12 Best Smoky Mountains Waterfalls you MUST see!

ramsey cascades in the smoky mountains national park

Do you want to to get the most out of your trip into the stunning Smoky Mountains? There’s no better way to experience the pristine back country of the Smokies than to take a hike to one of the areas many waterfalls. 

There’s something extremely alluring about seeing a waterfall in the middle of nature.

There’s no better feeling than hearing the rushing water in the distance before you even see the falls. 

Some of the waterfall hikes are quite long and demanding.  Even after these physically draining hikes, knowing you’re near the falls can put a pep in your step at just the right time. 

Arriving at the falls for he first time is a sight to take in, no matter which trail you decide to hike. Some of the trails allow you to get right next to the falls and experience them in all of their glory. You can feel the coolness in the air, even in the middle of summer.

Keep reading to learn about the hiking trails that lead to the 12 best Smoky Mountains Waterfalls or view all information on hiking in the Smokies.

Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams falls showing its glory as one of the most powerful smoky mountains waterfalls

Trail Features

  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Length – 4.2 Miles (Round Trip)
  • Elevation Gain – 200′
  • Wild Flowers
  • River View
  • Foot Bridges
 
 

Because of it’s location within popular Cades Cove, Abrams Falls trail is one of the more popular Smoky Mountains waterfalls in the area.

the trail leading to Abrams Falls waterfall
Trail leading to Abrams Falls Waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains

As previously mentioned, the trailhead is accessed through the Cades Cove loop.  Cades Cove is a hugely popular part of the park and because the trailhead is accessed from the one-way loop, arriving early before the traffic is highly recommended.

While hiking the trail to the falls, you’ll enjoy the sound of the nearby Abrams creek. It’s a relaxing sound to take in on the up and down hike to the falls.  

In the springtime, like many locations within the National Park, you’ll come across beautiful displays of wildflowers and mountain laurel.

Upon arriving at the Abrams Falls, you’ll be greeted with the highest volume waterfall in the Smoky Mountains. It is certainly a sight to see, especially during times of high water.

The high volume Abrams Falls can be heard from quite far away and once you see it, you’l see why. The water roars down the falls in epic fashion and plunges into the large pool below. Abrams falls has one of the largest splash pools out of all of the Smoky Mountains waterfalls.

Pack your breakfast, lunch, or dinner and enjoy it next to the pool. If you arrive early in the morning, you may be luck enough to enjoy it with no one else in sight.

Baskins Creek Falls Trail

Two tiered Smoky Mountains Waterfall called Baskins Creek Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains

Trail Features

  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Length – 4.2 Miles (Round Trip)
  • Elevation Gain – 200′
  • River Views

Directions To Trailhead

Oftentimes, hiking trails leading to Smoky Mountains waterfalls are busy and frequently traveled by hundreds or even thousands of hiker each day, especially in mid-summer.

Baskins Creek Falls Trail is quite the opposite, which is surprising considering its location relative to two other very popular waterfall trails nearby (Grotto Falls & Rainbow Falls).

Don’t get me wrong, you may see hikers while on the trail, but it is much less traveled than others. Many parts of the trail are not routinely maintained and you’ll notice a couple of creek crossing that don’t even have foot bridges.

With that said, consideration should be given when deciding to hike Baskins Creek Falls Trail because any decent amounts of recent rain can cause the Creek crossings to become difficult without proper waterproof gear.

As mentioned above, instead of foot bridges that you’d typically find at stream crossings on more popular and routinely maintained trails, Baskins Creek Falls Trail relies of stones within the stream. To cross, you’ll step on the stones to make your way across. You can see how rain could cause a bit of difficulty so plan accordingly.

Access to this trail is via the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. You’ll find the trailhead located very near the entrance to the one way Motor Trail. The easiest access is by parking on the Cherokee Orchard Rd and walking approximately 0.2 miles up the Roaring Fork Motor Trail until you run into the Baskins Creek Trailhead.

