Rainbow Falls Trail: In-Depth Guide to Hiking the Great Smoky Mountains

If you’re interested to know more about the Rainbow Falls Trail at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, chances are you’re planning to hike it yourself! Here are some must-know information before your adventurous trip to the Smokies.

Nestled within the myriad of hiking trails at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Rainbow Falls Smoky Mountains trail stands out as a favorite among seasoned hikers and novices alike. There are many reasons why this trail is captivating, from the allure of the single-drop waterfall cascading 80 feet to the moderate challenge of the climb.

Whatever draws you to the Rainbow Falls Smoky Mountains, you’re not alone in your fascination. So as you gear up for this epic adventure, follow along as we share essential details that will enhance your hiking experience.

Trail Basics

Trail Length

The Rainbow Falls Trail at the Great Smoky Mountains is approximately 2.7 miles one way (not 2.2 miles, as others suggest) and 5.4 miles roundtrip. The Rainbow Falls trailhead is conveniently located off the Cherokee Orchard Loop, which makes it easier to spot even for hikers who have never been to the area.

If the Rainbow Falls trail is too short for you and you’re seeking an extended adventure, continue onward to the path that leads to the majestic Le Conte. Mount Le Conte is one of the highest peaks in the Eastern United States and a prominent mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

While the Rainbow Falls trail is a destination in its own right, continuing on to this majestic natural attraction provides an even more rewarding experience.

Rainbow Falls surrounded by forest in the Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USADifficulty Level and Elevation Gain

While the Rainbow Falls trail is mesmerizing in its beauty, be aware that one of its defining features is its elevation gain, which provides a steady incline throughout. In addition, mist and algae can make the trail even more challenging as these can make certain sections slick and tricky.

Estimated Hiking Time

The average hiker typically takes 3 to 5 hours to complete the round trip, not including the time spent admiring the Rainbow Falls once you’ve reached it, of course! Factors influencing this estimate include individual pace, stops for rest or photography, and the trail’s terrain.

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We recommend starting as early as possible so you have extra time to fully soak in the beauty of Rainbow Falls North Carolina without feeling rushed.

Best Time of the Year to Hike

For those eager to explore the Rainbow Falls Trail Smoky Mountains, timing can make all the difference. While the trail welcomes hikers year-round, the magic truly unfolds during late spring to early summer.

Sunny afternoons during these months illuminate the cascading waters and occasionally bless onlookers with a radiant rainbow over the single drop waterfall, which gave the trail its iconic name. And of course, this season’s pleasant weather and vibrant greenery enhance the overall picture-perfect experience!

Distant view of the Mount Le Conte's Rainbow Falls
By No machine-readable author provided. Blinutne assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Getting There


The road to Rainbow Falls Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not hard to find. At Traffic Light 8 in Gatlinburg turn off the Parkway onto Historic Nature Trail Road. This road leads to the Orchard entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park. Once there, you will find the entrance to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail loop, immediately following the Rainbow Falls Trailhead.

Accessibility and Parking

The Rainbow Falls trailhead boasts a dedicated parking lot designed to accommodate a few vehicles. The parking lot is well-marked, ensuring ease of access for first-time visitors.

However, given the trail’s popularity, we recommend arriving early, especially during peak seasons, to secure a spot. Keep in mind that during weekends and holidays, this small parking lot can fill up quickly.

Safety & Preparedness

What to Wear

Embarking on the mesmerizing journey to Rainbow Falls Gatlinburg calls for the right attire to ensure comfort and safety. Given the trail’s varied terrains and occasional slick spots, especially after rain, it’s really important that you wear sturdy hiking boots or hiking shoes.

We mean the kind of quality that won’t break when you’re halfway up the trail. These provide ankle support and a solid grip, vital for the ascent and descent!

Hiking Backpack Shoes Hat and Water Bottle in WoodsWhat to Pack

Pack the essentials, but don’t overpack! Packing as lightly as possible will help preserve your journey for the roundtrip hike to Rainbow Falls NC. A few items you need to bring include a big bottle of water, snacks and energy bars, a lightweight rain jacket, and extra layers depending on the weather.

Weather and Wildlife Considerations

As with all mountain hiking experiences, do remember that the unpredictable mountain weather and local wildlife demand cautious consideration. Sudden rain can make the paths slick, and, unfortunately, people have fallen due to missteps on wet or icy trails. Monitor weather updates and turn back if, in the middle of the hike, it starts to pour really hard.

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Black bears can be seen in all elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding areas. While hiking Rainbow Falls TN and you encounter a bear, do not run. Stay calm and stand your ground.

Stand tall, try to appear larger by raising your arms or standing on your tiptoes. Then, slowly back away without ever turning your back on the bear. If the bear approaches or follows, yell, clap your hands, or throw small stones or sticks toward the bear but not directly at it.

Sunrise in the Smoky MountainsPlanning a Trip to the Great Smokies

Embarking on the journey to the Rainbow Falls Trail in the Great Smokies promises an exhilarating experience! But as with all adventures, being well-prepared is the cornerstone to truly relishing the experience.

Before setting foot on the trail, ensure you’ve got all your bases covered, not just the things you’ll need (or want) during the hike, but also before and after.

Plan your lodging and other nearby places you want to explore or things you’ll want to do. The vacation packages on Tripster are an excellent start to planning a seamless trip, as this helps you secure your lodging and attraction tickets in one transaction. You’ll also enjoy savings on travel expenses, letting you focus solely on the adventure ahead!

What Did We Miss?

Have anything to add to our guide? Leave us a comment below!

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Written by Nicole King

There are only two things that make Nicole really happy–books and travel! When her head’s not buried in a book, she’s most likely...

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