Best 6 Overnight Hikes in the Smoky Mountains

Nestled across the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains are a hiker’s paradise. This region is full of diverse landscapes that include bouldering-friendly cliff faces, tree-blanketed hills, secret caverns, and beautiful waterfalls. In fact, Appalachia as a whole accounts for one of the most diverse areas in the entire continental United States. It’s easy to see why so many people come here to get lost in nature, such as with an overnight hike far and away from the crowds.

The big question for many then isn’t whether an overnight hike is worth it here, but rather which of the many overnight hikes they should choose.

The following is a quick look at some of the highest-rated trails you’ll find in this area:

1. Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

gravel trail on side of mountain

This gorgeous hike up Mount LeConte covers about 11 miles. Note that you are going up a mountain and so, this is considered a pretty challenging hike with a total elevation gain of just over 3,000 feet. It is possible to complete the entirety of this hike in one day, with some people reporting they were able to go up and back down the mountain in under 7 hours. However, most hikers will find a pace that allows for upwards of 11 to 12 hours much more comfortable. You cannot camp on the Alum Cave Trail up to Mount LeConte itself, but there is a backpacking shelter at the top that is available for an overnight excursion.

You can make this hiking trail a bit longer by choosing to go beyond the Mount LeConte Trail Center to a viewing place called Myrtle Point. This will add about 0.8 miles to your route, but you really can’t beat the incredible mountain views from here. Plus, if you do end up staying at the shelter overnight, this is one of the best spots to see an unimpeded sunrise over the far eastern horizon and sunset to the west.

2. Mount Cammerer via Low Gap Trail

Photo Credit by @adamgravett on Instagram

We call this one an overnight, but technically your campground is at the start of Low Gap Trail. That’s Cosby Campground, a very friendly space with all the amenities you’d want to gear up for a long day on the hiking trail.

The Low Gap Trail to the Mount Cammerer Lookout Tower traverses about 11 miles and can take anywhere between six and eleven hours to complete with a total elevation gain of about 3,150 feet. It’s a challenging hike and you should bring mountain poles to help with the looser terrain. It is a beautiful hike through the mountain forest and up to a higher meadow before the lookout tower that offers outstanding vistas of the surrounding area.

3. Appalachian Trail via Davenport Gap to Max Patch Road

Photo Credit by @lilbuddhahikes on Instagram

This is a gorgeous segment of the Appalachian Trail that is about 18.7 miles long and features a touch of Appalachian history. Over the course of the trail, you will experience about a 3,000-foot elevation gain, but that’s spread out over a much greater distance than the two similar elevation hiking trails profiled above. The route will take you through forests, down valleys, and past several old logging camps and even homesteads that were abandoned following the park’s creation. It’s a picturesque but long hiking trail. Overnight hikers should plan on this taking up to two nights, three days to complete at a comfortable pace. There are a couple of great camping shelters available on this route for you to stay at.

4. Big Creek Loop

Photo Credit by @weavinginsquamish on Instagram

This is another more extended overnight hike that covers 21.5 miles. Although, nicely, this is the first one on our list that is a full loop, which means that you can walk in the same direction and eventually end where you started. Even better, that starting and end point is the Big Creek Campground. So book a night there and get off early the next morning on your multi-day hiking adventure. This looped hiking does have some pretty big elevation changes, but it is also considered one of the most picturesque overnight hiking trails as it passes by two waterfalls, a ton of swimming holes, and plenty of vista spots where you can pause and enjoy panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

5. Deep Creek Loop

Want to be out in the wilderness even longer? Opt for the 28.2-mile overnight hiking trail that is the Deep Creek Loop. This one also features a campground at its trailhead, the Deep Creek Campground, and the views start early. Less than a hundred feet on this trail will have you at Juney Whank Falls and not much further than that, you’ll find a quick detour to Indian Creek Falls. But perhaps the most notable highlight of the Deep Creek Loop is that it will take you to Clingmans Dome Observation Tower. This futuristic observation tower features a circular concrete ramp that will take you high above the treeline to enjoy an unparalleled 360-degree panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains.

6. Shining Rock Mountain

Photo Credit by @skeelow22 on Instagram

This is the shortest hike on our overnight trail list at just ten miles and thus, most might find it readily able to do in a day. The trail for this one goes through a lot of meadow terrain and is thus best to traverse in the fall when the weather is cooler and when blackberries are in season. There is a designated area for primitive camping near the top of the mountain and it offers some pretty extraordinary views of sunrise and sunset.

Please note that these and other hiking trails within the Great Smoky Mountains National Forest do not allow dogs. 

Enjoy a Filling Meal When You Get Back

After a long overnight hike, one of the best things to do is to find a good restaurant to lean back and enjoy a filling meal at. Be sure to check out our other pages to learn about the best restaurants near these great hikes.