While hiking the trail, the creek crossing is approximately 1 mile into the hike. Unlike many trails in the smokies, much of the hike to the falls is downhill, and the rerun trip is uphill.

After the creek crossing, you’ll follow the trail down the mountain alongside Baskins Creek. You’ll notice a fork in the trail at approximately 1.4 miles into the trail. 

To continue to the falls, you’ll want to turn left at the fork. Once you turn left, you’ll begin a steep decent to the falls.  Extreme caution should be used as this is a relatively steep section that could prove difficult depending on experience and weather conditions.

If you opt to take the hike down to the falls, you’ll be plenty happy you did. The falls are about 40 feet high and provide quite a sight to see!

Because the trail isn’t overly popular and definitely underrated, it’s a great place to enjoy a quiet lunch next to one of the best unknown Smoky Mountains waterfalls.

SPECIAL NOTE – If you continue the trail straight at the fork instead of turning left, you’ll end up in Bales cemetery and ultimately on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

Chasteen Creek Cascades Trail

Chasteen Creek Cascades rushing after a period of high rain

Best experienced after heavy rains, Chasteen Creek Cascades is a brilliant hike that can be enjoyed with the entire family. Along the hike you can expect to see these trail features:

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • 4 Miles Roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain – 350′
  • River Views
  • Wildflowers
  • Picturesque Bridge
  • Creek Crossings
  • Horses

Directions To Trailhead

Several Smoky Mountains waterfalls offer sightings of wildflowers. Chasteen Creek Cascades Trail is no different and actually has a more brilliant display than most!

Wildflowers on this trail bloom a bit earlier in the year because it is at a much lower elevation than other trails in the Smoky Mountain National Park. When they do bloom, typically in April, they are a sight to see! 

Flowers you can expect to see include:

  • Violet
  • Trillium
  • Foam Flower 
  • Daffodils

Access to the Chasten Creek Trail is actually from the Bradley Fork Trail. The Bradley Fork Trail is accessed via the Smokemont Campground which is in the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Bradley Fork Trail is an old logging road making it wide with a very gradual incline. Because of this, along with the minor elevation changes on the Chasteen Creek Trail, it serves as the perfect hike for the entire family.

At approximately 1 mile into the hike on Bradley Fork Trail, you’ll cross over Chasteen Creek. 

Quickly after crossing Chasteen Creek, you’ll find the turn off for Chasteen Creek Trail on your right.

You can also continue straight on the Bradley Fork Trail, but for purposes of experiencing the best Smoky Mountains Waterfalls, let’s stick to the cascades of Chasteen Creek.

Because of the nature of the cascades, it really isn’t considered a true free-falling waterfall. However, after a nice rainstorm, Chasteen Creek Cascades has an impressive flow of white water that is just as breathtaking as that of other waterfalls found in the Smokies.

At approximately 1.8 miles into the hike you’ll come across another fork in the trail. The Chasteen Creek Trail does continue to the right but to see the falls, ensure you take the left trail.

You’ll soon arrive at the cascades. As mentioned previously, if you are lucky enough to experience them after a rainstorm, you’re in for a treat!

SPECIAL NOTE – At approximately 0.25 miles into the hike on Bradley Fork Trail, a horse trail (Tow String Horse Trail) merges into the trail. You may find the trail to be muddy and should pay attention so you can yield to horses.

Grotto Falls Trail

Grotto falls is the only smoky mountains waterfall that you can hike behind the waterfall

Grotto Falls should be high on any list of must-do hikes to Smoky Mountains waterfalls. Some of the features you’ll come across during your travel include:

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Length – 2.5 Miles
  • Elevation Gain – 585′
  • Walk Behind The Falls
  • River Views
  • Wild Flowers
  • Mountain View
  • White Water Rapids

Directions To Trailhead

This is the only waterfall in the Smoky Mountains that allows you to walk behind the falls. Grotto Falls isn’t anywhere near the biggest or most impressive waterfall within the Smokies, but what it lacks in height and water flow, it makes up for with this unique feature.

No matter how high or powerful a waterfall is, being able to walk behind it is just awesome! Flowing water is a powerful force and you can really feel it while walking behind the misty falls.

Trail condition leading to Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls Trail Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The trail to the falls is a blast to hike as well. It’s also located on the famous Roaring Fork Motor Trail, which like Cades Cove, is a scenic route within the National Park.

While hiking the trail you’ll come across several species of wildflowers which will only be found during the spring season. 

You’ll also encounter white water rapids as you near the falls. It’s quite an impressive site to see. Once you see the rapids, you’re very close to Grotto Falls.

Once at the falls, bear in mind that rocks are extremely slippery when wet or mossy. Waterfalls put off a lot of most into the air which is the perfect environment for slippery conditions, especially during the winter season.

In the heat of the summer, it’s very common to find salamanders bear the falls as it provides the perfect habitat for them. 

The mist from the falls is typically ice cold, even on the hottest of summer days. It’s a great way to refresh and keep cool during a long hike. 

If you continue beyond Grotto Falls, you’ll find two destinations which the trail will lead.  The summit of Brushy Falls is approximately 2 miles beyond Grotto Falls. The summit of Mr. LeConte is approximately 5.5 miles beyond Grotto Falls.  

Both the summits Brushy Falls and Mr. LeConte offering amazing views year round. 

SPECIAL NOTE – The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed throughout the winter. Access to Grotto Falls Trail is still possible through the Rainbow Falls Trail. 

By taking this route, it will add approximately 3 additional miles to your hike (round trip) so plan accordingly for this increase in time and distance.

Hen Wallows Falls Trail

Water rushing down Hen Wallow Falls Waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains

Considered a moderate hike due to it’s steep climbs, Hens Wallow Falls Trail is a fantastic retreat to a stunningly high waterfall. Along the trail on your way to the falls, trail features you can expect are:

  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Length – 4.5 Miles
  • Elevation Gain – 900′
  • Lush Forest
  • Cave
  • Mountain View
  • Foot Bridges
  • Huge Icicles in Winter

Directions To Trailhead

Out of all of the Smoky Mountains waterfalls, Hen Wallow Falls isn’t anywhere near the most volume of water, but it make up for that with its height. The falls are nearly 90 feet high and makes for a stunning photo opportunity.

After seeing the bottom of the falls where water has a near 20 foot width of dispersion, it’s hard to believe that where the water rolls over the edge at the top of the falls is actually very narrow. 

In fact, it’s only a couple of feet wide which is the reason for much lower water flow than some of the other falls, especially the high flowing Abrams Falls.

Because of the height and water spread from the top of the falls to the bottom, Hen Wallow Falls is very photogenic. This is especially the case during certain times of day when the sun reflects nicely off of the free falling water.

For avid photographers, avoid the falls during mid day when the sun is at peak height in the sky. Many great photographs can be captured looking up at the falls from the base…because of this, photos can easily be ruined from the powerful sun.

The trail leading to the falls is quite steep and is accessed from the Gabes Mountain Trail near the Cosby TN section of the National Park.

Being located near Cosby, travelers staying in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg can expect a longer drive to the trailhead.

Through the steep, rugged hike you’ll come across lush green forests offering Mountain View’s through the trees. There is also a nice little cave in the ridge near the base of the falls.

SPECIAL NOTE – Visit the falls in the winter time to see a spectacular display of icicles hanging from the falls. Yet another reason Hen Wallow Falls is so picturesque.

Indian Creek Falls Trail

Smoky Mountains waterfalls include Indian Creek Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Located on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains Nation Park, more specifically the Deep Creek area near Bryson City, Indian Creek Falls is an impressive waterfall that takes minimal effort to hike to.

Along the trail, features you’ll find include:

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Length – 2.0 Miles
  • Elevation Gain – 150′
  • River Views

Directions To Trailhead

Indian Creek Falls is accessed from Deep Creek Trail and at only 2 miles round trip with minimal incline, makes for an easy hike for the family.

