The waterfalls of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are many and wondrous. When visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park finding at least one waterfall has to be on the itinerary to truly experience some of nature’s beauty in the Tennessee mountains. Some waterfalls can only be viewed by hiking the associated trail while others are easily viewable from the road in your car, though you’ll want to park your car to be able to spend a few minutes admiring the nature beauty of water cascading in sparkling rivulets over the rocks.
There are many waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and you can get information on any or all of them at any Visitor Center. Listing them here in no certain order, we will touch on the trails and features of the waterfalls so visitors will have enough information to decide which waterfalls they would like to see on their trip.
Abrams Falls in the Cades Cove section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only 20 feet high but thanks to the large volume of water rushing over the rocks, this falls is one of the most visited in the Park. The falls is named after a Cherokee chief whose village was nearby long ago. The deep pool at the foot of the falls is very picturesque and inviting. But be aware that there are strong currents and an undertow in the pool at the base of the falls and swimmers have drowned here. It is extremely dangerous so please don’t be the next victim by taking a dip in the pool. Access to the Abrams Falls Waterfall is via the trail at the end of the turnoff from the Cades Cove Loop Trail. Driving along Cades Cove Loop you will see the turnoff for the trailhead just past stop #10 on the Cades Cove Loop road. The roundtrip trail to the waterfall is a five mile distance and its considered moderate in difficulty. The rocky terrain and length put the trail in a difficult rating for some visitors. It normally takes 3 to 4 hours to do this trail so if you begin in the later afternoon, be aware you may be hiking after dark to get back to your car. Hikers should carry water with them and pack accordingly to see them through the hike. Sturdy hiking shoes are a must due to the rocky terrain and having to cross three narrow log bridges to reach the waterfall. Pets and bicycles are not allowed on the trail and black bears are sometime active in the area. Be Bear Aware. Just recently a young yearling bear was removed from the area due to contact with humans. Once reaching the waterfall, watch children closely. The pool is deep and dangerous and the rocks are wet and slippery and can cause a fall. (Photo Credit nps.gov)
Grotto Falls is located in the Roaring Fork Nature Trail near Gatlinburg. From the parkway in Gatlinburg on 441, turn at Traffic Light #8 and enter the park at the Cherokee Orchard entrance. There is a large parking area at the Grotto Falls/Trillium Gap trail. Hikers can access the Grotto Falls trail via the Trillium Gap trail. Take note that Roaring Fork Nature Trail is a winding narrow road and cannot accommodate RVs, cars or trucks with trailers or buses and these vehicles are prohibited from this road. The Grotto Falls trail does not allow pets or bicycles. The Grotto Falls trail is considered a moderately difficult trail. Sturdy hiking shoes are a must and hikers will have to cross four small streams without benefit of a bridge. Do not wear sandals or flip flops. Parts of the trail are rough and rocky. The roundtrip distance to do the Grotto Falls trail is approximately 2 ½ miles. It normally takes 2 to 3 hours to complete the trail to the waterfall and back. Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that visitors can actually walk behind. Be careful due to the wet and algae covered rocks can be slippery. Do not climb on rocks. People have fallen to their death or have been seriously injured in a fall from the damp slippery rocks when they’ve lost their footing. And remember, as with anywhere in the National Park, Be Bear Aware. (photo credit gsmnp)
Laurel Falls is one of the most picturesque waterfalls and a definite favorite of visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Laurel Falls comes in at an 80 foot drop cascading over wide rocks then dropping quickly to the hollow below. Named for the beautiful mountain laurel, the evergreen bushes bloom along the trail to the waterfall in May. There is an upper and lower section to this waterfall and its divided by a walkway which crosses the base of the upper falls. Visitors may stand on the bridge and take pictures of the upper falls. This is one of the most visited waterfalls in the park and parking can be congested. Visitors will find many like-minded hikers along the paved trail as they make their way up the 2 ½ mile round trips trail. It’s especially busy on weekends and in the summer. Though the trail is paved, the pavement can be rough. This isn’t suitable for strollers or wheelchairs and pets and bicycles are not allowed. Watch young children at all times due to the steep drop-offs along the trail. Do not climb on the wet rocks at the waterfall. The rocks are slippery and hikers have been seriously injured or have died due to falls on the rocks.
