Tom Branch Falls
Best Hiking Trails, Great Smoky Mountains

Best Bryson City Hikes & Hiking Trails

Ready to explore the hiking trails near Bryson City and get a first-hand look at the most visited National Park in the country? We recommend getting out of your car and hitting the trail on one of the following hiking trails near Bryson City. Explore the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and be sure and visit our Bryson City Adventure Guide for more information on other great outdoor activities in the area.

Tom Branch Falls

Tom Branch Falls is just a 1/4 mile hike from the Deep Creek Trailhead down a mostly-flat gravel path a short drive from downtown Bryson City. For more info, stop by Bryson City Outdoors in downtown.

Deep Creek (N 35.4642, W – 83.4344): This is a great place to walk, run or mountain bike near Bryson City. Head off up the level road grade along the wide, green, and pristine Deep Creek. Soon the sound of the stream rises to a higher pitch and as you amble up to 5 benches on the riverside, there’s awesome Tom Branch Falls plummeting into the water on the opposite side of Deep Creek. Turn around here for a mile out and back walk. The road continues along the stream past more benches and then turns right to cross a bridge. At 0.7-miles the Indian Creek Trail veers right from the Deep Creek Trail at a sign prohibiting tubing above that point. Go right, and in just a few hundred feet, a side trail descends left to scenic Indian Creek Falls (a 1.4 mile roundtrip from the parking area).

Directions: From downtown Bryson City, turn north from US 19 on Everett St. (look for the “Deep Creek Campground” sign) and follow the well-signed route north 3 miles to the park boundary. Inside the park, pass the Deep Creek Campground and the picnic area and turn left into the parking area as you reach a bridge on the right (Galbraith Creek Rd.). The road ahead is a circular drop-off point.

Paddlers on a guided paddleboarding trip with Bryson City Outdoors enjoy the views of Fontana Lake. For more information, click the photo above to visit their site.

Paddlers on a guided paddleboarding trip with Bryson City Outdoors enjoy the views of Fontana Lake. For more information, click the photo above to visit their site.


Lonesome Pine Loop Trail: Lonesome Pine Overlook is one of the best views of Bryson City from the Noland Divide Trail. The hike is a strenuous day adventure. You should plan for 3-5 hours. It is one of our favorite hikes and is roughly a 6.4 mile round trip hike. The elevation gain is just over 2800 ft. The trail is well maintained and keeps a pretty continuous slope. There is a water source on the trail 1.5 to 2 miles in, but don’t rely on it. Carry plenty of water and filter any water you get out of the branch. Animals and bicycles are not permitted on the trail. This is true for many areas in the Great Smoky Mountains, so make sure you check the signs before you hike.

Directions from Bryson City:  Head to the Deep Creek Parking Area just a few minutes from downtown Bryson City and look for the Noland Divide Trail. For detailed directions on finding the trailhead and to download a map, visit https://www.brysoncityoutdoors.com/2015/04/13/lonesome-pine-overlook-map/

Goldmine Loop Trail: This is a great family hike that will take you from your starting point on the famous Road to Nowhere down to edge of Fontana Lake and through the valleys and ridge-lines of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enjoy the views at the lake before wrapping up the hike by walking through the historic Road to Nowhere tunnel.

Directions From Bryson City: Head north out of town past the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and follow the “Road to Nowhere” up into the National Park. The trailhead will be on the left at milepost 407.6 – head to the second lot at the back.

Fontana lake

Views of Fontana Lake can be found along the drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Bryson City.

Other Smoky Mountain Hiking Trails In The G.S.M.N.P.

Clingmans Dome – Easy to Moderate (N 35.5545, W -83.4950): Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Smokies and Tennessee–6,642 feet. The view is astounding when the weather’s good. Start early–later in the day the parking area gets crowded and the air gets hazier. A few trails branch off but keep climbing the 0.7 mile to the summit tower that corkscrews its way above the peak. The circular viewpoint has a bench and illustrated plaques point out distant peaks. Use your clearest day for this hike – maybe after a summer cold front. The roundtrip is about 1.5 miles.

Directions: Take US 441 (Newfound Gap Rd.) to the crest of the park at Newfound Gap and turn west on Clingmans Dome Rd. The parking area is 7.6 miles west of Newfound Gap. The Clingmans Dome Rd. is closed in winter, from December 1 through March 31.


Oconaluftee River Trail (N 35.5131, W – 83.3066): One of the park’s best walks combines two separate experiences. The 1.5-mile ORT leads from the Mountain Farm Museum, at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, to the town of Cherokee–or from Cherokee to the farm. Hiking either way (or out and back for a 3-mile trip) offers a major dose of riverside scenery along with what may be the park’s best insight into Cherokee Indian Culture. A half dozen interpretive plaques on the trail explain Cherokee beliefs and respect for the natural world. The signs include evocative illustrations by Cherokee artists that will make you want to visit the tribe’s Qualla Arts and Crafts gallery in town. Wherever you start, the Mountain Farm Museum is a flat, half-mile wander among a stunning collection of 19th century backcountry farm structures that paint a vivid picture of a settler’s life. Along the ORT, the Oconaluftee River dances over ledges and around islands.

The Oconaluftee River Trail is one of two walking paths on which visitors can walk dogs and bicycle. Pets and bicycles are prohibited on all other park trails.

Directions: Park at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center just inside the park near Cherokee, at the Cherokee Transit parking just before the Park boundary, or at any of three pull-offs between Cherokee and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Rd.


