May 29, 2024
Mystical Mist Grotto Falls

We Spotlight 6 Top Hiking Trails in East Tennessee

East Tennessee, a region celebrated for its sprawling landscapes and rich biodiversity, offers many scenic hiking trails that cater to adventurers of all skill levels. From the mist-covered peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the rugged cliffs of the Cumberland Plateau, the area is a hiker’s paradise. Whether you’re seeking a stroll through lush forests or a challenging trek up steep mountain paths, the hiking trails in East Tennessee provide an escape into nature that rejuvenates the body and soul. This post will guide you through some of the top hiking trails in this picturesque region, ensuring you know exactly where to experience the best outdoor adventures.

Map Of Hiking Trails In East Tennessee

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Stream At The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Stream at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is arguably the crown jewel of East Tennessee’s outdoor attractions. With over 850 miles of trails, this park attracts millions of visitors each year, drawn by its diverse ecosystem and the promise of stunning natural beauty. Among the many trails, the Alum Cave Trail stands out for its impressive geological features and historical significance. As you ascend this 5-mile round-trip trail, you encounter Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, and the majestic Alum Cave Bluffs​ (Tenn Nat’l Resort)​.

Another gem is the Ramsey Cascades Trail, the park’s tallest waterfall accessible via an 8-mile round-trip hike through old-growth forest. This trail is a favorite for those wishing to immerse themselves in the tranquility of cascading waters and ancient trees​ (Tenn Nat’l Resort)​. For those seeking a challenge, the Chimney Tops Trail offers a steep and rocky climb that rewards hikers with panoramic views from its summit, making it a thrilling, though rigorous, adventure​ (Tenn Nat’l Resort)​.

2. Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest
Cherokee National Forest

Spanning over 650,000 acres, Cherokee National Forest is a haven for nature lovers and hikers alike. The forest is teeming with wildlife, including deer, turkeys, and black bears, and offers more than 150 trails. The Bald River Falls Trail is particularly popular, providing a relatively easy hike to a breathtaking 90-foot waterfall. This trail is not only accessible but also offers ample opportunities for photography and wildlife observation​ (Tenn Nat’l Resort)​.

The Appalachian Trail also runs through the forest, offering hikers a slice of this iconic trail. Those looking for a longer hike can explore sections like the one near Roan Mountain, renowned for its stunning springtime blooms of rhododendrons and panoramic views of the Appalachian range​ (Tenn Nat’l Resort)​.

3. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Big South Fork National River And Recreation Area - Hiking Trails In East Tennessee
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Located on the Cumberland Plateau, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area boasts over 150 miles of trails. This area is perfect for hikers who enjoy varied landscapes featuring deep gorges, stunning rock formations, and lush forested areas. The Twin Arches Trail is a standout, taking hikers through impressive sandstone formations and culminating in the spectacular natural arches that give the trail its name​ (Tenn Nat’l Resort)​.

The John Muir Trail is another must-try path within this park. Named after the famous naturalist, this trail offers stunning vistas of the park’s rugged terrain and is part of the longer 20-mile John Muir National Recreation Trail, providing ample opportunities for both day hikes and extended backpacking trips​ (Tenn Nat’l Resort)​.

These three sections introduce some of the most renowned hiking areas in East Tennessee, each offering unique landscapes and experiences. The subsequent sections will continue exploring other notable trails and provide tips for making the most of your hiking adventures in this beautiful region.

4. Virgin Falls State Natural Area

Virgin Falls State Natural Area
Virgin Falls State Natural Area

Virgin Falls State Natural Area offers one of the most captivating hiking experiences in East Tennessee, located in the Upper Cumberland region. This 8-mile out-and-back trail is a rigorous adventure, suitable for more experienced hikers, that features a remarkable geological phenomenon—Virgin Falls itself. The waterfall is formed by an underground stream that emerges from a cave, plunges over a 110-foot cliff, and then disappears into another cave at the base of the falls​ (TN Vacation)​. The area around the falls is dotted with other smaller waterfalls and provides a dynamic landscape that changes with the elevation, making it a photogenic spot for nature enthusiasts.