Hen Wallow Falls is located in the Cosby section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a pleasant walk through the forest beginning at the trailhead located near the Cosby Picnic Area which is located near the entrance of the Cosby Campground. To get to Hen Wallow Falls, you’ll need to access it from the Gabes Mountain Trail. Hen Wallow Falls is only two feet wide at the top but as it falls it widens out to 20 feet at the base. The falls is a whopping 90 feet high. There is a side trail with signage that leads you to the base of the falls traveling steep switchbacks. Look carefully at the base of the falls and you may glimpse some salamanders. The trail is approximately 4 ½ miles round trip and is deemed moderate in difficulty. Allow 3 to 4 hours to hike to the waterfall and back. The waterfall is located on a side trail from Gabe’s Mountain trail and there is a sign posted there. Carry drinking water with you and wear sturdy shoes. The waterfall is located down a short, very steep trail. Flip flops or sandals would not be a good idea. Pets and bicycles are not allowed on this trail. Supervise children at all times and don’t climb on rocks as they are wet and slippery. Be Bear Aware also.
Juney Whank Falls is a stately 90 foot from top to bottom, with an upper and lower section. This impressive waterfall is located near Bryson City, NC. Follow the signs to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through downtown Bryson City and then on to Deep Creek Campground. Continue past the campground to the trailhead at the end of Deep Creek Road. You will need to backtrack out of the parking area to the trailhead approximately .1 of a mile along the road. This is a short hike, about .8 of a mile round trip, and is considered moderate in difficulty. Wear sturdy shoes and carry drinking water with you. Pets and bicycles are not allowed on the trail and stay safe by not climbing on wet, slippery rocks. Be Bear Aware and supervise children at all times.
Indian Creek and Toms Branch Falls are two lovely waterfalls also located in the Deep Creek area. The trailhead is located at the end of Deep Creek Road past the campground and is an easy hike. The roundtrip distance is approximately 1 ½ miles and takes from 1 to 2 hours to complete the hike. Follow the Deep Creek Trail .7 of a mile to the junction with Indian Creek Trail. On the way you can view the 60 foot high Toms Branch Falls located on the far side of Deep Creek. Turn right at the junction of Indian Creek Trail and go another 200’ to Indian Creek Falls. This waterfall is 25 feet in height. A nice, easy walk to view two waterfalls will brighten anyone’s day. Be safe around the waterfalls and don’t climb on slippery rocks. This trail is not for pets or bicycles and be aware of your surroundings. Bears can be anywhere.
Another easy hike is to Lynn Camp Prong Cascades near Tremont. There are multiple cascades as Lynn Camp Prong rushes along the mountain beside Middle Prong trail. To access the trail, hikers use Middle Prong Trail, a nice wide easy walk along an old logging road. To reach the trailhead, drive along Laurel Creek Road inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park until you reach the sign for Tremont. Turn here and follow the road past the Tremont Institute, continuing another 3 miles where there is a small parking area at the end of the road. The trail begins at a footbridge that crosses the river. Past the bridge there is a fork in the trail and hikers will need to take the left fork, which follows the river. After about ½ mile there is a bench where hikers can rest and enjoy a great view of the large cascade. A second bench is further along the trail and offers a view of the middle cascade. Even more waterfalls are available for viewing in the next ¼ mile. The roundtrip is about 1.3 miles and considered an easy hike. Allow about an hour for the roundtrip or longer if you’d like to sit and enjoy the waterfalls. Carry water with you and wear sturdy shoes. Don’t climb on wet, slippery rocks. This trail is not for pets or bicycles. And be aware of bears in the area. (Photo Credit Kent Cave)
Mingo Falls is located on the Cherokee Reservation, just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundary. At 120 feet tall, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest and most majestic in the southern Appalachians. No permit is required to access the trail on the Reservation. The access trail is the Pigeon Creek Trail and the waterfall is only a short ½ mile hike. Though the hike is short in length it is considered moderate in difficulty so sturdy shoes are a must. To reach the trailhead drive south on US 441/Newfound Gap Road and take the second left onto Big Cove Road. Turn left at the first stop sign and drive 4 ½ miles to the Mingo Falls Campground where the trail begins.
