Best Hiking in Tennessee

Best hiking in Tennessee - Virgin Falls Trail

If you love mountains and nature generally, you’d love these beautiful trails for the best hiking in Tennessee. Hiking offers a lot for different people, it’s an opportunity to challenge yourself, and it’s also rewarding- the spectacular views you get to see at the end of your hiking are always worth it. 

Tennessee is an excellent playground for outdoor enthusiasts, especially hikers and backpackers. From the majestic Appalachian Mountains in the east to the extensive river system in the state, there are stunning trails for everyone. The state also has a wide range of topography and an abundance of waterfalls which will make your exploration worthwhile. 

Whether you’re hiking with the family, are a newbie, or are an experienced hiker, you’d find the perfect trail for the best hiking in Tennessee. Here are some of the top hikes in the state, with information on all you need to know about it.

Laurel Falls Trail

Best hiking in Tennessee – Laurel Falls Trail

Google Map Location for Laurel Falls Trail

Description: Laurel Falls Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It gets its name from the evergreen shrub (mountain laurel) that grows on the trail and near the waterfall.

It was originally known as Laurel Branch Trail, a 5-mile trail providing access for crew members to the Cove Mountain area and Cove Mountain Fire Tower. However, over the years, the pavements of the trail have been rough and broken, making it difficult for wheelchairs and strollers to access this trail.

Distance & Difficulty: 2.6-mile round trip and rated easy

Time Taken: It takes 2 hours to complete

Dogs Allowed: Dogs are not allowed.

Fee: Free

Best time of year to visit: May to October

What to Expect: The hiking will take you through vast greenery as you approach the 80-foot waterfall (which has an upper and lower section). We advise you to take your camera along to capture the breathtaking views. The best time for this to get the best lighting is early in the morning or late in the evening. The rocks around the falls are steep and may be slippery to hikers during wet weather because of the green algae growing on them, so avoid climbing them. Be careful on your hike, as you may see a black bear on or near the trail (though this only happens in rare cases).  

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Parking/Restroom: There are two parking lots, but unfortunately, the park has no bathroom facilities, but you can use the one at Sugarlands Visitor Center (4 miles east of the trailhead) before beginning your hike.

Virgin Falls Trail

Best hiking in Tennessee – Virgin Falls Trail

Google Map Location for Virgin Falls Trail

Kevin Chaney | Alltrails

Image Alt: Best hiking in Tennessee – Virgin Falls Trail

Description: Virgin Falls Trail is located in Virgin Falls State Natural Area. This 1157-acre natural area is situated halfway between Nashville and Knoxville in Sparta. The trail gets its name from the 110-foot Virgin waterfalls, which come from a cave, drop down and disappear into another cave below.  It’s a picture-perfect trail with options for backpackers to camp for a night or two for a full experience.

Distance & Difficulty:  It’s a 9-mile round trip rated as difficult.

Time Taken:  It takes an average of five hours.

Dogs Allowed: Dogs are welcome so long as they are on a leash.

Fee: Free

Best time of year to visit: April to September

What to Expect:  Virgin Falls Trail is a long trail recommended for more experienced hikers. The trail starts from the Scott Gulf Road parking area and continues through the forest until you meet a small stream beside Big Laurel Creek. It features several waterfalls, elevation changes from the creek floor, and a change in scenery, making for a diverse hike. You may also spot some beautiful flowers and birds on the trail. On your trail, you will find other waterfalls, including Big Laurel Falls, Sheep Cave Falls, and Big Branch Falls. If you want to convert this to a backpacking trip, you can camp at Overlook Junction, Virgin Falls, Martha’s Pretty Point, and Caney Fork. However, you’d have to make reservations.

Since it’s a long trip, starting early in the morning is advisable so that you have enough sunlight to return to the parking area.  Again, note that you’ll only have the best experience when the water flows, so ensure you visit during the wet season.

Parking/Restroom: Parking is available at the start of the trail. 

Alum Cave Trail

Best hiking in Tennessee – Alum Cave Trail

Google Map Location for Alum Cave Trail

Description: Head out to this trail in the quintessential Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg and experience the best hiking in Tennessee. Alum Cave Trail leads to Alum Cave Bluffs, a former mining site for alum, saltpeter, and Epsom salt during the Civil Water. Now, the bluff forms an overhang that’s 80 feet tall and 500 feet long. While most turn back after reaching this edifice, you can continue the trail to the top of Mount LeConte for an even better panoramic view of the Smokies. 