5. South Cumberland State Park

South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland State Park

South Cumberland State Park is home to the Fiery Gizzard Trail, one of the most renowned hiking paths in the United States. Stretching for 9.1 miles from Tracy City, this trail is rated as difficult due to its rugged terrain and elevation changes. The path takes hikers through a variety of landscapes, including forested areas, rocky gorges, and streams with cascading waterfalls​ (TN Vacation)​. It’s also a cultural hub, with the park’s visitors center offering educational exhibits and social gatherings. For those looking to extend their visit, the park offers facilities for picnics and backcountry camping, making it a perfect spot for a multi-day adventure.

6. Hidden Gems: Lesser-known Trails

Beyond the well-trodden paths, East Tennessee is also home to several lesser-known trails that offer unique and serene hiking experiences. The Colditz Cove Trail near Allardt is an easy 1.3-mile hike leading to Northrup Falls, a stunning 60-foot tall waterfall perfect for a quick and refreshing dip during the warmer months​ (Tattling Tourist)​. Another hidden gem is the Machine Falls Loop Trail, located within the Short Springs Natural Area, just an hour away from Nashville. This trail is moderately challenging and is particularly beautiful in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. The trail is well-marked and leads to the breathtaking Machine Falls​ (Town & Tourist)​, a popular spot for families and novice hikers looking for a day trip.

Hiking Tips and Safety

Before setting out on any hiking adventure in East Tennessee, preparing adequately to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience is crucial. First and foremost, always check the weather conditions before your hike and dress appropriately. Layering is key to adjusting to temperature changes throughout the day. Equally important is wearing sturdy hiking boots with good grip to navigate the sometimes slippery and rocky terrain. It’s advisable to carry a map and compass or a GPS device, as cell service can be unreliable in remote areas.

Additionally, always bring enough water to stay hydrated, especially during the hotter months, and pack high-energy snacks or a meal for longer trails. Let someone know your planned route and expected return time, particularly if venturing into less traveled areas. Finally, be mindful of the local wildlife and maintain a safe distance, notably from bears and snakes, common in East Tennessee forests.

Video: The six best waterfalls in East Tennessee (Hiking the Appalachian Trail)


Which trails make up the 6 top hiking trails in East Tennessee?

They include trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee National Forest, and the Cumberland Plateau, among others.

What is the best time of year to hike these trails?

Spring and fall offer the best weather conditions and scenery for hiking in East Tennessee.

Are these trails suitable for families?

Yes, several of the top trails offer options suitable for families with varying difficulties to accommodate different skill levels.

Current Weather Forecast In East Tennessee

Final Thoughts About Hiking Trails in East Tennessee

Exploring the hiking trails of East Tennessee is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty and serenity of one of America’s most picturesque regions. From the majestic heights of the Great Smoky Mountains to the hidden cascades of the Cherokee National Forest, each of the hiking trails in East Tennessee offers a unique window into the diverse ecosystems and landscapes of the area. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking for your next challenge or a beginner eager to explore the outdoors, East Tennessee’s trails provide an array of experiences that cater to every level of adventurer.

Through exploring East Tennessee’s magnificent trails, from the spellbinding cascade of Grotto Falls to the awe-inspiring heights of Charlie Bunion, hikers are offered a window into the soul of the Appalachian wilderness. Each trail weaves its narrative, challenging our limits and rewarding us with natural splendor that leaves us yearning for more adventures. As the echoes of our footsteps fade along these paths, the memories of the vistas and the whispers of the forests linger, calling us back to become part of the timeless beauty of East Tennessee’s great outdoors.

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Monica Seasons

Monica is a freelance author and publisher. She is currently working with Thumbwind Publications. You may find her looking for that perfect cup of coffee in Ely, Minnesota, when she is not writing.

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