When you visit the Smoky Mountains, you can’t go without seeing at least one of the Gatlinburg waterfalls in the national park!
1. Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it’s generally one of the busiest trails in the park. The first part of the hike, to Laurel Falls, is about 1.3 miles.
The hike to the falls is paved, but the last ¼ mile is more of a forest trail, so it’s a little more difficult for strollers right as you approach the waterfall.
We recommend hiking this trail during the morning hours to avoid the larger crowds of people. When you hike later in the day, you may also have some difficulty with parking at the trailhead, so morning is generally the best time of day.
Best season to hike this trail: Winter if you are looking to avoid the crowds, spring if you want to see the wildflowers
Trailhead: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, drive 3.7 miles west on Little River Road to the trailhead at Fighting Creek Gap.
2. Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls is only about 20 feet tall, but it has the greatest volume of any waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It also has the largest plunge pool. The entire hike follows closely to Abrams Creek.
The hike is about 5 miles round trip and takes about 3 hours to complete. Since the trailhead is located on the Cades Cove Loop Road, it’s a great idea to visit Cades Cove in the morning and finish your afternoon with the Abrams Falls hike.
Difficulty: Moderate. The trail is made of rocky, packed dirt.
Best season to hike: If you want to avoid crowds, the best season to hike this trail is the winter. The spring and summer months are best for photos of the waterfall. It’s also a fantastic swimming hole, so be prepared if you plan to swim!
Trailhead: The trailhead is located about halfway around the Cades Cove Loop Road, so you do have to plan to drive the entire Loop Road.
3. Grotto Falls
If you’re looking for great photos of one of the Gatlinburg waterfalls, this may be the hike for you. Grotto Falls is also a popular hiking trail, so you can expect there to be company with you along the trail, so we recommend starting this hike in the morning hours.
The hiking distance is about 2.6 miles round trip and you should expect the hike to take anywhere from 2-3 hours to complete.
Difficulty: Moderate. The trail is a dirt-packed surface.
Best season to hike: The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed from December 1 to March 31 each year, so spring and summertime are the best times to hike to this waterfall. You can still reach Grotto Falls when the motor nature trail is closed, but your round trip hiking distance nearly doubles from any other access point.
Trailhead: The start of the hike begins at the parking area of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
4. Ramsey Cascades
Ramsey Cascades is a great hiking trail for anyone who only has a single day to spend in the national park. It is known for springtime wildflowers, old-growth forests and cascading streams. Ramsey Cascades is one of the highest Gatlinburg waterfalls in the national park and many people would claim it is the prettiest of all of the falls.
The National Park Service claims that the waterfall is 100 feet tall, but many accounts say that the waterfall is only about 60 feet tall. The trail is about 8 miles round trip and you should expect it to take about 5-6 hours to complete.
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous with quite a few steep sections
Best season to hike: It’s best to hike this trail in the springtime to see the wildflowers along the way to the waterfall.
Trailhead: The Ramsey Cascades trailhead can be found by turning right at traffic light #3 in Gatlinburg, then after 5.9 miles, you will turn right onto Greenbrier Road. After another 3 miles, you will see the road and signs to the Ramsey Cascades trailhead.
5. Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls gets its name from the rainbows you can see on a sunny day, in the mist that is created from the falling water. The waterfall is formed as LeConte Creek rushes over a hanging ledge and falls over 80 feet to the ground. Rainbow Falls is a pretty popular hike, but keep in mind that it’s not an easy hike to make. For kids and first-time hikers, this is not recommended; there are other Gatlinburg waterfalls with less strenuous hiking trails that would be a better choice.
The hike is about 5.5 miles and takes about 4 hours to complete.
Difficulty: Strenuous with many steep areas. The trail is covered in rocks, so it makes for a bumpy hike to the waterfall.
Best season to hike: This hike is also great in the spring months because it is covered in spring wildflowers.
Trailhead: The trailhead is the Rainbow Falls trailhead and it is located on Cherokee Orchard Road. You turn at traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg onto Historic Nature Trail Road. Stay to the right once you come upon an intersection, then follow the signs.