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Smoky Mountain Waterfall Hikes

The Smoky Mountains have some of the best waterfalls in Tennessee. Great for summertime, these waterfall hikes in the Smoky Mountains are great destinations to cool off. While not all of them are great as swimming holes, these waterfalls are still awesome to stand next to and take in the mist.

Abrams Falls

One of the more popular waterfall hikes, this hike is rated easy and is 5 miles roundtrip with an elevation change of 200 feet. The trailhead is located off of the 11-mile loop in Cades Cove. One of the most popular trails in the park, the waterfall hike follows Abrams Creek and passes by Abrams Falls. It takes about 3-4 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.

Abrams Falls

The trail to the Abrams Falls traverses pine-oak forest on the ridges and hemlock and rhododendron forest along the creek. Hikers also have the option to combine this trail with a couple adjacent ones for a nice loop hike.

Ramsey Cascades

Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the national park with water falling at 100 feet. The 4 mile trail to the falls gains more than 2000 feet in elevation at a fairly continuous incline. The hike is considered strenuous by most, but very enjoyable with a mountain stream that follows most of the hike as well as many different kinds of wildflowers.

Ramsey Cascades

Mouse Creek Falls

Mouse Creek Falls is a 20 foot waterfall about 2 miles into Big Creek Trail on the east side of the national park. From I40 get off on the Waterville exit (451) to reach the Big Creek Campground. One of the most leisurely strolls in the park, Big Creek Trail also features the beautiful Midnight Hole around mile 1.4. This is a great summer hike especially for children.

Big Creek Trail

Spruce Flat Falls

This practically unknown trail is actually called Buckeye Trail. Only 2 miles roundtrip, the beautiful waterfall and quiet pool at the end are a peaceful getaway from noise and crowds. This hike begins at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, which is located near the Townsend entrance to the park. Drive toward Cades Cove and look for Tremont on the left.

Spruce Flats Falls

After traveling 2.2 miles down Tremont’s road, turn left toward the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and bear left to park in the visitor area. Walk up the paved road into the Tremont complex. The trail begins at the simple “Falls” sign about 0.2 miles up this road. Follow the few steps up into the woods and begin your adventure!

Hen Wallow Falls

The hike to Hen Wallow Falls is 2.1 miles and covers beautiful forest with a few stream crossings. While there are a couple of moderately steep parts, the trail is well maintained. Hen Wallow Falls is on Gabes Mountain Trail. The trailhead can be accessed by taking US-321 east from Gatlinburg or by taking the Foothills Parkway west from I-40. A right turn 1.2 miles south of Cosby takes you into Cosby Cove. About 2 miles after making the turn, you’ll reach the Cosby picnic area with parking for day hiking.

This trail passes by Hen Wallow Falls and through mature forest; it is the first leg of one of the favorite backpacking loops in the park and home to campsite #34. Elevation gain is 1,300 feet.

Indian Creek Falls Trail

This waterfall hike is a 1.5 mile roundtrip hike out of the Deep Creek area. Sliding down 35 feet of sloping rock strata, the water livens and cools the air. The Deep Creek area of the national park is located in North Carolina just north of Bryson City and has a couple of waterfall hikes. Explore the trails around here and you'll also find Tom Branch Falls as well as Juney Whank Falls. Take a look at a map of the Deep Creek layout here.

Laurel Falls Trail

This trail is 2.6 miles round trip (to the falls) and is the easiest falls hike on the Tennessee side of the park. The trailhead access is located off of Little River Road at the Fighting Creek Gap parking area, less than 4 miles past Sugarlands Visitor Center. After passing Laurel Falls on this trail, an ascent through virgin forest to the fire tower on Cove Mountain can lengthen this hike.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls is a popular destination and designated nature trail. At only 1.3 miles up a paved trail, the 75-foot waterfall is especially interesting because it is a two-step waterfall, with the trail crossing a ledge between the upper and the lower falls. Beyond the falls, the trail is no longer paved and along this stretch you will find more solitude.

Meigs Mountain Trail

This trail is 6.4 miles one way and is rated easy with an elevation gain of only 500 feet. The trailhead is located off of Jake’s Creek Road inside Elkmont. This relatively easy trail joins the Elkmont area with trails leading to The Sinks on Little River Road and Tremont. Meigs Mountain was named for Return Jonathan Meigs, who surveyed the line between white and Indian lands through the Smokies and who was named U.S. agent to the Cherokees in 1801.

This trail will take you by a clearing that was the homesite of Lem Ownby, the last life-time lease holder in the park. “Uncle Lem”, as he was called, lived in a log cabin on the trail until his death at age 100 in 1989.

Rainbow Falls Trail

This trail is 5.2 miles round trip and rated moderate. The trailhead begins 2.4 miles up Cherokee Orchard Road. This is accessible from Historic Nature Trail/Airport Road (light #8) in Gatlinburg. Rainbow falls is at 4,000 feet in elevation and if your timing is right, mist from Roaring Fork Creek’s spill over the 80 foot ledge creates a rainbow in the early afternoon.

Rainbow Falls

The Rainbow Falls hike is very popular by itself, but for the more adventurous, passing the beautiful falls and continuing on to the summit of Mt. LeConte is also a possibility.

Mount LeConte

At 6,593 feet, Mount LeConte is The third highest peak in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, behind only Clingmans Dome and Mount Guyot. It is however, from top to bottom, the tallest mountain in the Eastern United States, rising 5,301 feet. It also has four subpeaks. West Point, High Top, Cliff Tops, and Myrtle Point, all of which rise above 6,000 feet. There are several trails leading to the summit, but the Rainbow Falls loop will take you past the waterfall.

Trillium Gap/Grotto Falls Trail

This trail is 12.8 miles round trip, but in winter months, the length climbs to 17.4 due to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail’s winter closure. Take Historic Nature Trail/Airport Road (light #8) in Gatlinburg and continue straight into the park via Cherokee Orchard Road. Once on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, look for Rainbow Falls signs as a signal you are approaching the trailhead. Located on the right side of the road shortly after passing the parking area for Rainbow Falls is a small sign marking the beginning of this beautiful trail.

Trillium Gap Trail is the only horse trail to the summit of Mt. LeConte and is the trail used to transport supplies to LeConte Lodge. You may get to see llamas on the trail because lodge managers use these sure footed animals, instead of horses, to carry their supplies. LeConte Lodge is open from mid March to mid November. For more information or to make reservations at LeConte Lodge, call 865-429-5704.

Only 1.2 miles up the Trillium Gap Trail is the only waterfall in the park that visitors can walk behind. A trip to Grotto Falls makes a wonderful family hike and the falls, along with multitudes of wildflowers visible in the spring, provide wonderful photo opportunities!