The Smoky Mountains attract thousands of tourists every year because of their mesmerizing beauty and natural appeal. In addition to being a sanctuary for diverse species of birds and animals, the Smoky Mountains also feature dense natural vegetation, stunning mountain scenery, and crystal clear waterfalls.
Although large waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains are more notable and lure bigger crowds, there are also smaller but equally beautiful cascades along every river and stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially during spring.
Reasons for waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains
Rain and Altitude
Two main factors contribute to the multitude of waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains. The region experiences abundant annual rainfall and has a steep elevation gradient, favoring the flow of water downhill. This results in plenty of cascades and waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains.
In the highest areas of the Smokies, more than 85″ of rain occurs on average each year. During the extremely wet season, mountain peaks like Clingmans Dome and Mt. Le Conte obtained more than eight feet of rain.
This ample rainwater gushes down the mountainsides because of a change in elevation from high to low, resulting in large waterfalls. Sometimes the water has to drop more than a mile in altitude from the high point of the mountain peak to the base of the mountain, resulting in rapids and streams.
Most famous Waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains
Although there is no shortage of wonders in the Smokies that will leave you breathless, waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains comprise one of the most prominent features of this area, enticing hundreds of travelers to visit the Smokies. The most recognized waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains include the following.
Read the article below to gather a brief description of each spectacular waterfall so that you can plan your next visit to the Smokies accordingly!
Abrams Falls is only 20 feet high, but the immense volume of water surging through it creates such tremendous force that it is sufficient to overcome its lack of altitude. The water gushing down Abrams Falls accumulates in a large, deep pool at the base, creating a very scenic effect.
The waterfall and creek derive their name from a Cherokee chief who lived in a small village several miles downstream. The Cherokee leader was called Chief Oskuah, but he also carried the name, Abram.
What to expect?
The hike to and from the waterfall combines to form a roundtrip distance of 5 miles, and generally, people consider this journey moderate to difficult in intensity. This is primarily because of the jagged and rocky terrain of the region, which makes the ground slippery.
It takes around 3-4 hours to journey to the waterfall and back. The trek to this awe-inspiring waterfall begins from Cades Cove, continuing westward to Abrams Creek, which drains the Cove.
Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet tall, it carries an enormous volume of water over its brink, making it one of the largest waterfalls in the Smokies. Not only does this make Abrams Falls an unforgettable sight, but it also makes it very dangerous, which is why swimming in the pool is not allowed.
This is a 25-feet tall waterfall. Its distinguishing feature is that it allows tourists to walk behind its gleaming sheet of water, owing to an alcove present under the overhanging edge of the waterfall.
The hike to the Grotto Falls is a magical experience because it passes through dense vegetation consisting of lush hemlock-hardwood forest and towering trees, which provide plenty of shade and coolness.
What to expect?
The hike to Grotto falls follows the Trillium Gap Trail off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail close to Gatlinburg. The journey to and from the waterfall is approximately 3 miles long, and people consider it moderate in difficulty.
The roundtrip journey requires 2-3 hours to complete comfortably. Experts advise that you carry ample drinking water with you to prevent dehydration.
This region has particularly rocky terrain dominated by uneven rocks that are slippery because of constant moisture and algae. Hence refrain from attempting to scale these treacherous rocks without proper rocky-sturdy hiking shoes.
Be wary of the rocks and try not to step on any surrounding waterfall to prevent slipping. Sometimes Black bears also roam the area, so you should be on guard against them.
Laurel Falls is perhaps the most famous spot in the Smoky Mountains national park. It is always bustling with eager tourists on weekends all year and on weekdays during the holidays. Thus there is always limited parking at the trailhead.
The waterfall features Laurel Branch, a narrow stream flowing south of the divided section between Harrison Mountain and Cove Mountain. It gushes into the Little River and divides the 80-foot-high Laurel Falls into two distinct parts.
A picturesque walkway separates the upper and lower parts of Laurel Falls, crossing the base of the upper part of the waterfall. The waterfall’s name comes from an evergreen shrub, Mountain Laurel, that blossoms along the trail and the waterfall during May.
What to expect?
The roundtrip hiking journey to the waterfall spans over 2.6 miles, and the people rate it moderate in difficulty. It takes around 2 hours to travel to the waterfall and come back.
Although the distance is comparatively shorter, people still consider the hike moderately challenging because the pavement along the trail is rugged and irregular and does not extend through the entirety of the trail.
Additionally, some sections of the hiking trail are narrow and steep and can be very slippery in rainy or humid weather. This makes them difficult to maneuver. Some parts of the track also feature abrupt drop-offs, so you need to be very careful and slow during the journey to prevent injury.
Rainbow Falls is at an elevation of 80 feet, and enveloping it constantly is a fine sheen of mist that reflects the sunlight on summer days to create a rainbow. This is where the waterfall gets its name. Rainbow Falls is the loftiest single-drop waterfall in the Smoky Mountains national park.