Rainbow Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is located along the Roaring Fork Nature Trail just outside of Gatlinburg. The falls gets its name from the rainbow produced by the mist of the 80 foot waterfall that can be seen on sunny days. In the winter, cold spells produce impressive ice formations at the falls also. The trailhead is located just before the Roaring Fork Nature Trail entrance and its one of the most popular waterfall trails of the Park. Turn at Stop Light #8 from the Parkway in Gatlinburg and follow it to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the National Park. The parking areas for the trailhead are clearly marked for Rainbow Falls. The roundtrip distance to the Falls is approximately 5 ½ miles and its typically considered moderate in difficulty. Due to the length, rocky terrain and elevation, some visitors to the Park deem this trail to be moderately strenuous. It takes approximately 3.5 to 5 hours to hike to the waterfall and back so allow for time accordingly. Carry drinking water with you. Do not try to hike this trail wearing sandals or flip flops. Wear sturdy hiking shoes. Some portions of this trail are very rocky. This trail does not allow pets or bicycles. Once arriving at the waterfall, do not climb on the surrounding rocks. The rocks are slippery and several people have fallen to their deaths while others have been seriously injured while trying to climb on the rocks near the falls. The mist and growing algae on the rocks make them dangerous. Pay attention to children and keep them in your sight. Also bears are sometimes active in this area so stay Bear Aware.
Mouse Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall a bit off the beaten path. To reach the waterfall hikers must drive on I-40 and exit at Waterville Road (exit #451). Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River and drive about 2.3 miles to an intersection. Continue straight through the intersection and past the ranger station to a large parking area at the road’s end. You will be using the Big Creek Trail which follows an old railroad grade used to haul lumber from the mountains during the logging boom. The trail is a 4 mile round trip and is considered moderate in difficulty. Allow 2 to 3 hours to hike to the waterfall and back. The trail passes Midnight Hole at the 1.4 mile marker where hikers will find a deep pool beneath a 6’ waterfall. At 2.1 miles there is a short side trail on the left which leads to a resting bench where hikers will be able to view Mouse Creek Falls on the far side of Big Creek. Mouse Creek Falls is 45’ tall. As always carry water with you and wear sturdy shoes. Pets and bicycles are not allowed on this trail. Don’t climb on wet rocks and be aware of any bear activity.
Ramsey Cascades is the tallest and one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In the Greenbrier section of the Park, hikers can follow signs after turning into the Greenbrier entrance just east of Gatlinburg about 6 miles and after entering the Park, drive approximately 4 ½ miles to the Ramsey Falls Trailhead. This trail is considered strenuous in difficulty and is an 8 mile round trip hike. Sturdy shoes, water and other long hike essentials should be carried by hikers. Portions of this trail are rocky and ankle supports are suggested. Ramsey Falls drops 100 feet over outcroppings of rocks and ends in a small pool at the bottom. Do not try to climb to the top of the falls. Several people have fallen to their death trying to do so. Black bears are active in this area so be aware of your surroundings. This waterfall is one of the most popular in the park with many hikers visiting in the summer months. (photo credit NPS.gov)
There are a few waterfalls located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you are able to drive to and view without a hike. Meigs Falls is one of them and it is located along Little River Road, 13 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center or 7 miles east of Townsend. The falls can be viewed from a pull off along the road but it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
The Place of a Thousand Drips is located close to the road along the Roaring Fork Nature Trail, which is accessed by turning at Stop Light #8 along the Parkway in Gatlinburg and entering the Park at the Cherokee Orchard entrance. Parking is minimal near the falls but it is a sight to see during or after a rainfall when the water swells and cascades down an 80 foot drop. During drier weather it is a Place of One Thousand Drips and still a treat to visit. After a major downpour, this waterfall becomes very impressive with all of the angled drops over the rocks as it makes its way down toward the stream. Be sure to give it a look even in the rain. You won’t be disappointed.
The Sinks, while short in drop, its volume will amaze visitors with its rushing water and the roar as it bounds over the rocks. A parking area is just off the Little River Road for visitors to be able to view the rushing water and its located 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Be aware of your footing and don’t try to climb on the rocks. There is a short walkway to view the falls. The waterfall is designated as stop #15 if you are using a guidebook.
All the waterfalls of the Great Smoky Mountains are beautiful and picturesque. Hiking to the waterfalls and taking the time to enjoy nature’s beauty is a wonderful way to enjoy your visit to the Smoky Mountains.