Backpacking the Smokies: Waterfall Hikes
People come to visit and hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from all over the United States. They come to see grand vistas, walk in the forest, and especially to experience the waterfalls. With over 2,100 miles of streams and rivers flowing through the park, it is easy to see why the Smokies abound with rushing cascades.
There are over 100 prominent waterfalls and cascades within Smoky Mountain National Park. Due to the temperate rainforest that exists at the higher elevations and the variation in gradient from the tops of the mountains to the bottoms of the valleys, there exists a veritable cornucopia of waterfalls and cascades.
Summertime is the perfect time to hike to waterfalls in the Smokies. Nothing beats a brisk morning hike in the Smokies combined with a dip at a waterfall to finish it off.
We have compiled a list of the top 3 waterfall day hikes in Smoky Mountain National Park. All of the waterfalls listed are waterfalls you can visit on a day hike.
Hike behind a rushing cascade.
Directions: Take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail from the main street in Gatlinburg. Drive to the park boundary past Twin Creeks Road and Ogle home site, and into Cherokee Orchard. You will come to a fork in the road. Take the right hand fork and follow the road all the way up to Grotto Falls Trailhead.
To begin the hike find Trillium Gap trailhead to reach Grotto Falls. The total mileage round trip is about 2.6 miles. With 585 feet of elevation gain, this waterfall is fairly easy to access.
The trail will lead steadily uphill as you get deeper and deeper into Hemlock forest. In the spring the forest floor is carpeted with Yellow and White Trillium. If you begin early enough you may get lucky and cross paths with the Llama trains going to the top of Mt. Leconte.
After meandering past 4 creek crossings you will reach Grotto Falls. It is a 25 foot high waterfall with a rushing creek beneath. For those who are more adventurous, the water is deep enough to go for a swim. Hike behind the waterfall and around to find good sitting rocks. At this point you can turn around and hike back or take Trillium Gap Trail 2 miles up to Brushy Mountain where you can get a wonderful view of Mt. Leconte and the Greenbriar Valley.
The most voluminous waterfall in the park.
Directions: Take Newfound Gap Road into the park from Gatlinburg. Turn right at Sugarland Visitor Center and follow the road all the way to Cades Cove Road. Take the loop around 5 miles until you reach the gravel road to reach the Abrams Falls Trailhead. The trailhead is at the end of the parking area.
Follow the path to the left to begin your hike. Abrams Falls is 2.5 miles down the trail. There are two sections of moderate elevation gain on the trail to the falls. The first brings you up and out of Hemlock forest and Rhodedendron thickets to a ridgline. The second brings you up to the pinnacle of the Arbutus ridgeline where you will get a birds eye view of Abrams Canyon and Abrams Creek as it meanders through the valley. There will be a few log bridges with stream crossings along the way after the ridgeline.. Follow the trail downhill until you reach the offshoot trail for Abrams Falls. Abrams Falls is loud and impressive with a deep pool that stretches 100 feet across at its base. Swimming is discouraged. There have been drownings here. There are plenty of sitting rocks at the base of Abrams Falls to enjoy lunch and then head back up the trail to the parking area.
World class swimming hole at a hidden gem of the Smokies
Directions: Take I-40 East from Sevierville. Just before you reach the North Carolina State line take the Waterville exit (exit 451) and turn right towards Waterville. The road passes a large power plant and goes through Waterville to reach a 4 way stop. The entrance to Smoky Mountain National park is straight ahead from the 4 way stop. Take the gravel road about 1.5 miles until you reach the Big Creek parking area. The Big Creek trailhead is back up the road on the left. You cant miss it.
This is one of my personal favorite hikes in Smoky Mountain National Park.
Wide and flat, it was originally built as a road for the Civilian Conservation Core while they were constructing trails and bridges around Big Creek. The trail will take you through Hemlock and Dog Hobble as you ascend to amble along Big Creek. It is only about 1.5 miles to Midnight Hole which is the most picturesque swimming hole and waterfall in the entire park. What makes this day hike even more interesting is the rich history surrounding the Big Creek Valley. Evidence of the Crestmont Lumber Company’s activity here is apparent. At time you can see the original rail grade across the creek. After hiking the mile and a half there will be a trail that leads down and to the left to the base of Midnight Hole. There are plenty of rocks for sitting and having lunch and the swimming hole at the base of the falls doesn’t suffer from undertows or spats of drownings. It is deep enough to jump from the rocks. Once you are done swimming you can hike back down the trail to the parking area.