In the age of Covid-19 the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remained a top U.S. tourist destination. Even with all the lockdowns, shutdowns, and Travel restrictions that came with the deadly virus, over 12 million people visited the park in 2020. In fact the Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw a ten-percent increase in tourism over 2019. The nearby towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are packed with tourists who come to visit the many attractions. dinner theaters, and restaurants. Packed sidewalks and heavy traffic are common. Even many of the most popular hiking trails can be crowded.

Trails leading to Laurel Falls, Rainbow Falls, Alum Cave, and other popular spots can be heavily trafficked. Unless you arrive at the crack of dawn parking near the trailheads can be difficult, if not impossible. So how can you escape the crowds and still see amazing views, incredible sites, and retrace the steps of historic figures who once called the park home? Here are five moderately used trails almost anyone can manage with hidden treasures at the end.

CAUTION: When hiking in the GSMNP you are in BEAR COUNTRY. The hikes listed here are all in areas where bear activity is high. You should educate yourself on bear behavior, what to do if you encounter a bear, and know all laws and regulations that prohibit approaching or feeding bears.

Hike smart. Always check the weather forecast, make sure you have the required equipment necessary for the trail you are planning to hike, proper footwear is a high priority, and take plenty of food, and water. Always tell someone where you will be hiking and when you plan to return in case of an emergency. Please do not leave trash, or take rocks, plants, wildflowers, or any other items from the park.

It is illegal and you could be fined heavily. Take nothing but pictures and memories, leave nothing but footprints.

The Hidden Cabin in the Smoky Mountains

This historic cabin just off the Jake's Creek Trail was once the art studio of Mayna Treanor Avent. Built in 1845, Avent's husband, Frank, purchased the cabin for his wife in 1918, who used it as an art studio until 1940.

Jake's Creek Trail is heavily trafficked, but most hikers do not go to the cabin. In fact, most hikers do not know it is even there. Even some who do have trouble finding it, but it is not difficult if you keep your eyes open and know what to look for. Approximately one mile from the Jake's Creek Trailhead you will find a set of old, wooden steps on the right. Go down the steps and follow that trail across a primitive, wooden footbridge. From here it is a short distance to the cabin. Visitors can explore the cabin and surrounding area. Make sure you sign the guest book.

The Middle Prong Trail - The quintessential Smoky Mountain river hike

The Middle Prong Trail is a 7.9 mile out and back trail rated as moderate, featuring breathtaking views, cascading waterfalls, beautiful spring wildflowers, and a brilliant display of nature's colors in autumn.

It is truly one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's most amazing hikes. The trail was once a railroad bed, so it is wide with a slight uphill grade. The Little River Railroad once ran along the river here, delivering timber to the lumber mill in nearby Townsend, TN. Logging was a major industry in the area but was banned when the land became part of the GSMNP. At 3.9 miles you will reach Indian Flats Falls, a series of four short drops of about 10-15 feet each. The river is basically one long cascade as it rushes down the mountain. has called this trail the "quintessential mountain stream hike."

Burton-Ogle Sugarlands Cemetery/CCC Clock Tower - More than a century of Smoky Mountain history

To reach this cemetery hike the Old Sugarlands Trail near the Park Headquarters.

The trail is moderate and runs along a river most of the way. Before reaching the cemetery, you will come upon the remains of an old Civilian Conservation Corp clock tower, and other remnants of a CCC camp. CCC workers built the park structures, roads, and trails, and most lived in camps inside the GSMNP. The cemetery itself is at the end of an old CCC roadway and sits atop a small hill. Residents of the old Sugarlands community are buried here.

One gravesite in particular held a six-decades long mystery. A young, unidentified boy found frozen to death was buried here after his body was found in the mountains several miles away. It would be decades before the boy was identified and his family learned of his true fate.

White Oak Sink and Rainbow Falls Cave - Off the beaten path in the Smoky Mountains

White Oak Sink is an area known worldwide for its huge field of dazzling wildflowers in the spring. Dozens of varieties bloom from mid-April to mid-May. The area also features four caves. Rainbow Falls Cave is the most impressive. Here a waterfall drops about 30 feet into the cave entrance and sunlight creates a rainbow effect.

Be aware it is illegal and highly dangerous to enter any cave in the GSMNP. People have become trapped and some have even died. Do not attempt to enter any cave. This area is off-limits during the fall and winter due to hibernating bats. In an effort to protect them from White Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease that has taken a toll on the bat population.

The Walker Sisters' Place - A look back at life in Smoky Mountains before the park opened

The story of the Walker sisters is an incredible tale for sure. When the GSMNP was formed in 1931 families were bought out and asked to leave. Many took the money and ran. Others fought it until the bitter end. The seven Walker sisters were among those that remained. They were eventually granted a lifetime lease and except for one sister who married and moved away, they all lived in the family homestead until the day they died. They even became living landmarks in the park for a time, accepting visitors, selling items they made by hand and describing mountain life to those who dropped by. Eventually, it became too much for the remaining two sisters to handle and they wrote a letter to park officials asking them to stop the public from coming to the house. The last surviving sister, Louisa, stayed until she died in July 1964.