Just down the road from Sugarland Visitor Center on US 441 South, is this paved, wheelchair, stroller friendly, scooter friendly and very kid friendly walk around a half mile loop. There is plenty to see including interesting remnants of old structures and benches to sit down on. Also great for birdwatching and wildflowers in the Spring!
This level path follows a beautiful stream. Parking is limited so be aware that on the busiest days, you may want to get there early.
3.) Laurel Falls Trail
2.4 miles roundtrip
One of the most popular trails, and with good reason. It is an easy to moderate walk, although uphill much of the way to the falls, but pretty gentle slope. Plan about 2 hours unless you stop a lot, may be 3 hours. It is the longest paved trail in the park. The way back is way easier.
You will want to keep a sharp eye on young kids because there are some drop offs. I'd recommend this for kids over 5. Strollers and wheelchairs can get a bit tricky at some points so you will need help with these. You may want to use a child carrier such as the Ergobaby carrier with lumbar support for little ones. Also, it can get pretty crowded at times.
Arrive before 8 am for the best parking. The 80 foot waterfall is the main attraction, and a sight to see, but you will also find beautiful scenic views and a lot of wildlife!
4.) Jake's Creek Trail to Avent Cabin
2.7 miles roundtrip
This trailhead is very close to Little River Trail and Elkmont Nature Trail with great parking options.
They all begin in the Elkmont Campgrounds area, where you can also view the old abandoned "Ghost Town" of Elkmont. This trail is very kid friendly, and fun trail with some waterfalls, a bridge and a smaller trail that leads to the cabin built in 1845. It later belonged to Mayna Treanor Avent and her husband. Mayna was an artist who did her artwork in the cabin around 1926.
From Sugarland Visitor Center, head west toward Elkmont on Fighting Creek Gap Road, turn left onto Elkmont Road and drive 1.5 miles, then left onto Little River Road. Follow this all the way to the end about a mile to Jake's Creek Trailhead.
5.) Metcalf Bottoms Trail
1.5 miles roundtrip
Easy trail with ample parking, public bathrooms, picnic area, pavillion and beginning at a pretty bridge. See wildflowers and walk to a historic school called "Little Greenbrier School" and a very old cemetery. You can look inside the school and imagine life there long ago.
If you want to go even further, you can hike from the school to the famous "Walker Sister's Cabin", but note that it is about 1.5 miles further up.
The Walker Sisters were a group of unmarried sisters who refused to leave their home when it became the National Park. They were very self sufficient and lived in the cabin until 1964.
6.) Gatlinburg Trail
3.8 miles roundtrip
One of the few Great Smoky Mountain National Park trails that allow pets (must be on a leash). Stroller friendly and kid friendly trail. Wheelchair accessible for much of the way, but there is a footbridge and a slightly steep grade to contend with at certain points along the way. For wheelchairs and scooters, I recommend starting on the Gatlinburg town end, where there is parking as well.
The trail follows a gorgeous creek that you can wade into. You can see my video below of the first portion and how to get there. You can see wildflowers, Cataract Falls, historic remnants and abundant nature. I saw a gorgeous, colorful mallard swimming along and putting a show on.
This is not the most quiet trail, it is very popular and you can hear traffic from the road at times, but it is very worthwhile if you are looking to slip into nature easily and go on an easy walk with kids and pets.
As you exit the Gatlinburg main Parkway into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, it is the 1st pull off you come to on your right.
7.) Little River Trail & Troll Bridge
4 miles to the waterfall roundtrip (for an easy hike, I do not recommend the full trail which is over 12 miles round trip)
To find the Troll Bridge, go about 100 feet onto the Little River Trail, and look to the right for an unmarked gravel side trail. Follow the trail for just a bit to the Troll Bridge.
This is an easy hike if you go to the waterfall and bridge and turn around and head back. It starts out as a nice flat, wide road, next to a beautiful river, with a gentle incline, then narrows to a trail as you go. At about 2 miles, you will see 20-foot high Huskey Branch Falls. For kids, I recommend these first 2.5 miles, and the exploring the Elkmont Ghost town buildings themselves. This would make a great adventure for the day.
This trail starts in Elkmont, a very cool historical area. Known for its campsite and its
"Ghost town", it has buildings and remnants of a bygone era. It was a resort where the rich came from Knoxville, to stay and play in the early 1900's.
April and May are the time to see abundant wildflowers and butterflies in this area! It is also notable for its brilliant fall colors. This area is also known for the world renowned synchronous fireflies.
From Sugarland Visitor Center, head west toward Elkmont on Fighting Creek Gap Road. Turn left onto Elkmont Road and drive 1.5 miles, then left onto Little River Road. You will see the Little River Trail trailhead in about half a mile. Good parking area.
8.) Elkmont Nature Trail
.8 mile Loop
See wildflowers or colorful fall leaves, and cross a footbridge as you walk along a peaceful river, watch for tree roots, near Elkmont Campground and Ghost town. This trail loop can be combined with others like Little River Trail and Jake's Creek Trail to Avent Cabin I have on this list. They are all in the same area. Parking and bathrooms at the Elkmont Campground.
Do 1, or do all 3 if you are feeling energized! There are benches to sit on and signs along the way.
From Sugarland Visitor Center, head west toward Elkmont on Fighting Creek Gap Road. Turn left onto Elkmont Road and drive 1.5 miles, then left onto Little River Road. It will be the 1st parking area you come to on the left.
To find out more about the Historic Elkmont Resort before you go, check out
this info from The Great Smoky Mountain National Park Services.
It is quite fascinating!