It forms because of a drastic drop in the flowing water of Le Conte Creek over a height of 80 feet on the northwestern sides of the towering Mount LeConte.
This site is a wonder even during a prolonged cold spell, when the water freezes, creating an incredible ice formation around the waterfalls.
What to expect?
The total journey to and from the waterfall covers 5.4 miles and takes 3-5 hours approximately.
Many people consider the hike to Rainbow Falls difficult in intensity because not only is the distance long but also, the hike increases in elevation by 1500 feet over the course. The journey to the waterfall starts at a trailhead near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and during the hike, people have to encounter rocky and uneven sections as well.
Experts advise that you carry drinking water with you and wear appropriate gear. Rock-sturdy hiking shoes are necessary if you wish to scale the irregular terrain without injury. Refrain from attempting to hike in sandals or flip-flops, which can make you slip easily.
Reach the Sixth-highest Peak in the East!
Moreover, after successfully arriving at Rainbow Falls, if you still feel strong and energetic, consider undertaking another adventure. Use this opportunity to continue along the Rainbow Falls Trail to arrive at the 6,593-foot peak of Mount LeConte.
Doing so will earn you the right to brag about climbing to the summit of the third-tallest mountain in the Great Smokies and the sixth-highest peak in the East.
Ramsey Cascades is the most challenging waterfall to reach in the Smoky Mountains, but it is one of the most stunning ones. It is easily the most favored waterfall in the Smoky Mountains.
Since it is 100 feet in height, it is the tallest waterfall in the Smokies, and the hiking trail to Ramsey Cascades traverses through a memorable forest teeming with ancient trees and plants.
As you hike to the waterfall, you encounter tall tulip trees, basswood, yellow birches, and silver wood before finally laying eyes on the waterfall gliding over a collection of rocky ledges.
What to expect?
The roundtrip journey to the waterfall consists of 8 miles, and people consider the hike highly strenuous and challenging. It begins near Greenbrier and goes along the Ramsey Cascades Trail, taking about 5-7 hours for completion. Additionally, there is a gain of 2000 feet in altitude over the 4-mile course.
Although you will have to work hard and be vigilant during every step of the hike, the splendor of Ramsey Cascades will be mind-blowing.
The waterfall resides in a secluded but mesmerizing location along the Little Pigeon River at the Ramsey Prong of the Middle Prong. Sheltering the waterfall is a canyon in which the Pinnacle Lead forms in the north and the Guyot Spur in the south.
Pinnacle Lead is a steep hill directing eastward to the 6,217-foot cliff, Old Black. In the south, the Guyot Spur ascends eastward to the 6,305-foot Mount Guyot, famous as the second-tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountain chain.
Hence embarking on a journey to Ramsey Cascades will enable you to witness many other spectacular landmarks in the Smokies.
Hen Wallow Falls
Hen Wallow Falls is another one of the tallest waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains. It is 90 feet tall and has a unique shape. It forms a fan resembling a horsetail on the Lower Falling Branch of Hen Wallow Creek. The waterfall widens to 20 feet or so while gushing down the slope only two feet out at the brink.
The journey to Hen Wallow Falls features a pleasant stroll through a forest brimming with hemlock and rhododendron. Another side trail directs tourists to the waterfall’s base but comprises steep switchbacks.
During very low winter temperatures the waterfall freezes, forming a gorgeous icy column that sparkles with light.
What to expect?
The entire round-trip hike to the falls is approximately 4.4 miles long. Like most other hiking trips in the Smoky Mountains, People consider this one moderately difficult. The hikers leave their vehicles in the Cosby Picnic Area’s parking ground and walk on foot to the start of Gabe’s Mountain Trail.
They continue along Gabe’s Mountain Trail to reach the Hen Wallows Falls while relishing the beauty of the old-growth forest. The journey to and back from the waterfall requires about 3-4 hours. Similar to other waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains, the Hen Wallow waterfall also has a large pool with rock edges.
During summertime, it becomes a breeding ground for salamanders, so look out for these creatures when you visit the waterfall.
The short trek down to the waterfall has a steep slope, so attempt it only if you have very steep-sturdy hiking shoes. Otherwise, you risk slipping and injuring yourself.
Also, it is better not to step on any rocks around the waterfall no matter how safe it seems because the rocks are often wet and slippery. A layer of mist and algae constantly remain on the rocks making them dangerously slick. Be sure to have plenty of drinking water with you.
A brief description of some of the most exquisite waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains is present in the article above. However, this is a mere sample of the multitude of gorgeous cascades and waterfalls plentifully present in the Smoky Mountains.
Each waterfall in this region is unique and as beautiful as the one before, if not more. Hence, you must use this knowledge to plan your vacation to the Smokies, where you can bask in the glory of nature while engaging in some reinvigorating physical activity.
Other noteworthy spots include the remote but serene Mouse Creek Falls and the lofty Juney Whank Falls, reaching an elevation of 90 feet.