Indian Creek Falls is considered a waterfall though it is more of a cascade and could even be compared to a water slide. 

This shouldn’t take anything away from it as it is still a very impressive waterfall in the Smokies. 

If you visit the falls in summer, expect to see tubers enjoying Deep Creek. Oftentimes tubers are enjoying the falls along with hikers so expect this to be a popular area during this time.

SPECIAL NOTE – This is the perfect waterfall to take your shoes off and wade in at the base.  Doing so can even help capture stunning photos of the falls at angles you wouldn’t typically capture without wading into the creek. Take care to avoid slippery rocks just like at all other waterfalls on the list.

Juney Whank Falls Trail

Juney Whank Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Use the foot bridge to get close to one of the best Smoky Mountain Waterfalls in the Deep Creek area of the Park

Also located in the Deep Creek section on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Juney Whank Falls has the following trail features you can look forward to during your short hike:

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Length – 0.5 Miles
  • Elevation Gain – 195′
  • Foot Bridge
  • River View

Directions To Trailhead

Juney Whank Falls offers the shortest and easiest hike on the list coming in at only 0.5 miles in total Roy trip length.  The trail is easily accessed via the parking lot for the Deep Creek Trailhead.

The quarter mile hike from the parking to Juney Whank Falls is a steady uphill climb but is of easy difficulty due to its short length. 

Once you arrive at the falls you will be greeted with a wonderful flowing cascade which can be observed from the beautifully constructed foot bridge. 

At approximately 80 ft in height, Juney Whank Falls is just as impressive as all of the other Smoky Mountains waterfalls on our list. 

Like all other falls, Juney Whank Falls is most impressive after periods of high rain, but will most always be impressive and worth the hike no matter the time of year or recent precipitation.

The short hike makes it one of the best hikes for the family. 

SPECIAL NOTE – You can continue on the Deep Creek Trail and access both Indian Creek Falls and Toms Branch Falls as well. 

Laurel Falls Trail

Laurel Falls Trail is the only paved trail leading to Smoky Mountain Waterfalls

Welcome to one of the busiest trails in the Smoky Mountains! That’s right, Laurel Falls Trail is one of the most hiked trails in the National Park, and thats not speaking only in terms of Smoky Mountains Waterfalls…it’s all trails.

First let’s take a look at some of the trail features you’ll see on your hike to Laurel Falls:

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Length – 2.3 Miles (Round Trip)
  • Elevation Change – 2.3 Miles
  • Paved Trail
  • River Views
  • Mountain Views 
  • Foot Bridges

Directions To Trailhead

You may notice a feature on Laurel Falls that you haven’t seen on any other trail.  Did you notice it?  Yep…it’s paved!

This is a great beginner trail for any hiker and is considered an easy hike.  There is a  a slight elevation change during the hike to the falls and the round trip trail length is approximately 2.3 miles.  

Because of this, you can see why it’s one of the most frequented trails in all of the Smokies. 

Vacationers with small children can even plan this hike into their trip into the National Park because it’s paved path allows for the use of strollers. More on that below.

The paved path can be very rough in some spots which can obviously cause difficulties if you opt to use a stroller. We personally had family members use a stroller on the hike and it was an overall very doable experience.

There are plenty of benches along the trail  allowing for rest when needed. If you are a beginner hiker or have members in your family or travel group not accustomed to hiking, these benches are a fantastic trail amenity.

Once you reach the falls you’ll be greeted with a foot bridge which crosses over the pools at the middle pools. Laurel Falls is actually a tiered waterfall. The footbridge is located in the middle of the two tiers. 

Once you cross the foot bridge you’ll have the opportunity to wade in the shallow pools of water at the bottom of the first tier of Laurel Falls.  This is very popular with children. Everyone loves to take in nature to the highest extent possible so why not dip those toes into the ice cold mountain water?  You’re in the Smokies after all!

It is not recommended to climb down to the base of the bottom tier of the falls, though you will very likely see several visitors doing so.

