The Gatlinburg Trail is one of the most unique trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Firstly, it’s one of only two trails that will allow both bicycles and man’s best friend — your dog, in other words. The other trail that allows this is Oconaluftee River Trail (on the North Carolina side). You won’t want to miss out on this, whether you live in Gatlinburg or whether you’re just visiting.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Gatlinburg: you might have a family reunion, a vacation with your friends or family, or even a wedding to attend! So while you’re there, check out the Gatlinburg Trail. It’s one of the nicest places you’ll find to walk.
It heads straight up to the park boundary, to the outer part of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. You can walk, run, or bike right out of Gatlinburg into the country’s most visited national park.
Being so close to the bustling town of Gatlinburg and a busy park visitor center, and knowing it’s across from Newfound Gap Road the entire way, I wouldn’t recommend choosing the Gatlinburg Trail for southern solitude and the sound of silence. But if you’re in the hankering for some outdoor activities, beautiful views of the river, and a collection of multi-colored, beautiful leaves in the fall and a convenient access point, it’s a great option for the entire family! Who knows? You might even meet up with other hikers and make some new friends! Your dog will love all the scents.
The Gatlinburg Trail is just below four miles round-trip, so you won’t wear yourself out too badly, and as its against the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River, the ground is fairly level. This makes it great for moms’ with strollers, for the elderly, and even for little kids who can’t handle a longer hike. If you come in the springtime, you’ll see a variety of trees and blooming flowers along the trail as winter fades and new life begins. Take a few hours and enjoy this scenic hike! You might even see some of the native wildlife along your trail. There are all kinds of animals near Gatlinburg; otters, birds, deer, raccoons, snakes, rabbits and plenty more! If you’re lucky enough to spot some of this wildlife, remember to take a picture!
Describing the Gatlinburg from park-to-trail is a great way to get people interested in the trail, though you can start at either access point. The trail begins in the maintenance yard by the Sugarland Visitor Center and goes along the West Prong of the Little River through thickets and second-growth hardwoods. With the rapids and sporadic cascades, the river is a wonderful companion, keeping you company throughout the graveled path.
Make sure you keep a lookout for relics of old homesteads in these riverside woods: there are stone walls, foundations, and even remnants of old chimneys! Make sure you brought a camera, because these are things you’re going to want to remember for a long time!
When you’re about a half-mile in, you’ll pass beneath the Gatlinburg Bypass. Once you’ve passed this reminder of civilization, you’ll come across a sturdy, beautiful footbridge over the West Prong — definitely one of the high points of the route. Near the bridge, and at other points during the trail, there are easy access points to the river itself: which children seem to love! Get a picture of your child’s excitement! There are even points where you can dip your feet into the river, or even wade around. As always, with young children, make sure to keep an eye on them.
On the other side of the West Prong now, you’ll continue through the bankside forest, where it’s shady and nice, till you reach the edge of Gatlinburg before you know it.
Tips for Insiders:
- Remember! Unlike your usual Great Smoky Mountain National Park hike, you’re going to be sharing this trail with people on their bicycles. Make sure you stay alert during your hike, and be courteous to anyone you might meet — bicyclist or otherwise.
- Remember hiker safety! Even though the trail is flat, and safe, it’s always good to let someone know where you’re going, and when you’ll be back. Of course, there will be plenty of others on the trail if you get hurt, but it’s still a smart idea to let your family and friends know if you’re going out alone.
- Don’t walk the Newfound Gap Road on your way back, it’s way too busy. Either backtrack along the Gatlinburg Trail, or arrange for a shuttle car to pick you up.
- If you’re interested in seeing something beautiful, and you’re up for a detour, take the quick Sugarlands walk to Cataract Falls, a very impressive, gorgeous tiered waterfall. Once again, keep your camera out. This is something you’re going to want to remember.
- Don’t litter! If you bring your dog, make sure you bring little baggies to clean up any messes that they might make. Nobody wants that on the bottom of their hiking boots! Bring back what you brought in, and make sure this trail stays clean and gorgeous for the next set of hikers.
Directions for the Trailhead:
From Gatlinburg, Tennessee drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the main parkway. Once you enter the park, continue for nearly two miles to the Sugarlands Visitor Center on your right side. You can park at the visitor center and then you just walk behind where the main visitor center is to join the trail. If you have a hard time finding it, don’t be afraid to ask a Park Ranger for directions (it can be quite tricky sometimes to find!).
This nearly four mile round trip riverside stroll through the woods is right at Gatlinburg’s border, and it simply can’t be compared to anything you’ve ever been on before. It’s ridiculously convenient for families, bicyclists, dog walkers, and runners. Take the time to enjoy it, because nothing beats nature mother at it’s best.