Best Hikes in Cherokee National Forest (TN)

Cherokee National Forest Overview

Located in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of east Tennessee, the Cherokee National Forest is divided into northern and southern sections by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The 650,000-acre forest is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee and adjoins other national forests in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The Ocoee River, Tellico River, Unaka Mountain and Watauga Lake are just a few of the special places located in the Cherokee National Forest. Along with the best hikes in Cherokee National Forest described below, the area also contains 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Nearest Metro AreaGatlinburg, TN
Area Size655,598 acres
EstablishedJune 14, 1920
Hiking Trails600 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Cherokee National Forest

(*** = Best Hikes in Cherokee National Forest)

Bald River Gorge – 11.2 miles out and back
Bald River Falls
Bald River Falls, Photo by Nicolas Raymond

Trail #88, Bald River is approximately 5.6-miles one way. It generally follows Bald River through the gorge from a parking area at Bald River Falls located on Forest Road 210 (Tellico River Road) to Forest Road #126 (Bald River Road) near Holly Flats Campground. From Bald River Falls parking area, the trail follows a railroad grade constructed during historic logging operations. The first part of the trail is delineated by narrow gauge railroad track posts connected by logging chains to encourage visitors to stay on the trail.

Benton Falls Trail*** – 3.0 miles out and back
20220612_BentonFalls_Gary Fleet
Benton Falls, Photo by US Forest Service – Southern Region

The Benton Falls Trail is an easy 1.5 mile (each way) hike to the 65 foot high waterfall. As with most of the falls hikes in Cherokee National Forest, this is best completed after a good rain.

Conasauga Falls Trail – 1.5 miles out and back
Conasauga River, Photo by Ashley Miller

Conasauga Falls Trail #170 offers a quick and easy way to see and experience a beautiful waterfall and enjoy a quiet day by the creek. The trail descends all the way to the falls so you are uphill on your way back up to the trailhead.

Laurel Fork Falls Trail – 2.6 miles out and back
Appalachian Trail - Laurel Fork Gorge Falls
Laurel Fork Gorge Falls, Photo by DM

Located in the congressionally designated Pond Mountain Wilderness, Laurel Falls is a popular destination for hikers due to its immense size (40’ high & 50’ wide) and picturesque setting. The hike to the falls can be challenging and requires good footwear and physical ability. Not to be confused with the somewhat nearby Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Margarette Falls Trail*** – 2.4 miles out and back
Margarette Falls
Margarette Falls, Photo by DM

Margarette Falls with its picturesque fan-shaped, 60-foot drop, is one of the most popular waterfall trails in the area. Enjoy exploring the same mountains and streams Margaret Doak, Margarette Falls namesake, enjoyed in the early 1920s. The first .5-mile section of this trail is an easy hike on a closed Forest Service road. Shortly after leaving the road the trail forks, bear left and travel along Dry Creek .7 miles to the waterfall. This section of the trail is moderately difficult and crosses the stream several times, providing many opportunities to cool off in the creek.

Rock Creek Falls – 3.2 miles out and back

This moderate trail takes you into the Rock Creek Gorge Scenic Area, known for its waterfalls. This trail is 1.6 miles (each way), and includes several creek crossings

Sill Branch Falls Trail – 1.0 miles out and back
Sill Branch Falls
Sill Branch Falls, Photo by DM

This one-half mile (one way) short walk terminates at a water play area at the base of a 20 foot waterfall.  Best viewing times are spring and fall, as there is generally more water flowing over the falls. 

Turtletown Falls Trail*** – 3.6 mile loop

This easy hike allows for visitors to hike to the popular Turtletown Falls. For a bonus waterfall, hike further downstream to see the lower falls before leaving. The second half of the hike is a bit more challenging as you make your way back up to the trailhead.

Featured Image: Chimney Rocks – Cherokee National Forest, Photo by AppalachianCentrist

Don’t forget to stock up on the essentials before you plan your next hiking or camping trip! We have recommendations on: