Insiders Guide To The Top Waterfalls in the Smokies
Of all the hiking one can do in the Smoky Mountains, what might be the biggest attraction of them? If you said “seeing the black bears!” you’d be close but wrong since wildlife is not a guaranteed sight while on the trails. If you said “to see the sights from up high?”, also, close and almost right but not quite specific enough. If you said, “to experience the grand adventure and spiritual thrill of actually getting out into the world and exploring it?” well, this is true but it’s not exactly an attraction.
The answer we’re looking for is “the waterfalls!” Indeed, the waterfalls of the Tennessee Smokies are the biggest attraction in the hiking trails we have and there’s little wonder why – they are absolutely gorgeous, mesmerizing natural wonders that speak to all of us. From babies and toddlers to teens and young adults, from mid-age to old age, waterfalls grab our attention and command our respect from being thrilling and calming at the same time. Everyone who goes to the Smokies should, at some point, visit one of the waterfall hiking trails we have here. In this article, we’ll provide some information on the top waterfalls to visit.
The following information comes from the National Park Service website.
Trailhead:The turnoff for the trailhead is located past stop #10 on the Cades Cove Loop Road. The turnoff is signed.
Trail Notes: The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 5 miles and the hike is generally considered moderate in difficulty. Due to the length and terrain however, some visitors may rate it as difficult. It takes about 3-4 hours to hike to the waterfall and back. Please remember that if you begin your hike late in the afternoon, you may have to return in the dark!
Access trail: Trillium Gap Trail on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
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 there is a large parking area. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a narrow, winding, one-way road that is closed in winter. Buses, RVs, and large trucks are prohibited on the road.
Trail Notes: The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 2.6 miles and the hike is generally considered moderate in difficulty. It takes about 2-3 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.
Trailhead: Park in the designated hiker parking area at Cosby Picnic Area (near the entrance to Cosby Campground). Then backtrack on foot approximately 100 yards along the road to the signed start of the Gabes Mountain Trail.
Trail Notes: The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 4.4 miles and the hike is generally considered moderate in difficulty. It takes about 3-4 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.
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 Road.
Trail Notes: The roundtrip distance to the waterfalls is 1.6 miles and the hike is generally considered easy. It takes about 1-2 hours to hike to the waterfalls and back. Carry drinking water with you.
Trailhead: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn toward Cades Cove on Little River Road and drive 3.5 miles to the trailhead where there are parking areas on both sides of the road.
Trail Notes: The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 2.6 miles and the hike is considered moderate in difficulty. It takes about 2 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.
Access Trail: Rainbow Falls Trail in the Roaring Fork 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 clearly signed Rainbow Falls parking area.
Trail Notes: The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 5.4 miles and the hike is generally considered moderate in difficulty. However due to the length, elevation gain, and rocky terrain in sections of the trail, some visitors may rate the hike as difficult. It takes about 3-5 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.
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