Neal and I enjoy camping and hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. In this post, I share about one of our favorite campgrounds, our favorite hiking trails, and other hiking and camping tips.
Our Favorite Campground
We camped at Greenbrier Campground. There are many reasons why we enjoyed this campground:
- It is beautiful because it is surrounded by the Little Pigeon River. It is not deep, more like a creek. Many of the campsites are on the river and you can enjoy the sound of the water running over the rocks. In the warmer months, many wade and swim in the river.
- The bathhouses are new and VERY clean. They have individual bathrooms with showers so you have privacy. They also have tent camping, cabins, and even teepees
- They are dog friendly and have two dog parks (a small and a larger one). Our Daisy does not like going to the bathroom on a leash and so this was a major convenience for us. It was also good for Daisy to have some playtime, not on a lease. She loves to play chase with us and she always wins!
- It is a very family-friendly campground. There is a playground, a gaga pit, a pool table, etc. We are empty-nesters but enjoyed watching children play while we walked Daisy.
- The staff is very nice and helpful.
- The items sold onsite were reasonably priced. We purchased firewood and marshmallow tongs from them.
- We were there in the fall and it was tastefully decorated for the season so we really enjoyed this too.
- The only downside is that some (not all) of the sites are a little small but it is well worth a smaller site to be at such a nice campground.
We will make staying at Greenbrier Campground an annual event!
Our Favorite Trails
Below is our itinerary that includes our favorite hiking trails. This schedule worked out great for us! Some days, we even had time to take an afternoon nap after a long hike.
We hit this trail first thing after breakfast because we are early risers. We parked at the Gatlinburg Trail Head and hiked to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, which was nice because we were able to use the restrooms and get hiking trail information at the visitor center. Then, we hiked back on the same trail to our car. The roundtrip (from the Gatlinburg Trailhead is 3.9 miles and the trail follows along the West Prong on the Little Pigeon River.
This is only one of two dog-friendly trails. The other dog-friendly trail is in North Carolina. So, Daisy enjoyed this trail too. It is relatively flat. I even carried my coffee with me on the trail. This was the easiest trail we hiked (more of a walk than a hike). For us, it was a great way to start off our trip. It just set the tone for more good days ahead. This trail gets a little more crowded as the day progresses, especially on the weekend.
It rained during the afternoon, so this was the perfect time to drive this trail. There are numerous historical sites along the way, which makes it interesting. You could make a day of it. This might be the perfect trail for people who want a little activity (stops along the way) but are not interested in actual hiking. There are several scenic places to park and take pictures along the way. Daisy loved it because she could hang her head out the window and enjoy the sights and smells.
The only concern is that once you are on the trail, there are few places to exit. In addition, because it is so heavily visited, traffic tends to move slowly, which was fine with us because everyone (including us) was enjoying the sights.
After the rain, Daisy and I explored Greenbrier Campground and Little Pigeon River while Neal took a nap in the camper. This, too, was a relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Abram Falls at Cades Cove. Cades Cove is a bit of a drive from Gatlinburg but worth the effort. The drive is actually quite beautiful.
We hiked this trail which is 5.2 miles round trip and classified as moderate. Hiking this trail made us feel like we were authentic hikers.
The waterfalls were well worth the hike! It is 20 feet high but has the largest volume of water in The Great Smokey Mountains Park. However, be careful due to the strong current.
Clingman’s Dome, North Carolina.
This is 25 miles from Gatlinburg but actually takes a few hours to drive due to traffic and terrain. I am glad we did this but, in some ways, this was more challenging than the trails we hiked. (Maybe I was a little tired that day.) It is paved but is straight up. It is also heavily populated. The day we visited, it was also windy and cold. The view was for miles which was a neat experience.
Because we enjoyed the trails so much, we went back and hiked (actually more like walked) the Gatlinburg Trail again so Daisy would get some exercise too. Here are some fun pictures I took on this trail.
Do you ever feel exposed like these roots?
Check out the scary face in this tree.
We hiked the Gatlinburg Trail again with Daisy and this time detoured from this trail to hike Cateract Falls. This trail was nothing spectacular after experiencing Abram Falls. However, if you have someone in your party who may struggle to hike a trail (children, elderly, etc.) but wants to have the experience, this might be a good fit for them. It is only .75 miles. Unlike the Gatlinburg Trail, no dogs are allowed on this trail. The cooler temperatures allowed us to leave Daisy in the car to take a nap while we hiked this short trail.
For our finale, we hiked Laurel Falls Trail and this too was a beautiful trail. It is 2.6 miles round trip and considered moderate in terms of difficulty. This waterfall is also worth the hike! It does not have the volume of water that Abrams Falls has, but it is very tall. It is divided into two parts – – a higher section and a lower section. The video below shows the higher section.
Below is a picture of the lower section of Laurel Falls.
Here are the top six trails Greenbrier Campground recommends.
We ended each day relaxing by our campfire while listening to the Little Pigeon River.
OTHER TIPS AND ADVICE
Advice on What to Pack/Wear
Do some research before you travel so you have a general plan of what to do on day one.
Check the weather
Check the weather before you travel but also know it might change when you are there. It might be cold in the morning and warm/hot in the afternoon. Also, be prepared for rain.
Dress in layers
Dress in layers because the temperature can change 30+ degrees within the same day. We would start off in pants, a short-sleeve t-shirt, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and a pullover. By mid-afternoon, we would be in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts.
Have the right shoes for hiking. You can wear athletic shoes but at least make sure you have deep treads on the bottom of your shoes. I was amazed that a few people were in dress boots, all-white shoes, or ballet flats. Their feet had to be hurting!
Purchase a Trail Map
This was the best $1.00 we spent. You can use their app; however, there are many times you don’t have good cell coverage due to the mountains. So, go old school and purchase a trail map at one of the visitor centers.
We did not use walking sticks but we saw many people using walking sticks on the trail. We have friends who live/hike in Maui and they use them when they hike.
Our Favorite Restaurant
We got up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowd at Crockett’s 1875 Breakfast Camp for breakfast. The atmosphere was rustic and they gave out newspapers from years gone by. I enjoyed reading about the history while we waited for our breakfast. It was delicious!
Traffic in Gatlinburg (downtown) is horrendous. During peak hours on the weekend, it took us over an hour to drive through. If you have to go through Gatlinburg to get to the trails you want to hike and we did several times, try to go early in the day or make sure you allocate enough time.
Because of the mountains, cell coverage is spotty and sometimes all together nonexistent. For all of us technology-dependent people, just be aware. On the upside, this is a good time to put your phone down and enjoy the great outdoors!
Try to Avoid Weekends
Everything (trails, restaurants, downtown Gatlinburg) is more crowded on the weekends. If you can avoid weekends, I would recommend that. However, if you can’t don’t let that keep you from exploring the Great Smokey Mountains!
We enjoyed our trip so much that we plan on going to Greenbrier Campground and The Great Smokey Mountains every fall . . . and maybe in the spring too!
Being out in God’s creation whether in your backyard or at The Great Smokey Mountains is a reminder of our Creator. As we hiked the trails, I found myself thanking God for His beautiful creation.
“In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.” ~Psalm 95:4
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Let me know what you think or if you have any questions by commenting below.
To see how we decorated our RV: making our camper feel like home on the road, click HERE.
To learn about our favorite campground, Gulf State Park, click HERE.