12 of the Best Waterfall Hikes: Smoky Mountains

July 30, 2022

Sparkling rivers, cascading waterfalls, and gurgling creeks. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park contains over 2,000 miles of streams. No matter where you look, water seems to flow in this verdant mountain oasis. But how do you discern the best waterfall hikes in the Smokies?

Follow along to discover the 12 best waterfall hikes in the Smoky Mountains.

Whether you are a budding botanist or a hiking newbie, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about the Smoky Mountains Waterfalls.

Revel in the lush mist-produced rainbow at the secluded Rainbow Falls Trail. Or debate the merits of Grotto Falls vs. Laurel Falls. Expansive mountain views, unmatched botanical biodiversity, and awe-inducing falls make every trip to the Smoky Mountains unforgettable.

From which waterfall hike contains the highest cascades. To the pleasures of Porters Creek, our detailed guide is your new hiking BFF.

Smoky Mountain Hikes with Waterfalls

Serenity, nature, and a millennia’s worth of history. Over 200,000 visitors flock to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park each year to revel in the bliss of the great outdoors. From challenging hikes through an old-growth hemlock forest. To jaw-dropping rugged Appalachian scenery, visitors of all ilks will be spellbound by the treasures of this Mountain nirvana.

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From well-traveled trails such as Laurel Falls. To the more obscure Mouse Creek Falls, there is no shortage of adventure to be had when it comes to the best waterfalls in the park. Over 100 streams, cascades, and waterfalls exist within the park's boundaries.

While sunny days exemplify the abundant flora and fauna, creeks and falls can be found at every turn thanks to the area's ample rainfall. Each year the rugged Smokies receive over 85 inches of rain. This mass of water, coupled with an impressive elevation gradient, is the perfect recipe for flourishing falls. 

sunset over gatlinburg tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park guide

Gatlinburg Trails with Waterfalls

Servier County is overflowing with awe-inducing natural enchantment. No matter if you’ve flocked to Gatlinburg to witness wildflowers. Or capture stunning mountain vistas on social media; there’s a variety of trails to tackle.

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Admire some of the region's most outstanding watery features when you conquer the best hiking trails in Gatlinburg, TN, with waterfalls:

Grotto Falls

Looking for a time-sensitive hike that will also award you with amazing views? Grotto Falls is widely considered one of the best waterfalls in the Smokies. Connected to the Trillium Gap Trail, this 2.6-mile round trip path is considered to be of moderate difficulty.

Watch your step as you maneuver through rocky sections and work your way past old-growth hemlock forest and slithering salamanders. Your journey will culminate at the 25 ft cascading falls of the Grotto. Be sure to snap a pic, as this is the only fall in the park you can walk behind. Check out our in-depth guide to hiking Grotto Falls for more information. 

Waterfall at Grotto Falls in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Michael Calvert via Facebook

Rainbow Falls Trail

One of the oldest trails in the park, Rainbow Falls' well-trodden path leads to a mist-filled masterpiece. This is the tallest single-drop waterfall in the park. Its resplendent 80-foot cascades create frequent rainbows in the mist.

Clocking in at 5.4 miles roundtrip, the Rainbow Falls Trail is one of six paths leading to Mount LeConte's summit. Rated as difficult in nature, this trail is ill-advised for novice hikers. A more technical hike, this path is known for its 1,500 feet gain in elevation and several switchbacks. 

Rainbow Falls surrounded by forest in the Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USABaskin Creek Falls

A picture-perfect waterfall all to yourself? Yes, please! While we can’t guarantee solitude, Baskin Creek Falls is one of the rare cascades you may be able to savor all on your own. This 40-foot fall makes for a fantastic photo opportunity and features a 950-foot elevation gain.

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Easily accessible by the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, the beginning of your trip will be blessed with breathtaking mountain views. In total, your excursion to Baskin Creek should take a few hours. Then, for an even more wow-worthy moment, take on this trailhead in springtime so you can experience the wildflowers in full bloom.

Porters Creek Trail

Lush forests, the Fern Branch Falls, and plenty of history are in store for adventurous hikers of the Porters Creek Trail. While currently marked as closed. This moderate to difficult four-mile round trip hike is the perfect off-the-radar escape.

Hikers and historians alike will be thrilled by the fascinating remnants of the Elbert Cantrell farmstead, the Ownby cemetery, and dazzling displays of yellow trillium. If you are lucky enough to traverse this trail during Spring, you’ll come face to face with some of the best displays of flora in the Smoky Mountains. 

fall foliage on porters creek trail in the smoky mountains

An old homestead on Porters Creek Trail: Robyn Barbee Malone/Facebook

Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls may not be the highest fall in the Smoky Mountains, but this jewel of the Cades Cove loop still stuns. Thanks to its large volume of rushing water, Abrams Falls is considered one of the most scenic cascades in the park. Meander through a trail dotted with pine-oak forest, hemlock, and more as you take on this 5-mile trip.

Check out our complete guide to hiking Abrams Falls!

Named after a local Cherokee chief, these 20 ft falls flow into a long, deep pool. While this basin of water might look inviting, heed caution as over 30 people have drowned, slipped, and died here since 1971. While swimming may be off the table, feel free to document the splendor of these falls and their adjoining narrow log bridges with your camera.

