smoky mountain waterfalls at laurel falls

5 Smoky Mountain Waterfalls You Need to See

With the most generous annual rainfall in the southeastern United States (59 inches), the Great Smokies are actually a rainier place than the Florida Everglades. But even with all that official precipitation, it’s not always necessary to break out the umbrellas and ponchos.

That’s because it’s mostly fog and misty water droplets that surround the terrain, giving the area a descriptive but not quite accurate name – Smoky Mountains. But there’s enough of this weather to bring plenty of moisture to the mountains to create rivers and streams, as well as some spectacular waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains. Most of them require some considerable hiking, but they are worth your time and effort.

Enjoy these Smoky Mountain waterfalls


Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The fast-moving stream Roaring Fork gives its adjoining trail the unusual name, especially after a steady rainfall. It will first lead you to the Ogle farmstead, where a hand-constructed plumbing system and tubmill are the highlights. Beyond this landmark, the trail leads to two of the park’s most popular waterfalls, Rainbow and Grotto. The entire loop runs about 5.5 miles and is considered moderately strenuous. After the rain, you’ll also see the Place of a Thousand Drips, where thin ribbons of water cascade down mossy boulders. Arrive at this trail from Gatlinburg to the Cherokee Orchard entrance.

Laurel Waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains

smoky mountain waterfalls at laurel falls

With a moderate 2.6-mile round-trip hike, you can view this 80-foot waterfall from the rustic wooden walkway that bisects it into upper and lower sections. The trail is easily accessible from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Cades Cove, but take note that it’s quite crowded during the summer months and on the weekends. While the trail is paved, it’s also uneven with some steep drop-offs and slippery areas. Visitors have also spotted black bears in the area. Despite these issues, the Laurel waterfalls are still a beautiful natural feature you’ll marvel at.

Ramsey Cascades

As the tallest Smoky Mountain waterfalls, these 100-foot cascades are a well-deserved reward at the end of a tough four-mile one-way hike. The rocky outcroppings and lush greenery form a dramatic showcase that might resemble waterfalls in your imagination. You’ll also view old-growth woods with birches and tulip trees along the way. Once you arrive at Ramsey, avoid climbing the rocks or to the top of the falls, as a significant number of accidents have occurred here from the slippery and mossy surfaces. You can conveniently get to the Ramsey trailhead from Gatlinburg, via the Greenbriar entrance.

Cataract Falls

This Smoky Mountains waterfall trail has the easiest access of all listed here. It’s just a half-mile behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center on a smooth paved path that runs alongside Ash Hoppe Branch, then Fighting Creek. Take note of the knotted tree that has a large hollowed trunk, great for fun picture taking. After roughly fifteen minutes and short staircase climb, you’ll arrive at the narrow 25-foot falls that run in two stages. Be aware that this hike doesn’t get much into the wilderness as the other hikes do, and you’ll pass by cars, buildings and parking lots.

Hen Wallow Falls

On this moderately difficult hike, you’ll arrive at these falls that look like an inverted fan. The waterfall’s top width is just two feet, but it expands out to twenty feet at the bottom, ninety feet below. On the 4.4-mile round-trip trek, you’ll pass through shady rhododendron and hemlock forest. As with the other destinations, please avoid climbing the rocks surrounding the falls. To access these waterfalls, park at the Cosby Picnic Area and return about 100 yards along the road to the Gabes Mountain trailhead. Hen Wallow will be on a side trail, with a set of switchbacks taking you to the falls.

You’ll enjoy taking in these paradise-like waterfalls, so don’t forget to bring your camera and plenty of water for hydration.


Photo by Pat Murray on Flickr.



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