Hiking is a great hobby and activity. It allows us to be outdoors and enjoy nature, get away from the stresses of our normal life for a while, and get some exercise. It’s not always simple for all of us though. Many of us have small children and need paved, stroller friendly hiking trails in order to bring the kiddos. Here’s a great off road hiking stroller you can get on Amazon.
If you are going hiking with your small child and aren’t crazy about the idea of a large stroller or do not have the room for one, then consider a carrier backpack. Check out this post for the best options on child carrier backpacks for hiking.
Others may have a handicap that prevents them from walking or makes it terribly difficult, so a wheelchair accessible hiking trail is required. Many disabilities can make the use of a wheelchair on a hike much more comfortable for someone. A few examples are impaired vision, multiples sclerosis, amputees, severe arthritis, general mobility issues, old age, just to name a few. If you or someone you know is disabled but loves the outdoors and hiking, then consider searching for wheelchair friendly trails.
Disabledhikers.com is a useful resource for people who want to enjoy hiking but are limited in mobility in one way or another. For a paved trail, a standard wheelchair would probably work just fine. However if you plan on going off road a little more consider something like this one on Amazon. While it costs a pretty penny, you can’t put a price tag on your quality of life.
This article is specifically about stroller and wheelchair friendly hiking trails in and around Gatlinburg and The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some are more difficult than others and some may not be fully paved the whole way. These 4 trails are probably your best bet if you are wanting to enjoy the most visited national park in the U.S. and are either needing to bring stroller aged children or a handicapped person who wants to go for a hike.
The majority of these are right around the Sugarlands Visitors Center. Your best bet is to just head over there and park. You will find several options for hiking.
Fighting Creek Nature Trail and Cataract Falls
Length: 1 mile round trip to the falls
Trail: paved and gravel
Features: 25 ft waterfall
Directions: Located at the Sugarlands Visitors Center. Look for a concrete path to the left of the visitor center, this will lead you to Fighting Creek Nature Trail that takes you to Cataract Falls.
The hike to cataract falls is a short 1 mile round trip in and out. Along the way you’ll find that it’s a combination of paved and gravel and fine for wheelchairs and strollers, but possibly not all the way to the falls. The nature trail forks off to the left if I’m not mistake and you stay right to go to cataract falls, just follow the signs.
After crossing a wooden bridge near the end of the trail to cataract falls, you will come to some stairs just about a tenth of a mile short of the falls. Some people choose to carry the stroller up the stairs and others leave it parked at the bottom and carry their child. A wheelchair is definitely not a good idea past this point.
If the waterfall isn’t too terribly important to you then this is a good place to just turn around. To be honest though, the stairs are very gradual and I bet it would be easy for two people to carry a stroller up. That’s just me though.
Another option for making it past the stairs is a child carrier backpack. This one by Deuter is one of the best carrier backpacks you can get and you can find it on Amazon. However you can choose to go with an off-road or all terrain stroller because there are some roots and rough patches in the trail.
You probably won’t see too much wildlife on this hike but it’s very easy, short, and a quick hike for families and beginners. Not to mention you are rewarded at the end with a modest yet still pretty little waterfall, assuming you make it past the stairs. If not then it’s still a pleasant little stroll.
Gatlinburg Hiking Trail
Length: 3.8 miles roundtrip
Trail: paved and gravel
Features: waterfall, wildlife
Directions: Park at the Sugarlands Visitors Center. The trailhead is located behind the visitors center.
Another trail starting at the Sugarlands Visitors Center. One of just 2 trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is dog and bicycle friendly, and the only one that is in Tennessee. If you go during peak times you will most likely see many dogs, families with kids, and people in general as this is a pretty popular trail.
As the longest trail on this list, it is 1.9 miles in and pretty flat the whole way. You will go over a wooden bridge that crosses the West Prong of The Little Pigeon River. It’s probably going to take you about 2 hours round trip to complete this hike so allow a little more time than you would for any of the others on this list.
You will notice remnants of old buildings, cabins, and stone chimneys as you hike this trail. If you are looking for something a little longer than a quick 30 minute stroll and enjoy walking along the stream, then this will be a nice hike for you to choose.
Sugarlands Valley Trail
Length: 1 mile round trip
Features: river, historic remnants
Directions: From the Sugarlands Visitors Center, go south on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) for less than a half mile and you will come to the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail trailhead on the left.
The last of the 3 wheelchair and stroller accessible hiking trails in Gatlinburg. All three are located right around the Sugarlands Visitors Center. You will find the start of this trail about a half mile south of the visitors center however.
The trail itself is a very short loop and just about a mile or so in total. At one point along the trail you will come to a fork where you can either go left to continue on the Sugarlands Valley Trail, or go right. Going right will take you on to Cataract Falls. So if you were wanting to do 2 trails then this would make a good combo.
Staying to the left, it will take you around 30 minutes to complete. It is a leisurely stroll and no one should have any trouble on this one. It is about 5 or 6 feet wide so there is plenty of room for strollers to pass one another. It’s paved, flat, and a good choice for anyone who is disabled or bringing along a baby on their hike.
Along the way you will see some old homesteads and historic building remnants similar to the other trails in this area. There are some benches for sitting and enjoying nature on the trail as well as ample parking.
Oconaluftee River Trail
Length: 3 miles round trip
Features: historic buildings, river
Directions: Located just behind the Oconaluftee Visitors Center near Cherokee, NC
This is the only trail on the list that is not in Tennessee. It is in the North Carolina portion of the park near Cherokee, NC. Rich in history due to the proximity to the Cherokee reservation, it is a bit more interesting than the others on this list. If you are driving in from Gatlinburg it’s going to be a bit further for you to get to, but it’s definitely worth considering.
It is about 3 miles round trip and is an in and out hike. Aside from the Gatlinburg Trail this is the only other hike in the park where dogs are not prohibited. So bring the kids, the pets, and the whole family without fear although it may be crowded so I would recommend getting here early.
The trail is pretty wide although some sections can be a bit narrow, it is very flat however. It starts right near the Oconaluftee Visitors Center and ends at the Mountain Farm Museum. The Mountain Farm Museum is pretty much a bunch of historic log homes that were originally built in the 19th century but gathered from around the park and moved to this one location around the 1950s.
The part of the trail backs right up to the Cherokee reservation. You can learn a lot about the area and the natives at the visitors center as well as grab trail maps, refreshments, and even some ice cream.
There is a lot of wildlife in this area so if you are lucky you could see some. Be on the lookout out for black bears which are pretty common throughout the park. Also though lookout for the elk, this is an area where they frequent and are seen pretty often. Just be sure to keep your distance, they are wild animals and the last thing you want to is to have one feel threatened by you. If you are interested in the elk or other wildlife in the park, check out this article I did on some of the wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Trails you may read are stroller and wheelchair friendly but aren’t
I started to add Laurel Falls Trail to this list, but I haven’t been on it myself in several years and after doing a little research I remembered that the paved path is rather broken up. With the incline it just is not suitable for wheelchairs at all and would be very tough to make it with a stroller. Although many people do it anyways, most will tell you they regret trying it.
Another that may sound like a good option is the Clingmans Dome observatory paved hike. It is paved the whole way, but it is much too steep to consider taking a stroller, bicycle or wheelchair so don’t even try it.