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Distance & Difficulty: The trail is a 10.7-mile round trip, out and back, and rated as difficult

Time Taken: It takes an average of 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Dogs Allowed: Dogs are not allowed.

Fee: Free

Best time of year to visit: April to October

What to Expect: Start your hike from the Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead area or the parking area off Newfound Gap Road and head up Alum Cave Trail. The trail parallels the nearby Alum Cave Creek and is gentle until it turns from the creek, and that’s when the grade becomes steeper. Arch Rock is the first attraction you’ll see on your hike, where you continue your trail using stairs and a cable railing. Next up is Inspiration Point, which offers a great viewpoint until you finally reach Alum Cave Bluffs. The hike continues, but you can turn back if you want a shorter distance. At the top of the mount is LeConte Lodge, providing visitors with accommodation and lodging options. It was first established in 1925 as a tent but has now evolved into a series of cabins that can accommodate up to 50 people per night. 

As you ascend and get to the trail’s end, turn right onto Rainbow Trails past LeConte Lodge. After a short walk on Rainbow Falls Trail, you can take a right onto the Cliff Top Viewpoint Access Trail and reach the summit of Cliff Top. The view from here is amazing if the weather permits. 

After exploring the sites on one of the best hiking trails in Tennessee, you can relax, have some snacks and head back.

Parking/Restroom: There is a parking lot and a bathroom at Alum Cave Trailhead

Snoopers Rock Trail

Best hiking in Tennessee – Snoopers Rock Trail

Google Map Location for Snooper Rock Trail

Description: Snoopers Rock Trail is located in Prentice Cooper State Forest in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Prentice Cooper State Forest features several hiking trails making it a perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts who want to spend time away from the city. People can indulge in activities like biking, rock climbing, mountain climbing, horseback riding, and camping. The trail leads to a local landmark, Snoopers Rock, and from there, you can catch a glimpse of the Tennessee River Gorge. 

Distance & Difficulty: The trail is 7 miles and is rated as having moderate difficulty 

Time Taken:  It takes an average of 3 hours to complete.

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Dogs Allowed: Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash.

Fee: Free

Best time of year to visit: March to November

What to Expect: The Snoopers Rock Trail starts from the Cumberland Trail in the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area and takes you through diverse terrains, crossing small streams and numerous boulders and rock formations. Expect to be wowed by the Indian Rockhouse, an impressive rock overhang and as you continue the trail, turn left at the intersection 3 miles into the hike to reach Snooper’s Rock overlook. The scenery here makes the hike worth your while. 

It’s best to prepare for the hike as you’d pass some creeks. Generally, the hike is peaceful and only requires a few climbs.  Know that there’s a shorter route to Snoopers Rock, so that the spot can be crowded on some days. Be sure to check for park closures during hunting season.

Parking/Restroom: There is a parking lot at Cumberland Trailhead

Sewanee Perimeter Trail

Best hiking in Tennessee – Sewanee Perimeter Trail

Google Map Location for Sewanee Perimeter Trail

Description: The Sewanee Perimeter Trail is a private property of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. It offers an excellent view for hikers along the bluff of the Cumberland Plateau. A couple of access points are available, so you can always go for shorter hikes. Access points on the trail are the Memorial Cross, Lake Cheston, Green’s View, and the University’s Gates.

Distance & Difficulty: It’s a 20-mile trail rated as having moderate difficulty

Time Taken: It takes an average of 8 hours to complete

Dogs Allowed: Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash.

Fee: Free

Best time of year to visit: April to October 

What to Expect: Expect to pass by two lakes and some rock formations while hiking. Since most of the trail is through the forest, you’d get the best views in late fall or early spring.

Parking/Restroom: No parking or restrooms.


Have a fun day hiking on some of the best trails in Tennessee. Most trails are open all year round, but the best time to visit most is spring, summer, and fall. If you’re heading out in the wet season, don’t forget to go with your hiking poles to prevent falling or injuring yourself because of the slippery rocks. 

Experience the best hiking in Tennessee, exploring its waterfalls and forest trails. You’d be sure to capture some postcard-worthy pictures as you enjoy the views from some of the tallest sites in Tennessee.

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