Short, Easy Smoky Mountain Hiking Trail
One of the best hikes for families with young kids or elderly members who cannot walk a great distance is the .5 mile (1 mile round-trip) hike to the waterfall on the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. This trail is an ideal introduction to hiking. Walking sticks and multiple bottles of water are optional, but a camera and taking your time to appreciate the woodland scenery along the shaded trail are a must! Kids may be tempted to run ahead a little ways, but they’ll easily be within eyesight.
This low impact, outdoor adventure will start at the Sugarlands Welcome Center at the Gatlinburg entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s approximately 2 miles from downtown Gatlinburg traffic light #10 on US-441. There’s plenty of shaded parking, restroom facilities, picnic tables and a museum. There’s also a 20-minute free movie, but little ones with little attention spans may just be ready to get outside.
Before you head out, take a few minutes to look at the 3-D relief map. This will show everyone just how large the park is and how many more hiking trails are available, so that one day when you are feeling more ambitious ya’ll can hike another.
Make use of the restroom facilities and walk right out the door to begin your hike, which actually begins when you step off the Visitor Center sidewalk. The path is wide and level with only a few tree roots to avoid. The Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is well traveled, but the waterfall at the end will give everyone a wonderful reward.
While on the trail, be sure to snap a selfie or ask other hikers to trade photography favors. When you arrive back at the Visitor Center, spend as much time as your group will allow. Look at the flora and fauna exhibits, ask a park Ranger about things you saw along the trail, and visit the small gift shop for souvenirs. Besides plenty of books and hiking trail maps, the gift shop has plenty of educational items that will help instill a love of nature and teach your kids to take care of our green space for the future. Every purchase from the gift shop benefits park preservation and is greatly appreciated!