Thunderhead Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
April 14, 2023

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to hundreds of hiking trails for all skill levels, including some difficult options for advanced hikers! If you’re up for some strenuous trails that provide a serious workout, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous wildflowers, stunning views, and maybe even some wildlife along the way! These hikes are all at least 10 miles long, so prepare to spend most of the day exploring these amazing trails! Here are 3 of the most challenging Smoky Mountains National Park hikes:

1. Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling

There are several trails that lead up to Mt. Sterling, but the Baxter Creek Trail offers the toughest route to the historic fire tower. In fact, this trail is considered to be the most difficult day hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as it climbs 4,200 feet in just 6.2 miles! During the higher elevations of this trek, you’ll travel through some of the park’s most gorgeous sections of spruce fir forest. Once reaching the summit, you can enjoy panoramic views from the 60-foot-tall Mt. Sterling Fire Tower! You’ll find the trailhead for this 12.2-mile round-trip hike on the far side of the Big Creek picnic area, which is one of the less traveled areas of the Smokies.

2. Rainbow Falls Trail to Mt. LeConte

Mount LeConte in the Smoky Mountains

The third tallest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Mt. LeConte, and many folks consider it the most scenic destination in the Smokies. However, at an elevation of 6,593 feet, it can take some real effort to reach the summit! The Rainbow Falls Trail offers a 13.8-mile round-trip hike where you’ll gain an elevation of 3,993 feet and pass by a spectacular waterfall on the side of Mt. LeConte. The rocky trail continues up a beautiful route that leads to the LeConte Lodge, which is the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States! The trailhead for the Rainbow Falls Trail is situated in the Roaring Fork area of the park.

3. Rocky Top Trail to Thunderhead Mountain

Another of the most challenging Smoky Mountains National Park hikes is the Rocky Top Trail to Thunderhead Mountain! This 13.9-mile round trip hike not only makes the list due to its considerable distance but for a steady climb where you’ll experience an elevation gain of nearly 4,000 feet! The exciting news is that the Rocky Top Trail offers some of the most jaw-dropping views in the National Park, and there are three separate summits along the route! Once you arrive at the rocky peak, you’ll have incredible panoramic views of the mountains, the historic Cades Cove area, and North Carolina’s Fontana Lake! You’ll find the trailhead at the Cades Cove picnic area near the Cades Cove campground.

Now that you know about some of the most challenging Smoky Mountains National Park hikes, you’re almost ready to hit the trails! The only thing left is to gear up for your journey, so check out these 4 items you should bring with you to make hiking in the Smoky Mountains National Park more enjoyable!