Forming a craggy line along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Smoky Mountains teem with moonshine, folk culture, and enough outdoor sights to leave you breathless. Many visit the Smokies for what is famed to be one of the most challenging but scenic sections of the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail, but if distance hiking does not strike your fancy, perhaps the stunning diversity in Great Smoky Mountains waterfalls will motivate you to strap on your hiking boots. According to the National Park Service, over 200,000 thousand visitors flock to the Smoky Mountains each year. Given the area’s significant rainfall and soaring elevations, the Smoky Mountain waterfalls are famous for good reason. But how can you maximize your trip? We have selected five waterfalls known for their uniqueness and beauty.
1. Ramsey Cascades
Ramsey Cascades is the tallest of waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains. It towers at 100 feet, and crashes down various rock outcroppings to create roaring, frothy white water. The destination is worth the journey, but in order to get there, one must travel 8 miles round trip by foot. On your way, you will see old growth forests and rivers and streams coursing downhill beside you. Be sure to bring water and snacks because not only are you embarking on a sizable hike, but you will also be gaining 2,000 miles in elevation on your way to Ramsey Falls.
2. Place of a Thousand Drips
So named because of the breaking apart of streams to create a latticework of water, Place of a Thousand Drips is a unique waterfall. It stands at 30 feet and is best to see after rainfall has been heavy–creating more momentum in the separate streams. This waterfall is only one of two that you are able to drive directly up to in the Smoky Mountains. You will enjoy a scenic drive through the park before locating pull-off parking where you may go to admire the falls. This is also a popularly photographed waterfall, so be sure to snap your own picture to document your visit.
3. Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is another waterfall which namesake advertises its unique appeal. Rainbow Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smoky Mountains. This results in a sheet of misty water which, when hit by the sun, produces breathtaking rainbows. The way to the falls presents another hike that will leave adventurers feeling quite accomplished due to its challenge. Your hike will be 5.4 miles roundtrip and will include navigating through several bolder fields and crossing a couple footbridges. You will gain 1600 feet in elevation overall, but will also pass LeConte creek rushing by on your right as a taste of what is to come.
4. Grotto Falls
A walk to Grotto Falls will give hikers a dose of fantasy. Not only will you be able to walk up to the waterfall, but you will be able to stroll directly behind it. There is a clear trail that will take you behind the curtain of water, where mist and sunshine will give you an entirely different perspective on what it is to truly see a waterfall. This special feature sets Grotto Falls apart from all others in the Smoky Mountains. The hike there is also a treat: You will journey past outcroppings of lush mountain flowers including trillium and rhododendron until you arrive at Grotto Falls, standing at 25 feet. Roundtrip, be prepared to hike 2.6 miles.
5. Laurel Falls
80 foot Laurel Falls is famed not just for its dramatic tumbling waters but for the striking mountain laurel lining the trail in. The way to Laurel Falls is more accessible than many other waterfalls that require bolder scrambles or long distance hiking: It stands one among a few to have a paved pathway in. The hike overall is 2.6 miles of moderate difficulty, and upon getting there, you may enjoy standing on a bridge that divides the upper and lower levels of the falls. Go in May to see the laurel flowers in full bloom, but be sure to arrive early to reserve your spot in the parking lot. As one of the most popular waterfall hikes in the Smoky Mountains, parking spots fill up around 9:00 in the morning.
Overall, if you want to pay a visit to a waterfall while you are in the Smokies, there is a waterfall tailored to you. Whether you want to make a day of it and enjoy challenging your hiking legs on the way there or if you’d instead prefer to take a scenic drive and step out to your waterfall-side view, consider the 5 hikes above.
However, do not underestimate the task ahead when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains waterfalls! Be sure to embark on your trip with clean water, snacks, and of course, a ready camera. For more information on tips, information, and advice for visiting your waterfall of choice, go to the National Park Service website or step into one of the many visitor centers scattered throughout the Smoky Mountains.