Hiking is the best way to truly experience the grandeur of the Smoky Mountains. On the trail you will feel the mountain air, see wildflowers and trees, and experience views inaccessible by road. Hiking destinations can be historic structures, crisp waterfalls, or one of the Smokies ’ seemingly enchanted highland balds. Or you may just wish to walk for walking’s sake—to acquire a more intimate understanding of the forest and its inhabitants.
In total the Smokies have a whopping 800 miles of hiking trails. Only Yellowstone and Yosemite  have more miles of trails.
There are as many ways to hike the Smokies as there are days. Below are some of the most highly recommended choices.
The Great Smoky Mountains Association publishes the best and most reliable guides to hiking in the Smokies. These guides provide detailed descriptions of hikes, elevations, hazards, and features you will see along the way. They are an investment worth making if you plan to do a lot of hiking. Hiking Trails of the Smokies is the authoritative volume. Day Hikes in the Smokies and History Hikes in the Smokies offer specialized focus.
You can buy the official NPS trail map for less than a dollar at any visitors center . This map shows trail locations, distances, and the locations of backcountry campsites. The National Geographic/Trail Illustrated map of the Smokies, available at visitors centers and online, is worth the $10 investment, however. It shows much more detail and will hold up to the elements.
The best guide service in the Smokies  is offered by A Walk in the Woods (4413 Scenic Drive E., Gatlinburg, 865/436-8283, www.awalkinthewoods.com ), run by husband-and-wife team Erik and Vesna Plakanis, naturalists and mountain enthusiasts. These helpful folks do it all: They lead day hikes and backpacking trips; they offer trip plans for backpackers too busy to do the advance legwork themselves; they shuttle hikers to trailheads or pick them up at their destination; and they offer special classes about birds, wildflowers, and medicinal plants of the Smokies. They also rent backpacking and other mountain gear, so you can try it out as a hobby before making an investment in expensive gear.
For last-minute gear purchases visit the folks at The Happy Hiker (905 River Rd., Gatlinburg, 865/436-6000). They sell it all, plus books, maps, and other useful stuff.