5 Smoky Mountain Hikes That Are Perfect For Families

With over 850 miles of trails to transverse in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, picking a trail for your family hikes to enjoy may seem a little overwhelming. For families especially, it’s important to find a trail that is easy enough for kids to enjoy, while also offering the natural beauty and historical settlements you expect of the Smokies. So, to help you out, we’ve selected five trails in the Great Smoky Mountains that are perfect for families hikes!

1. Cove Mountain Trail to Cataract Falls

This hidden gem of a trail is a little known secret of the Great Smoky Mountains. Not only is the trail only ¾ of a mile long, but it is only about 2 miles from downtown Gatlinburg.

The trail starts off paved but quickly turns to gravel, with relatively flat ground throughout the trail. Kids will love the bridges that cross Fighting Creek, which runs alongside the trail for the majority of the hike. The flat ground and short distance make this trail perfect for very young children, as well.

At the apex of the trail, hikers will be able to get a view of Cataract Falls, a 20 ft. tall waterfall that is best after a good rain!

 

2. Baskins Creek Falls

You and your family can access this trail from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. With a roundtrip length of only 3 miles, and a difficultly rating of 4.91 (easy), Baskins Creek Falls is a fun and easy hike for families with small children and older kids alike!

The elevation gain of this trail is very slight in the beginning, leveling off at about 0.25 miles in. During your family hike, you’ll get some amazing mountain views towards the west during winter and spring (summer foliage will likely obscure your view). You’ll come to a footbridge crossing Falls Branch at about 0.9 miles in, and at 1.1 miles you can take a side trail to Baskins Cemetery, a great historical site for kids to check out.

You’ll cross another creek and take a left at a trail junction at about 1.3 miles before coming across some rugged terrain about 50 yards from the falls. It’s worth the effort, though, as you’ll come to the 40 ft., two-tiered Baskins Creek Falls.

 

3. Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls is the perfect hike for families

It’s pretty difficult to make a best hiking trail list without including Laurel Falls. There’s a good reason (several of them, actually) why Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations of the Smokies. One is the relatively short distance: at only 2.3 miles’ roundtrip, most anyone in the family can make the hike.

The jewel of the trail is the 80 ft. waterfall that is Laurel Falls. It consists of an upper and lower section divided by a walkway that crosses Laurel Branch at the base of the upper falls. Since this is such a popular destination, you’re sure to see plenty of other families enjoying the trail too. If you want the best picture possible of the falls, try and hike the trail early in the morning, when the crowds are thinner and the shade of the mountains produces a better photo.

Two things parents should be aware of while hiking this trail are the drop-offs and the bears. At some parts of the hike, you’ll see some very steep drop-offs that will require you to keep a close watch on the kids. Bears are also very common on this trail, despite the large numbers of people that frequent the hike. Be sure to remain vigilant, look for signs of bears, and know the best practices in bear safety.

 

4. Gatlinburg Trail

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The Gatlinburg Trail is a paved walking path that can be accessed from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail runs alongside the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River and ends on the outskirts of Gatlinburg.

Outside of the fact that the trail is paved, one really cool feature of this hike is that it is one of only two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allow dogs and bicycles. So, you can feel free to bring your furry friend along with you!

You and the family will get some beautiful views of the river along this trail, as well as a taste of history. You’ll find foundations and chimneys of several old home sites from the early settlers of the area. The ease of access and easy difficulty make this perfect for a family looking for a low-maintenance stroll with beautiful scenery.

 

5. Porter’s Creek Trail

The last entry of this list has a little bit of everything rolled into one. This relatively flat hike features beautiful wildflowers, two hand bridges, a river, plenty of historical remnants, and even a waterfall at the end!

The roundtrip of this hike is only 4 miles, and is rated 5.4 (moderate). The first mile of the trail is an old gravel road that crisscrosses through a thick forest. At about two-thirds of a mile you’ll start seeing old stone walls and remnants of the Elbert Cantrell farmstead. You can get a look at the Ownby Cemetery, which dates to the early 1900’s, by taking a small path to the right of the trail.

You’ll cross a footbridge at about one mile from the trailhead and will come to a fork in the road. Taking the right path will lead you to the historic John Messer farm site, which has a cantilevered barn that was built in the 1870’s.

Taking a left at the aforementioned fork will have you continue along Porters Creek Trail. You will come to a  junction with Brushy Mountain Trail, and continue along your current path to make it to Fern Branch Falls.

At this point, the gravel road turns into a dirt path, complete with larger, old-growth trees. You’ll cross the second footbridge crossing the river that had ran alongside the trail until that point. Once you cross the second footbridge, you’re almost there!

You’ll meander through a thick forest from the footbridge, where you can admire some rock formations and a deep, lush valley. At about 2 miles into the trail, you’ll come upon Fern Branch Falls. This impressive 60 ft. waterfall drops off the ridge of the trail, and is a great spot for photographs. This trail is a perfect hike for any season, as each season offers something different for hikers. Its mix of history, natural beauty, and relative ease makes it a perfect hike for families.

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