IF you decide to climb down the rocks to the base of the bottom tier, please take the proper precautions and absolutely do not climb on rocks that are missy or wet as these are extremely slippery. 

Kids shouldn’t make this trek as it can most definitely pose a danger, even to those experienced climbers. 

Pack a lunch and enjoy the falls and their surroundings for the ultimate nature experience. 

Parking on this trail can be quite difficult so, like most trails, the earlier you arrive, the better.  There is a designated parking lot which contains few spaces along each side of the road near the trailhead. 

You may notice several cars parked along side the road next the guardrail. If you arrive at the trail in mid-day, you will likely be parking here as well as the parking lot will certainly be full unless you’re lucky enough to drive by at the perfect time.

SPECIAL NOTE – Laurel Falls Trail actually extends beyond the falls for another 1.5 miles. Most hikers don’t venture past the falls so if you’re looking for a nice and private hike, consider continuing on!

Rainbow Falls Trail

Rainbow falls in the only waterfall in the Smoky Mountains known to create this Rainbow effect consistently

Known as the highest single-drop Smoky Mountains waterfall, Rainbow Falls has many distinct trail features you can enjoy along your hike including:

  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Length – 5.4 Miles
  • Elevation Gain – 1700′
  • Old Growth Forest
  • Boulder Fields
  • Mountain View
  • River Views
  • White Water Rapids

Directions To Trailhead

This trail is considered moderate to hard in difficulty as it has severe uphill sections that last for long stretches. 

Over the past couple of years, the wonderful crew of Smoky Mountains Park Rangers have our a huge focus on improving trail conditions for increased hiker safety.

Rainbow Falls Trail has long been know as a strenuous hiking trail. After many of these improvements which added a more stable terrain and stairs throughout some of the steeper sections, the trail is a bit easier to hike.  This shouldn’t be assumed that the trail is now easy, because it’s certainly still moderate in difficulty.

Sturdy footwear and even hiking poles would be a wise decision (hiking poles aren’t required, but are nice to have). 

Several side trails were actually removed during the trail overhaul but if any are found, it is recommended to avoid them and stick to the maintained section of trail.

Morning and late afternoon hikes are recommended, especially for photo opportunities.  Like other towering Smoky Mountains waterfalls, if viewed in mid-day, the sun will wreak havoc on photography of the falls.

If viewed in late afternoon, the sun can provide lighting which will lead to an amazing show for which the falls get it’s name. 

As water mists into the air over the 80 ft continuous drop, the reflection from sunlight will cause several rainbows to be on display…BEAUTIFUL!

Like all other waterfalls in the Smokies, Rainbow Falls is best viewed after periods of rain. 

Rainbow Falls is accessed via Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Extreme care should be taken, especially at these falls as hikers have fallen to their deaths in the slippery rocks around the falls.

SPECIAL NOTE – If you’re feeling up to it, continue hiking past the falls approximately 4 miles to get to the summit of Mr. LeConte.

Ramsey Cascades Trail

Water flowing over one of the best Smoky Mountain Waterfall hiking trails on a summer day

When it comes to Smoky Mountains waterfalls, Ramsey Cascades ranks very high on our list of favorites. Not only because the falls are so magnificent, but the hike to the falls is top notch as well.

Trail features you’ll experience on the way to the falls are plentiful and include:

  • Difficulty – Moderate / Hard
  • Length – 8 Miles (Round Trip)
  • Elevation Change – 2200′
  • Foot Bridges
  • Old Forest Growth
  • Wildflowers
  • Boulder Fields
  • River Views
  • Bird Watching Opportunities

Directions To Trailhead

While hiking on Ramsey Cascades Trail, you’ll notice there are two distinct trail types. 

For approximately the first 1.5 miles, the hiking trail is actually an old Jeep trail which is well kept, wide, and made of gravel.  

Old forest growth on Ramsey Cascades Trail leading to the Smoky Mountains Waterfall
Old forest growth on the Ramsey Cascades Trail

At 1.5 miles into the hike, the Jeep trail ends and the real fun begins! The trail quickly turns into a traditional Smoky Mountains hiking trail leading through the mountainous terrain through the forest and along the river.

