Every year over 200,000 visitors hike well-worn trails to view Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, Rainbow, and other popular waterfalls in the park. Large waterfalls attract the crowds, but smaller cascades and falls can be found on nearly every river and stream in the park.
The Great Smoky Mountains abound with the two ingredients essential for waterfalls-ample rainfall and an elevation gradient. In the Smokies high country, over 85″ of rain falls on average each year. During wet years, peaks like Mt. Le Conte and Clingmans Dome receive over eight feet of rain. This abundant rainfall trickles and rushes down the mountain sides, from high elevation to low, sometimes dropping more than a mile in elevation from the high peaks to the foothills at the park’s boundary. We’ve compiled a list of nine trails in the national park that are sure to meet your waterfall sightseeing needs.
1. Abrams Falls
Despite being one of the shorter falls in the Smokies at 20 feet tall, Abrams Falls is a worthwhile hike due to the ferocity of the water rushing over the falls and the deep, picturesque pool it falls into. The waterfall and creek are named after the Cherokee chief whose tribe resided several miles downstream. The trail is considered moderate in difficulty and is 5 miles round trip. Hikers should allow 3-4 hours for the hike to the falls and back.
- Access trail: Abrams Falls Trail – Cades Cove, Gatlinburg area
- Trailhead: Located past stop #10 on Cades Cove Loop Rd.
2. Grotto Falls
Trillium Gap Trail runs through an old-growth hemlock forest, running behind the 25-foot-high waterfall. The roundtrip distance to the trail is three miles. Hikers should prepare for a 2-3-hour trip that is moderate in difficulty.
- Access trail: Trillium Gap Trail – Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg area
- Trailhead: From the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to stop #5 where parking is located.
3. Hen Wallow Falls
This 90-foot-high waterfall begins as a 2-foot-wide creek that fans down to a base that is 20 feet wide. If freezing temperatures are sustained long enough, the waterfall will freeze, forming a beautiful ice column. Hikers should plan on spending 3-4 hours on the moderately difficult trail. The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 4.4 miles.
- Access Trail: Gabes Mountain Trail – Cocke County, Tennessee
- Trailhead: Park in the designated hiker parking area at Cosby Picnic Area. Backtrack on foot approximately 100 yards along the road to the signed start of the Gabes Mountain Trail.
4. Indian Creek and Toms Branch Falls
Of our list of Smoky Mountain hiking trails with waterfalls, this easy hike provides the best scenery in the shortest distance, showcasing two waterfalls within 1.6 miles of each other. The quick hikes on Deep Creek and Indian Creek Trails will bring you to the 25-foot-high Indian Creek and 60-foot-high Toms Branch Falls. Hikers should plan for 1-2 hours on the trail.
- Access trail: Deep Creek Trail – Bryson City, North Carolina
- Trailhead: Follow the signs to the national park through downtown Bryson City to Deep Creek Campground. Continue past the campground to the trailhead at the end of Deep Creek Rd.
5. Juney Whank Falls
Juney Whank Falls is 90 feet tall and is viewed as having upper and lower portions. The waterfall and stream are named after a Mr. Junaluska “Juney” Whank, who is rumored to be buried in the area. The 0.8-mile hike to and from the falls is considered moderately difficult and should take 1-2 hours.
- Access Trail: Juney Whank Falls Trail – Bryson City, North Carolina
- Trailhead: Follow the signs to the national park through downtown Bryson City to Deep Creek Campground. Continue past the campground to the trailhead at the end of Deep Creek Rd. Backtrack on foot 0.1 mile along the road to the trail.
6. Mingo Falls
Mingo Falls is located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation (Qualla Boundary), right outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 120 feet tall, the waterfall is one of the tallest and most beautiful in the southern Appalachians. The hike is 0.4 miles long and considered moderate in difficulty.
- Access Trail: Pigeon Creek Trail – Qualla Boundary area in North Carolina
- Trailhead: From Oconaluftee Visitor Center, drive south on US-441. Take the second left onto Big Cove Road. Turn left at the first stop sign and drive 4.5 miles to Mingo Falls Campground.
7. Mouse Creek Falls
This 45-foot-tall waterfall is secluded and off the beaten path, making it ideal for those wishing to view it without a bystanding crowd. The 4-mile hike is considered moderate in difficulty. It takes about 2-3 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.
- Access Trail: Big Creek Trail – Cataloochee, North Carolina
- Trailhead: Exit I-40 at Waterville Rd. Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River and proceed 2.3 miles to an intersection. Continue straight to a large parking area at road’s end.
8. Rainbow Falls
Named after the rainbow produced by the mist the 80-foot-tall waterfall creates, Rainbow Falls is a beautiful sight. The hike to and from the falls is 5.4 miles and considered moderately difficult. Hikers should plan for a 3-5-hour trip.
- Access Trail: Rainbow Falls Trail – Roaring Fork, Gatlinburg area
- Trailhead: From the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue past the Noah “Bud” Ogle homesite to the marked Rainbow Falls parking area.
9. Ramsey Cascades
At 100-feet-tall, Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park and one of the most impressive. Water drops 100 feet over rock outcroppings and ends in a small pool. Between the trailhead and falls, the trail gains over 2,000 feet in elevation and follows waterways for most of its length. The 8-mile hike is considered strenuous and will take about 5-7 hours to complete.
- Access Trail: Ramsey Cascades Trail – Greenbrier area near Gatlinburg
- Trailhead: Drive six miles east of Gatlinburg on Highway 321 and turn at the Greenbrier entrance to the park. Follow the signs 4.7 miles to the trailhead.
Waterfalls You Can Drive To
- .Meigs Falls – The pulloff to view Meigs Falls is along Little River Road, 13 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center (7 miles east of Townsend). The falls is tucked away on the far side of Little River and can be easily missed while driving.
- The Sinks – This waterfall is short in stature, but its volume includes the entire flow of Little River. The parking area to view the falls is along Little River Road, 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center.
- Place of a Thousand Drips – During wet periods, this waterfall is dramatic as the flow of water splits into numerous small channels cascading around rocks and creating “a thousand drips.” From the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail into the park. Take Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in winter). The waterfall is at stop #15. See a photo of this waterfall in photo gallery above.