2 key ingredients are needed to produce waterfalls. Abundant Rainfall and abrupt elevation change. The
Smokies have both in abundance. A little known fact is the Smokies is a Temperate Rainforest. This means
it generates its own weather; producing an average of 85” of rainfall in the upper elevations. More than
anywhere in the country, except the pacific northwest. This rainfall and the extreme steep terrain makes
the Smokies a waterfall hotspot.
On this Edition of Smokies 6, we take you to Up N’ Adam Adventures top 6 favorite waterfalls in the
Great Smoky Mountains.
#6 Laurel Falls
We begin our list with Laurel Falls. A 2 tier Cascade and quite possibly one of the most visited waterfalls in the Smokies because the Trail is paved, making it an easy hike at only 2.4 miles round trip, and it's close to Gatlinburg. Oh and it's an absolutely beautiful waterfall. Dropping 80 feet total, Laurel Falls is a part of Laurel Branch and given its name by the Laurels that grow in the area. The 2 tiers are split by the trail and foot bridge that you arrive on, at the base of the upper tier. Please note that to get to the lower tier, it requires a rock scramble and can be very dangerous. People have died from falls on these rocks.
The trail head is just 3.5 miles from Sugarland visitor center up Little River Road. Parking is limited so as usual, we recommend getting there early. Summer is probably the best time to visit while the Laurels are in Bloom. The trail also offers some outstanding views along the way and some interesting tributaries.
#5 Grotto Falls
Although Grotto Falls only drops around 18 feet, it is unique in the fact that the trail actually goes behind the waterfall. The cove behind the falls is called a grotto - thus the name. This is the only falls in the park where the trail does this. Combine this with the relative easy hike, it makes for one popular destination, so getting an early start is highly recommended. Additionally, just about 50 feet before you arrive at Grotto falls, is Two-Rock Falls. It’s a little ways down the embankment but sometimes goes overlooked. 2 waterfalls for the price of 1!
The closest trailhead is located in the Roaring Fork motor nature trail. But the Trail is not called Grotto Falls. Trillium Gap is the trail you seek. From this point it is only a 1.3 mile hike to grotto falls. However be aware that the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed seasonally in the winter. But fear not, because you can still hike up the road or access the trillium gap trail at the rainbow falls trail head. This will add another couple miles to the hike however.
The Trillium Gap Trail continues on past the Grotto Falls and goes all the way to Mt. Leconte. For an added treat, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the Llama Team uses this trail to re-supply The LeConte Lodge. They typically leave the trail head as soon as good light is available; so get there early to see them on the way up or show up lucky to catch them on the way down in the afternoons, as their return can vary.
#4 Rainbow Falls
At approximately 80 feet, Rainbow Falls is the longest uninterrupted plunge of any water fall within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains. If you’re fortunate enough to be there on a sunny afternoon, oftentimes you’ll see the reason for its moniker, a rainbow forms from the mist spilling over the falls. The trail passes at a fair distance away from the falls, but if you’re adventurous enough to do some boulder scrambling, you can actually make your way up and walk behind the falls. Be careful, it can be slippery, especially in the winter.
To get to the Rainbow Falls Trail Head, turn at traffic light eight in Gatlinburg you’ll make your way to Cherokee Orchard Road defined as the trailhead for Rainbow Falls. You’ll also see the trailhead of Trillium gap but that’s a different story, Focus!
From the trail head, Rainbow Falls is 2.8 miles and you are going to gain 1,685 feet of elevation from the trailhead to the falls so make sure you eat your Wheaties. As you approach, you will notice a couple of limestone walkways which were installed during the trail renovation in 2019. Be especially careful on these if you plan on being there during freezing temperatures. The splashing of the cascades can freeze on the rocks and send you for a nasty tumble.
The trail loosely follows LeConte Creek and along your way you’ll see an impressive hardwood canopy forest. During the summer months, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes in the rocks.
At 5.6 miles round-trip and gaining 2,000 feet of elevation, the hike to Rainbow Falls is moderate to strenuous with rewarding forest scenery as you make your way to the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the Smokies.
#3 Spruce Flats Falls
Spruce Flats Falls gets the Up N’ Adam award as the most photogenic falls in the park. A 30 foot fan waterfall with just the right amount of water flow to give photographers the perfect detail of the cascading drop. We recommend this waterfall in Autumn when the surrounding leaves fall into the pool and rocks and the colors light up the area. Once you arrive you will be in awe of the beauty of this waterfall. After the initial fan shape drop, the Spruce Flats Branch continues to plunge a short distance down and spills into the Middle Prong of the Little River. Spruce Flats Falls sees a moderate to heavy amount of traffic. It would see a lot more, but the falls is actually not shown on the official park trail map. However, there is still a heavily used manway that is easy to follow. The trail begins at the Tremont area of the park at the Tremont Institute. The best way to find it, is to look for the Lumber Ridge Trail on the official Park Map. Both Lumber Ridge and Spruce Flats Falls start from the same location. The hike is only 1.4 miles round trip with a total elevation gain of about 450 feet. The first part of the hike is relatively easy. Right before you get to the falls you will start a rugged downhill section. Trekking poles are recommended for balance through this part. All in all, the hike is considered easy. Don’t forget to bring the most important essential….your Camera!
#2 Indian Flats falls
The Middle Prong Trail is considered to be the best waterfall/cascade hike in the Smokies, and at 4 miles up this trail you arrive at #2 on our list: Indian Flats Falls. This 4-tier beauty drops a total of 60 feet down Indian Flats Prong with the upper tier dropping 20 feet. We recommend this falls in early June when the Rhododendrons are blooming. This time frame also gives you the opportunity to cool off at the base of the falls and really anywhere along Lynn Camp Prong. Autumn is also a great time to visit.
This falls often goes overlooked because it's not visible from the main Middle Prong Trail nor are there any signs that point the way. There is a faint spur trail that leads from the upper part of the Middle Prong Trail, that will take you to the falls. When you take this spur trail, it brings you out at the upper tier. In order to get the lower tiers, you will need to bushwack your way down. Please be careful, as this attempt is rugged. But don’t fret if you choose not to go down to the lower tiers as the upper tier is, by far, the most beautiful.
#1 Ramsey Cascades
So we have arrived at our #1 waterfall in the Smokies: Ramsey Cascades! Located in the Greenbrier area of the Park, this powerful cascade is actually the tallest waterfall in the park (accessible by trail) at approximately 100 feet. The cascading plunge this fall takes is so powerful, it generates its own breeze. You can literally feel this waterfall. Much like Spruce Flats Falls, Ramsey Cascades is also very photogenic for similar reasons. This is a great summer destination and you can cool off in the pool at the base of the falls. If you keep an eye out you might notice some salamanders, as this is home to many of them. However, when exploring, be sure not to disturb their homes by moving or stacking rocks.
Ramsey Cascades is well worth the hike but it does make you earn it. With a 4 mile (8 mile round trip) hike gaining 2,200 feet in elevation, this hike is a strenuous lung burner. The last half mile is a scramble over rocks and boulders. At the very end is a rhododendron tunnel that forms a gateway to the falls and it is just breathtaking. While technically considered moderate we would rate it as strenuous due to the rugged terrain at the end of the hike. The hike however, is a beautiful one through an old growth forest and home to some of the biggest trees in the Smokies.
Well there you have it, Up N’ Adam Adventures top 6 Waterfalls in the Smokies. We hope you can get out there and visit a few and thanks for coming along with us.
We hope you enjoyed this edition of Smokies 6 and hope you have been inspired to get out there and feed your mind and soul with the greatest show in the Smokies.