Ramsey Cascades trail is a steep hike and increases in difficulty as you near the falls. The last couple of miles is the most difficult.

The overall difficulty rating is between moderate to hard.

No worries, as mentioned previously, Ramsey Cascades is one of the best Smoky Mountains waterfalls making the payoff that much better.

It may even be the hike itself that makes the waterfall so enjoyable and worthwhile.

On hot summer days, feel free to carefully wade in the pools at the bottom of the falls to search for salamanders and tadpoles which are often and easily found here.  Care must be taken as rocks can be slippery and should not be climbed.

Ramsey Cascades Trail is a popular trail and is best hiked in early morning, especially in the middle of summer. You likely won’t see many hikers on the trail but may see many at the falls enjoying them. More time is spent at the falls on this particular trail simply due to the break needed from the intense hike.

SPECIAL NOTEWhen we’ve hiked the Ramsey Cascades trail in mid-summer we did notice several bees / hornets near the falls. If you’re allergic to bees, special consideration and caution should be used.

Spruce Flats Falls Trail

the Great Smoky Mountains Waterfall Spruce Flat Falls surrounded by lush forest

Spruce Flats Falls isn’t one of the most well known Smoky Mountains waterfalls but it does see traffic throughout the year. Features you’ll find along the hike include the following:

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Distance – 1.4 Miles
  • Elevation Gain – 460′
  • Tremont Institute
  • Lush Forest

Directions To Trailhead

 Like the towering Hen Wallow Falls, this waterfall offers the opportunity for picture perfect snapshots.

While not the tallest, widest, or most powerful, there’s something very pleasant about Spruce Flats Falls. Once you arrive at the falls, it feels like you’re seeing something from a magazine or movie. 

When you imagine a waterfall in an isolated and open section of forest deep in the back country, this waterfall checks the boxes. It has it all from multiple tiers, to a nice plunge pool, even the perfect rocks to sit on and enjoy a lunch.

Spruce Flats Falls Trail offers easy parking and is actually next to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. This is most easily accessed via the Townsend entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Parking for the trail will be found at the Institute next to the Lumber Ridge Trailhead. Walk from the parking area to the dormitory. The trail will be located to the left just before the dormitory.

Being a short hike at approximately 1.5 miles, yet relatively steep in several spots, the hiking trail leading to Spruce Flats Falls difficulty rating falls somewhere between easy and moderate. 

SPECIAL NOTE – Spruce Flats Falls is actually located on Buckeye Trail which is accessed from the Lumber Ridge Trail. Both the falls and the trail aren’t officially located on a park map. 

Tom’s Branch Falls Trail

View of Toms Branch Falls from the splash pool below

Also located in the Deep Creek are, Toms Branch Falls offers the second shortest hike on our list of Smoky Mountains waterfalls.

Trail features you’ll encounter while hiking to Toms Branch Falls include:

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Distance – 0.6 Miles
  • Elevation Gain – 47′
  • River View
  • Bicycle Trail

Directions To Trailhead

Clocking in at approximately 0.6 miles in total trip length and nearly no elevation change, this 80 ft waterfall is the perfect family hike.

SPECIAL NOTE – You can continue on the Deep Creek Trail and access both Indian Creek Falls and Juney Whank Falls as well. 

Stream Crossings and Waterfalls SAFETY!

Use extreme caution when crossing streams. Never attempt to cross unless you know you can make it to the other side without issue.

During heavy rains, floods can quickly occur. Rocks, boulders, and even footbridges within the streams can become very slick and falling is always a potential.

Never climb on rocks near waterfalls as they are extremely slick. Many deaths have occurred within the Smoky Mountain National Park from climbing on these rocks.

Receive monthly Smoky Mountains DISCOUNTS & SPECIALS!

 

(865) 432-2504

© 2020 Closer To Heaven Cabins.  All Rights Reserved