Explore These Waterfalls Near Gatlinburg During Your Smoky Mountain VacationJul 06, 2023
Unlike the song suggests, we recommend that you DO go chasing waterfalls – especially the breathtaking waterfalls near Gatlinburg. While spending your time in the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, there are a few waterfalls that you must visit to make the most of your trip. Here’s a list of some of the best waterfalls to explore that are also close to Gatlinburg so you won’t have to travel far.
Waterfall #1: Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls near Gatlinburg, and for good reason. This waterfall is 80 feet tall and cascades over a wide rock face. To reach Laurel Falls, you’ll need to hike the Laurel Falls Trail, which can be found on Little River Road just 3.5 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center. This hiking trail is one of only four trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is paved, making it one of the more family-friendly hikes. Laurel Falls Trail is a 2.6-mile hike round trip that’s ranked moderate in difficulty and is considered the easiest waterfall hike near Gatlinburg.
Waterfall #2: Grotto Falls
Another popular waterfall near Gatlinburg is Grotto Falls. You can get to this waterfall from the Trillium Gap Trail. This trailhead is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail which is easily accessible from downtown Gatlinburg at traffic light #8. One of the unique things about Grotto Falls is that it’s the only waterfall in the Smoky Mountains that you can walk behind. This makes it a great place for some really cool photos! This 2.6-mile round-trip hike is considered moderate in difficulty. The Trillium Gap Trail continues past Grotto Falls all the way up to Mt. LeConte, so if you’re lucky, you may see llamas as they bring supplies up the trail to the lodge on top of the mountain!
Waterfall #3: Cataract Falls
If you are looking for a kid-friendly waterfall near Gatlinburg for a family hike, Cataract Falls is the best option. This is only a ¾-mile round-trip hike, making it a great hike for families with children. Another perk is that this trail is only 10 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, so you don’t have to travel far to see this 25-foot waterfall. To get to Cataract Falls, park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and look for signs outside the building that point toward Cataract Falls via Fighting Creek Nature Trail. The difficulty level of this gravel trail is easy with almost no elevation gain. In drier conditions, this waterfall is more of a trickle, but after periods of rain, Cataract Falls grows much more impressive.
Waterfall #4: Ramsey Cascades
Ramsey Cascades is considered the most difficult waterfall hike in the area, but it’s also the most rewarding. This is the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reaching 100 feet high. To reach Ramsey Cascades, you’ll take Highway 321 east about 6 miles to the Greenbrier entrance of the national park. Follow the signs for Ramsey Cascades Trail, which will be 4.7 miles in. The trail itself is 4 miles each way for an 8-mile round-trip hike. To get to the waterfall, you’ll gain over 2,000 feet in elevation. The length and elevation gain of this hike are why it’s considered strenuous in difficulty, but the breathtaking waterfall views at the end make it well worth the strain. Just make sure you bring plenty of water with you and wear good hiking shoes!
Waterfall #5: Rainbow Falls
One of the most well-known waterfalls near Gatlinburg is Rainbow Falls. This 80-foot waterfall gets its name from the rainbow produced by the mist coming off the falls. This hike is 5.4 miles long round trip and is considered moderate in difficulty. However, because you’ll gain about 1,500 feet in elevation on this trail, some hikers rate it as difficult. If you want to go past the waterfall, you can take this hiking trail up 4 more miles to Mt. LeConte. To get to Rainbow Falls Trail, turn at traffic light #8 and take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to the parking area clearly labeled for Rainbow Falls.
Check Out These Other Hikes in the Smoky Mountains
After you’ve found one or more of these waterfalls, venture out to see what some of the other hiking trails in the area have to offer. You can find some breathtaking views, interesting plant life, historic sites, and more waterfalls along these hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.