The ultimate hidden gem, the Smokemont Loop Trail can be tricky to find — but it’s well worth the effort. The peaceful trail begins near the Smokemont Campground, less than an hour’s drive from downtown Gatlinburg. Here you will enjoy a moderate 6.5-mile hike, with a gradual incline and stunning views of the Oconaluftee River Valley.
The trail is referred to as a “loop,” but the Smokemont portion doesn’t actually form a loop on its own. Rather, the loop is created by joining up with the Bradley Fork Trail at the beginning and end of the hike.
The first segment of the Smokemont Loop accompanies the Bradley Creek Trail, which runs parallel to the Oconaluftee River’s Bradley Fork. This trail is a former road, and fairly flat. By far the least strenuous portion of the hike, this serves as the perfect warm-up for the incline ahead.
When you come across a well-marked intersection with the Chasteen Creek Trail, stay left. Half a mile after this intersection, you’ll arrive at the intersection for the Smokemont Loop. Turn left to cross the river on a rustic bridge with a handrail on one side.
After crossing the bridge, you’ll begin your big ascent on a more conventional hiking trail with roots and rocks. Expect at least an hour of uphill trekking. Once you reach an unmarked segment of road, it’s time to turn left and head back towards the campground parking area. If navigating the campground is a struggle, stick to the path closest to the river.
The views are stunning year-round, but particularly scenic in early spring, when violets and hepaticas border the trail. In April, you’ll see umbrella leaf as you reach the higher elevation portions of the trail. The autumn colors are beautiful, but fallen leaves can be a slippery hazard after it rains — hiking poles are recommended.
Interested in extending your hike? Take a 1.4 mile round trip along Chasteen Creek Trail to the beautiful Chasteen Cascades.
From downtown Gatlinburg, take US-441 South, which meanders through southern Tennessee into North Carolina. You can stay on 441 nearly the entire drive, merely turning left on Smokemont Road near the end of your trip. Cross the Oconaluftee River and take another left to continue on Smokemont Road. You’ll pass a church marked with signs indicating that it has two different names: Luftee Baptist Church (short for Oconaluftee) and Smokemont Baptist Church. Turn right when you arrive at the Smokemont Campground. Drive through the campground until you reach the designated ten parking spaces for hikers, located conveniently near the trailhead for the Bradley Fork Trail.
-Keep an eye out for the Bradley Cemetery, with stones dating back nearly a century. You’ll approach the cemetery just after 3.5 miles, when you hit the trail’s peak elevation. Traverse a collection of eroded side trails until you reach a T-junction. Turn right and continue on a wider side trail. This trail will eventually split; stay to the right, and you’ll encounter a sloped graveyard. Most stones are unmarked.
-The Smokemont area is an excellent habitat for bears, 1,500 of which reside within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bear sightings are rare along the Smokemont Loop, but it’s best to remain vigilant.
The 6.5-mile round trip Smokemont Loop begins easy but rapidly increases in difficulty, with an approximate 1,400 foot increase in elevation preceding a steep descent. If you're up to the challenge, you'll enjoy stunning views of wildflowers and the pleasant sound of the Bradley Fork.