Chattanooga Hiking Guide
Best Running Adventures, Great Smoky Mountains

Best Places To Run In The Great Smoky Mountains

Ramsay Cascade Trail – Easy (N 35.7030, W -83.3569): Ramsay Cascade Trail makes a nice 3-mile round trip run not far from Gatlinburg. Park at the trailhead and the first 1.5 miles of the trail beyond the road gate is itself a road on a very gradual grade. You’ll have to cross one of those classic, long single-log bridges over Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River, but that shouldn’t slow you down much (unless you love scenic river views).

Directions: Take US 321 with a right turn northeast out of Gatlinburg at traffic light #3. Drive 6 miles and turn right on Greenbrier Rd. Pass the ranger station and picnic area on a gravel road. At 3 miles take the left fork of the road and drive another 1.5 miles to the trailhead.

The Ramsay Cascades. Photo By: rjones0856

Deep Creek Trail – Easy to Moderate (N 35.4642, W – 83.4344): This gravel surface, road-width grade is a joy to jog and you’ll see other runners out there. Jog the first flat half-mile and you have an easy 1-mile roundtrip past beautiful Tom Branch Falls to a bridge and views of inner-tubers floating by. The trail rises along the road another 1.2 miles past the put-in point for tubers to another bridge (the end of mountain bike access). The steeper grades and added length creates a moderate to strenuous run of up to 3.4 miles. The bridge at the top has a great swimming hole.

Directions: From downtown Bryson City, turn north from US 19 on Everett St. with 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. 

Paved Run in Campgrounds – Moderate (Elkmont Campground N 35.6603, W – 83.5839): Not every runner wants to tackle unpaved trails, so campgrounds and picnic areas rank right up there as options. You’ll be running loops, but you can easily drive around these sites to figure out the mileage and route you want. To start, grab the campground map at the check-in kiosk–that’ll be a big help. Also, choose one of the park’s less visited locations if you choose to do this. Among those would be big campgrounds like Elkmont (the biggest) and Cosby, just refurbished, very large, and very empty when other campgrounds can be full. Elkmont adds a plus—it’s a big campground near the Little River Trail run described below.

Directions: From Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, turn onto Little River Rd. and drive 4.9 miles and take a left turn to the south. The Elkmont Campround entrance is at 6.3 miles.

Little River Trail – Moderate to Strenuous (N 35.6542, W – 83.5804): For 2.3 miles, the Little River Trail rises gradually as an old railroad bed past extensive evidence of early logging and park residents. It’s a pretty stream run, for an almost 5-mile round trip. There are nice views of Huskey Branch Falls at the top. To really ramp up this run, make a 5.2-mile loop out of it. Start on the Little River Trail, then turn right on the Cucumber Gap Trail and head right on the gradual descent. At 4.7 miles, turn right on the Jakes Gap Trail and at 5 miles, turn right again to cruise the roadside another 0.5 mile to your car for a 5.2 mile loop.

Directions: Turn onto Little River Rd. at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg and drive 4.9 miles to turn left toward Elkmont Campground. Bear left past the campground entrance at 6.3 miles. Past a split in the road, park on the left by the gate at 6.9 miles.

Old Settlers Trail – Strenous (N 35.7211, W – 83.3952): For runners looking to tackle truly tough trails, the Smokies is the spot. If you run in stouter footwear and want the workout of dodging rocks or climbing and descending steeper grades, try the Old Settlers Trail. This 17 mile run undulates between Greenbrier Road, not far from the Ramsay Cascade trailhead and US 321 near Cosby. It follows old roads through what was once one of the park’s more populated areas. You’ll pass all kinds of evidence of settlement including decaying structures and spectacular stone walls. If you use a hiker shuttle, you can run the entire trail and be ferried back to your car, otherwise run out and back to customize your run. A nice 13.2-miler takes you from the Greenbrier Road trailhead to a turnaround at the park’s Campsite 33 (just beyond is a major descent!).

Directions: From Gatlinburg turn onto US 321 at traffic light # 3 and go 6 miles to a right turn onto Greenbrier Rd. In 3 miles, bear left at the fork in the road and park on the left just beyond a bridge in 0.15 miles.

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