By Leif Palmer
Posted on July 8, 2020
Typically, when you think about hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains, you first visualize people walking along a rugged path, on their way to or from a scenic destination like a mountaintop or a waterfall. But that's not always the case. Many park visitors are not able to experience trails in the traditional manner because they are confined to a wheelchair or must use a scooter or other wheeled mobility device. And don't forget about younger children riding in strollers. Their parents also want to be able to enjoy the national park's trails and bring their tots along as well.
Fortunately for such visitors, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has several trails and routes with surfaces that allow access to guests who might not otherwise get the full benefit of exploring nature and its beauty. Read on to discover where these places are and how to access them.
Located a quarter-mile south of Sugarlands Visitor Center, this half-mile loop is flat and completely paved for access by strollers and wheelchairs. It has its own separate parking area from the visitor center, just off U.S. Hwy. 441 South. In addition to the natural surroundings, guests will see several chimneys indicating where the area's pre-park residents made their homes.
This trail also originates at Sugarlands Visitor Center and runs for 1.9 miles on a flat, one-way course along the Little Pigeon River's West Prong. The path is a mixture of gravel and some paved areas, but it is rated to allow stroller access as well as accommodating dogs and bicyclists.
This 10-mile loop around the Cades Cove community is paved, but it normally is busy with car traffic. On Wednesdays and Saturday mornings before 10 a.m. (mainly between May and November), however, the route is open to foot traffic and cyclists. Also, the Cades Cove Visitor Center is accessible, and the Becky Cable house and Cable Mill both have wheelchair ramps.
If you're on the North Carolina side of the national park, this three-mile round-trip trail originates at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. It's rated for strollers and wheelchairs, but the level surface is made of hard-packed dirt, so it might be more difficult traveling for some wheelchairs. Visitors will see the Oconaluftee River along much of the route.
Note that while the Laurel Falls trail, on the Tennessee side of the park, is paved, it's generally considered too steep for comfortable wheelchair or stroller use. Although we have certainly seen instances of both in the past. That may be one of those situations where you check it out for yourself and see how you feel about the level of steepness.
Remember that if you don't want to drive into the park, you can utilize our Gatlinburg parking and take a trolley to Sugarlands Visitor Center.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in Gatlinburg. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.