Great Smoky Mountains NP: Day Hiker's Ultimate Weekend Itinerary
This itinerary isn’t for everyone but if you have limited time and are in great hiking shape this three day plan is for you. I did this exact itinerary with a few friends one weekend in Summer of 2015. It consists of five of the best day hikes the Smokies has to offer. This itinerary was made with time restraints, convenience, and hike difficulty considerations but also enables you drive Cades Cove and Newfoundland Gap Road along the journey. Also keep in mind these aren’t the only good day hikes in the park. The Smokies are known for its nearly infinite amount of great day hikes, this is just what I saw as the most well rounded day hiker’s itinerary for experiencing the park.
Camp at Elkmont Campground. This campsite is logistically the best site for the hikes in this itinerary. If you can, reserve a spot ahead of time that way you can drive right into the park and get to hiking and don’t have to waist time setting up camp. If you reserve ahead of time you might also be lucky enough to reserve a spot next to the creek.
Abrams Falls. This is the first hike. Keep driving past Elkmond Campgound to Cades Cove. Towards the end of the Cades Cove Loop and you’ll find the sign for Abrams Falls. Park and hike the relatvly easy 5.2 mile round trip and 675 ft. in elevation gain to one of the best waterfalls in the smokies.
Laural Falls. This isn’t the most stunning waterfall in the park but it’s still worth the easy 2.3 miles and 314 ft. in elevation gain hike on a paved trail, plus this is your best chance at seeing a bear. I’ve done this hike twice and both times saw a bear. Later I found out this is where Rangers are sending people if they ask where they can spot one.
Chimney Tops. This is where things start getting a little more difficult. Chimney Tops is a 3.8 mile hike with a whopping 1487 ft. in elevation gain. Hikes this steep are rare in this part of the world. When you come to the end of this hike you’ll have to climb 50ft of bare rock to reach the top. If you’ve ever seen the Rock the Park television show this hike was featured on it. This can be a little nerve racking if your scared of heights or you are not much of a climber but if you’ve made it this far you can push through to the very end. The hard work to reach the top and being out of your comfort zone will give you a sense of accomplishment when reaching the summit.
Alum Cave/ Mt LeConte. There are several different trails to Mt LeConte. Take Alum Cave Trail to see Alum Cave on the way. This is an 11 mile hike with 2763 ft in elevation gain. To myself this is the best hike in the park. You will see almost everything there is that makes the Smokies so unique and beautiful. Along this trail you will see cascading streams, epic mountains, different climates, different landscapes, and wildlife not seen in the lower elevations. You will eventually come up to a little village near the summit where people lucky enough won a lottery giving them the privilege of calling LeConte Lodge home for a few days. Stop at the lodge cafe that is supplied by alpacas and you will likely meet some of the friendliest people you ever will hanging out on the porch sharing there passion for the outdoors. Just a short distance from the village is the summit where you will see the park from its second highest peak.
Clingmans Dome. A simple 1 mile and 332 ft hike on pavement will take you to the highest point in the Smokies. On a clear day you can see as far as Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi.
Total Miles: 23.3 miles
Total Elevation: 5,571