Gatlinburg Trail (N 35.7034, W – 83.5160): This 2-mile greenway style path between Gatlinburg and the Sugarlands Visitor Center is a great walk, run or bike ride. The path winds along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River beside Newfound Gap Road. It passes under the Gatlinburg Bypass and crosses the river at one point. You’ll notice some homesites, a fairly frequent sight on Smokies trails. Starting at either spot and hiking out and back makes for a 4 mile trip—or get dropped off at the Visitor Center and walk back to town. This is a particularly good option for people staying in downtown Gatlinburg. This hike is the second walking path on which pets and bicycles are permitted in the National Park.

Directions: The path starts across the street from NOC’s Great Outpost by the park boundary and at Sugarlands Visitor Center.


Spruce-Fir Self-Guiding Nature Trail (N 35.6795, W -83.5312): The easiest of the park’s nature trails make nice walks. The Spruce-Fir Self-Guiding Nature Trail is a half-mile wander through a mossy, high elevation Canadian Zone forest at the park’s highest elevations. It’s very level and easy, but you will need to stride along sections of single plank boardwalk that keep hikers above the damp soils found in these high-rainfall forests. You’ll see skeletal Red Spruce and Fraser Fir killed by acid rain and the Balsam Woolly Adelgid with younger trees growing up to take their place. There are benches along the way to take in the sights and sounds of the trail.

Directions: The trail is on Clingmans Dome Rd., 2.6 miles from the Newfound Gap Rd. turn-off.


Big Creek Trail (N 35.7518, W – 83.1097): For a longer but still gradual walk, Big Creek is great as an out and back waterfall hike of 4 miles. Take a left up the gated road just back from the picnic area parking. The old railroad grade rises easily its entire length along one of the park’s most scenic streams. At 1.4 miles, Midnight Hole is a perfect swim spot on a hot day. Mouse Creek Falls cascades spectacularly from the left at 2 miles (an easy 4-mile roundtrip day hike).

Directions: Take I-40 east from Tennessee, west from North Carolina to exit 451 just west of the state line. Turn west across the Pigeon River (requires turning left under the interstate from North Carolina, then left across the river). Across the river, turn left on Waterville Rd. and go about 2 miles to a crossroads in the village of Mount Sterling. Go straight through the intersection and the Big Creek Ranger Station is 0.2 mile ahead on the right. The Big Creek Picnic Area trailhead is another 0.6 mile beyond on the right.


Chimney Tops – Strenuous (N 35.6357, W -83.4699): This 4-mile roundtrip hike is a true peak experience. Great views and exhilarating exposure are both found at the top of this rocky summit. This hike is not easy, but it’s one of the park’s easiest high adventure hikes. Head up the wide trail over stream bridges along rushing Road Prong and turn right in 0.9 mile at a junction. The trail gets steep then more gradual when the ridge leads out to where the Chimneys rise into the sky. This last climb is a rocky scramble around and up the crag. Use caution on this route! For the less adventurous, there is an easier route around the right side. The Newfound Gap Road lies below. Mount LeConte towers above.

Directions: The Chimney Tops parking area is on Newfound Gap Rd., 7.1 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center, 2.5 miles south of Chimneys Picnic Area, and 22 miles north of Oconaluftee Visitor Center. 


Appalachian Trail – Strenuous (N 35.6110, W -83.4248): Everybody wants to try the storied Georgia-to-Maine footpath. From Newfound Gap, the trail heads east to fabulous views at The Jump-Off and craggy Charlie’s Bunion. Head up the AT to start this 6.5-mile out-and-back hike to the Jump-Off, 8 miles to Charlie’s Bunion. You’ll pass Sweat Heifer Trail at 1.7 miles and The Boulevard Trail to Mount LeConte on the left at 2.7 miles. To reach the Jump-Off (6,100 feet), go left on The Boulevard Trail a short distance then right at the trail sign to a cliff top view. Stay on the AT if Charlie’s Bunion is your goal. You’ll pass Icewater Spring Shelter and at 3.8 miles reach the two rocky peaks that make up Charlie’s Bunion. The round-trip hike is about 8 miles.

Directions: The AT trailhead parking area in Newfound Gap is on Newfound Gap Rd., 13 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center and 16 miles north of Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The trail leaves the north side of the lot just beyond the trail to restrooms. 


Grotto Falls Trail – Moderate (N 35.6804, W -83.4626): The 2.6 mile roundtrip hike to Grotto Falls is fun because the trail swings behind and below the cascade. Llama teams regularly use this trail (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to resupply LeConte Lodge so you might see them going up in the morning or down in the afternoon. Old growth forest lines the start of the hike. Go left at the junction with the Trillium Gap Trail, 0.2 mile above the parking area. The trail weaves around the ridges of Mount LeConte, past four separate streams and the fifth is Grotto Falls.

Directions: From Gatlinburg traffic light # 8 turn onto Historic Nature Trail-Airport Rd. In 0.6 mile, bear right at the junction and straight onto Cherokee Orchard Rd. At 3.6 miles turn right onto the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Trillium Gap Trail parking area for Grotto Falls is on the left 5.2 miles from US 441. 


Alum Cave – Moderate to Strenuous (N 35.6288, W -83.4508): Tennessee’s LeConte Lodge is the East’s highest overnight hostel and a stay is great fun. Many people take this shortest trail to the hut, but there’s a great view half way up and much to see if you never make the summit. Many impressive log bridges cross streams on the lower part of this trail. Cross a bridge and climb steep steps through a rocky portal at Arch Rock (1.4 miles). Overhanging Alum Cave Bluffs towers above at 2.3 miles. Return from here for a 4.6 mile hike.

Directions: The Alum Cave parking is on the east side of Newfound Gap Rd 8.8 miles south from Sugarlands Visitor Center and 4.4 miles north of Newfound Gap. 

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