Editor’s Note: This post was written by Evan Reed, Dollywood Parks and Resorts Public Relations Intern.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to approximately 800 miles of hiking trails. Though I’ve traversed some of the difficult terrain through the years, I mostly remember all the fun my parents and I had going on family-friendly hikes when I was a child. There’s a lot of ground families can enjoy together—and taking a hike should be on your list of things to do in the Smokies.
When I was young, I would be so pumped for my parents to take me to Dollywood at least once a year. We would make the 12-hour drive from Florida to Tennessee. I could hardly rest during the ride, because of all the excitement bubbling out of me! Each summer, we would spend a week in the mountains, so there was plenty of time to go and do everything we wanted all around Pigeon Forge. Some of the fondest memories I have were made going on easy hikes near Dollywood every year.
Take the Road Less Travelled
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a phenomenal, easy trail that doesn’t even require you to get out of the car. It’s a great trail for new parents with small children especially if it’s nap time. This quiet and gorgeous drive is not short of any beautiful sites. There are multiple incredible, vast overlooks that are worth the brief stop. It’s all the beauty of a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains without the exertion! Perfect for a day of rest after hitting your step count at Dollywood with your loved ones.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
One of the most popular trails within Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Laurel Falls. You’ll meet a lot of fellow hikers on this trail. It’s only about two and a half miles roundtrip with a paved walkway. Keep in mind that other people on the trail could slow you down, if you care to move at a quick pace. This trail is often subject to parking restrictions or even could require parking reservations as it is so popular. The marvelous 80-foot-high Laurel Falls make any and all efforts worth it.
Left, Right, Left, Right
Gatlinburg Trail is another great option when it comes to family-friendly hikes near Dollywood. This trail is almost four miles roundtrip, and like Laurel Falls, Gatlinburg Trail features a picturesque waterfall. What makes this trail even better is that dogs are permitted—making this one great for the whole family! There also is plenty of parking, since it begins at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Each way, this trail is about 45 minutes so be prepared to walk for a while if you’re planning on doing the entire thing.
On the Right Track
Looking for an easy hike that is wheelchair or stroller accessible? Cataract Falls might be your best bet in terms of hikes with accessibility features. The trail is only partially paved, so some extra assistance might be required for the unpaved portions. However, exiting your vehicle is made easier by the paved parking lot that has up to six accessible spots. This trail also is great if the family is getting hungry – there are picnic tables at the trailhead for a homemade lunch before or after the hike. Along the hike, take in views of waterfalls, wildflowers, and hopefully, catch a glimpse of some Tennessee wildlife.
Peaceful and Easy Walking Trails Near Dollywood
Great Smoky Mountains National Park also has a bunch of quiet walking trails from which you can choose. Notably, there’s Hickory Flats, Riverview and Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway. Each is about a mile, give or take, and all are great for any skill level.
Hickory Flats Quiet Walkway is about three-quarters of a mile and features stunning wildflowers. On the Hickory Flats Trail, it’s important to note that it also features a historic cemetery.
Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway is for hikers looking for a serene walk with streams and other water features. There are multiple small waterfalls and even a narrow bridge over a small river. Thunderhead Prong has the highest elevation gain of a little more than 200 feet.
Riverview Quiet Walkway is just a bit longer and actually is a looping trail. It features the second highest elevation gain and a river. This trail is great for a nice peaceful morning stroll with log benches to sit on and take it all in. It should be noted that this trail also is a good spot to look for salamanders of which multiple species have been seen. Keep in mind that this one has limited parking with only about five spots available.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a vast amount of wildlife. Most people don’t realize there is more to the park than Black Bears and White-Tailed Deer. Did you know that there are 30 different species of salamanders in the Smoky Mountains? That makes the park the salamander capital of the world! It also is interesting to note that there are about 1,500 American Black Bears in the park. Other varieties of animals in the park include 65 species of mammals, 67 species of fish and 200 kinds of birds. The highest elevations of the park may be 10-20 degrees cooler than the lowlands. It’s often humid climate is a suitable habitat for many species.
Before any of your hiking fun starts, it is a best practice to come prepared and knowledgeable of what’s happening in the park. Checking Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s official website is most beneficial and essential to planning your hike. Located on the top of the homepage, all current alerts will be listed, which include information pertaining to road and trail closures. These occur year-round as different seasons bring changes in weather conditions and trail access. Keep in mind that during the winter months (which can stretch from October through April), snow and ice may change accessibility. Ice on the roads can make it difficult or even impossible for some vehicles to travel through the park.