Abrams Falls Surrounded by Forest in The Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USARamsey Cascades

Ramsey’s multi-tiered cascades are breathtaking, but it takes a fair amount of backbone to conquer this difficult trail. Measuring over 100 feet, Ramsey is the tallest waterfall in the park. Located between the two towering peaks of Old Black and Mount Guyot, this 8-mile trail features swaths of old-growth forest, treacherous terrain, and gnarly tree roots.

Warm up those quads, as you’ll need plenty of stamina and strength to work through a 2,200-foot elevation gain. Then, on your way to the rock outcroppings, keep your eyes peeled for an abundance of tulip trees, basswoods, silverbells, and yellow birches.

Mingo Falls

Down that cup of jo, as you’ll need plenty of energy to take on this short but challenging trail. The Mingo Falls expedition might seem easy to close at just a quarter mile. But don’t let short the distance fool you! This trip begins on the Pigeon Creek Trail, located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, just outside the park.

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This is why Mingo’s magnificent 120-foot cascades are considered one of the tallest in the Appalachians, but not the Smokies. If you can muscle through the 161 steps to the base of the falls. You’ll be blessed with a breathtaking view. Mingo is the Cherokee word for ‘big bear,’ and these cascades are often referred to as Big Bear Falls. 

ground view of mingo falls in the great smoky mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAEasy Waterfall Hikes Smoky Mountains

Traveling with children, or just less enthused hikers in tow? If you seek out some of the park's less challenging hikes, you’re in luck! The Smoky Mountains may attract a bounty of skilled trekkers, but there are still a plethora of easy hikes to enjoy. Make your way through some of the area's most popular waterfalls and peaceful trailheads when you take on the following:

Cataract Falls

Are your dogs barking? Save the steep inclines for another day when you make a plan for Cataract Falls. A top-tier introductory Great Smoky Mountain waterfall path, this .75-mile-long trek is considered ideal for kids, seniors, and beginner hikers.

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The trailhead is conveniently located just behind Sugarlands Visitor Center and is relatively flat. Because the Cataract flows year-round, this is one of the Smoky's most popular falls. Visit after a rainfall to witness even more impressive cascades from this 25-foot drop. 

waterfall at cataract falls in gatlinburg tennessee

photo credit: Keith Gehlhausen via Facebook

Mouse Creek Falls

Looking to engage in a little bit of Great Smoky Mountain history? A shining jewel of the Big Creek Trail, Mouse Creek Falls sparkling 45-foot falls can be reached by following the old railroad grade. At 4 miles roundtrip, Big Creek Trail is not the shortest hike in the Great Smoky Mountains.

However, due to the grade, it is relatively level. In the 1900s, the logging company utilized this same trail to transport lumber. Today, spirited hikers can take advantage of the smooth walkways and gradual incline as they make their way to the sublime falls. Be sure to pack some snacks or even a picnic, as the waterfall viewing area contains plenty of benches and areas to hang out.

Laurel Falls Trail

Relatively new to the hiking lifestyle? Ease yourself into some exercise with the eternally popular and not too strenuous Laurel Falls hike. Considered part of the Cades Cove region, this beloved path is only a 2.6-mile round trip hike and is paved the entire way.

Check out our essential guide to hiking Laurel Falls for more information.

Crowds congregate here to spot the gorgeous 80-foot tall, two-tiered falls. They are named after the evergreen mountain shrub which grows nearby. This trail also features a small footbridge that allows visitors to walk from one side of the waterfall to the other without getting wet!

Laurel Falls with autumn trees in the great smoky mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAIndian Creek and Toms Branch Falls

Dreaming of a double combo of Dollywood and hiking? Set your sights on one of the best waterfall hikes near Pigeon Forge, TN, when you savor the scenery of Indian Creek and Tom Branch Falls. An optimal choice for less experienced hikers, this relatively easy 1.6-mile trail rewards visitors with two gorgeous falls.

Located in the Deep Creek Area, outdoor adventurers will receive a substantial payoff just 3/10 of a mile into this tranquil hike. Tom Branch Falls is famous for its multi-tiered 60 feet cascade, while Indian Creek measures out at 25 feet. Another hike that is even more elevated come springtime, the wildflowers on Deep Creek Trail cannot be beaten.

Lynn Camp Prong Cascades

Heavenly tiers, moss-covered rocks, and a misty atmosphere make the Lynn Camp Cascades a magical destination year-round. A relatively easy yet unknown hike, these falls are far away from many of the park’s more popular trails. Follow Tremont Road, past the Great Smoky Institute, to reach the Middle Prong Trail.

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Traipse across a long iron footbridge, and take note of the many pristine swimming holes that pepper the pull-offs. Novice hikers will appreciate the wide level path and the quick cadence of this 1.3-mile trail. Culminate your journey at the gorgeous stair-stepped cascades that top out at 35 feet. 

photo credit: Greg Wagner Nature Photography via Facebook

Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall. While certain times of year may bring more flourishing falls and fertile flora, there is never a wrong time to walk through the Great Smoky Mountains.

For almost a century, this National Park has entranced locals and visitors alike with its fragrant varieties of Sumac, adorable black bear cubs, and flowing falls.

Thousands of gallons of rushing water and geological history come together to create some of the park’s most fascinating attractions.

From multi-tiered 100-foot towering falls to glistening rock expanses shrouded in old-growth forest, every Great Smoky Mountain waterfall hike is an adventure waiting to be experienced.

Did We Miss Any of The Best Hikes in the Smokies with Waterfalls? 

Leave us a comment below!


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Written By Isis Maya

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central America and her love o ...

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