There are so many beautiful things to see while in the Smokies. Make sure to stop and relax as you take in all that beautiful Tennessee has to offer. While there are dozens of attractions to visit – from the Titanic Museum Attraction, WonderWorks, Ober Gatlinburg, and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to the Gatlinburg Space Needle, Smoky Mountain Ziplines, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and The Island in Pigeon Forge – you don’t want to miss out on the natural wonders of the area.
The amazing scenery is what started drawing tourists in, and it hasn’t disappointed over the years. The area is home to a diverse wildlife population, boasts beautiful trees and wildflowers throughout the year, and features sparkling streams and rushing waterfalls. And while some views and favorite natural sights can be met by driving or taking an easy walk, the best views are found after some work during a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains! Waterfalls in the Smokies are one of the top picks for scenic views, and all require at least some hiking to get great views. But once you get there, you’ll realize they were worth the work!
Read on for a few favorites in the area, and always remember to practice caution. ALWAYS follow any rules posted on signs by the falls, and don’t climb on rocks around waterfalls. They are often moss covered and slippery, and several people have been seriously injured or died doing so. Dress appropriately: hiking shoes are best, and practice normal hiking safety rules as you go!
The Sinks and Upper Meigs Falls | 3 miles roundtrip
While you’ll get better views from the hike, Upper Meigs Falls can be seen via a scenic pull-off along Little River Road (between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Townsend “Y”). The hike to the waterfall offers great views and is considered moderately difficult, and dogs, horses, and bikes are prohibited.
Laurel Falls | 2.6 miles roundtrip
Although paved, the trail to Laurel Falls is rough and uneven along the 2.6 miles. Plan for about 2 hours to finish the hike up to Laurel Falls and back, and add in a little time for taking pictures at this incredibly photogenic spot. The 80-foot-high Laurel Falls splits into an upper and lower section, and a lovely log bridge runs across the waterfall.
Hen Wallow Falls | 4.4 miles roundtrip
Start at Gabe’s Mountain Trail to get to Hen Wallow Falls, a 3-4-hour hike (in and back) that offers views of the 90-foot-high falls. Moss-covered rocks surround the falls, and salamanders can often be found playing here! During cold months, the water fall will freeze, creating a picturesque column of ice.
Rainbow Falls | 5.4 miles roundtrip
Moderately difficult, the hike to Rainbow Falls will give you views of the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies! Rainbow Falls was named for the rainbows created by the mist here, so take time to look for the prismatic colors in this 80-foot falls. In cold months, bundle up and check out the ice that builds up here. And if you’re up for even more of a challenge, continue another 4.2 miles past Rainbow Falls to check summiting Mount LeConte off your bucket list!
Ramsey Cascades | 8 miles roundtrip
This gorgeous waterfall is the tallest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s often considered the most scenic. But the awesome view is not without its work: the hike is considered strenuous, so it’s not for the faint of heart. The trail gains 2,000+ feet in elevation along the 4-mile trip to the falls, but the reward is salamanders, lush trees, and water cascading 100 feet down the rocks.
Lynn Camp Prong Cascades | 1.3 miles roundtrip
One of the shorter hikes to a waterfall, the Lynn Camp Prong trail is considered easy and offers a few benches along the way. You could plan for about an hour to hike in and back, enjoying a leisurely walk.
Mouse Creek Falls | 4 miles roundtrip
This beautifully cascading waterfall is access by the Big Creek Trail, which runs along an old railroad grade that was used for lumber at the beginning of the 20th century. Midnight Hole, at 1.4 miles down the trail, is a lovely pool of water sitting beneath a 6-foot falls. A bench with nice views of Mouse Creek Falls sits at 2.1 miles, so you can take a break and snap a few photos before heading back.
Mingo Falls | 0.8 miles roundtrip
Although not located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mingo Falls is a great short (but moderately difficult) hike nearby. It’s located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, but there are no special permits needed. Mingo Falls is 120 feet tall, making it one of the tallest in the southern Appalachians.
Grotto Falls | 3 miles roundtrip
Moderately difficult, the hike to Grotto Falls (Trillium Gap Trail) takes you through old-growth hemlock forest and to a waterfall you can walk behind – just be careful! It’s just off Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and is a favorite of summer hikers because of the cool environment at the falls. That same cool environment also makes Grotto Falls a great place to spot salamanders!
Juney Whank Falls | 0.8 miles roundtrip
Another short but moderately difficult hike, the Juney Whank Falls Trail is split into upper and lower falls. You can see both from the footbridge that runs across the falls, getting views of rushing water and moss-covered rocks. In all, the two falls drop 90 feet for a spectacular waterfall feature.
Indian Creek Falls | 2 miles roundtrip
Although it’s only 35 feet tall, Indian Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall in the Smokies. A nice treat at the end of your moderately difficult hike, Indian Creek Falls is yet another gem of this favorite national park. Plus, you’ll get views of Toms Branch Falls on your way!
Abrams Falls | 5 miles roundtrip
Although it’s a longer hike, Abrams Falls is one of the favorites in the area. It’s a moderately difficult hike that starts in Cades Cove and ends in a rushing waterfall consisting of a huge volume of water. It’s only 20 feet high, but the amount of water makes it truly impressive. It’s also a great way to stretch your legs after a drive around the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road.
More Outdoor Activities
If you planned a vacation to the Smokies, chances are, you have a love for the great outdoors. And while hiking is certainly one of the most popular outdoor activities here, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offer so much more. You can fly through the trees with Smoky Mountain Ziplines, go fishing in one of the many streams in the area, go whitewater rafting, ski or snowboard at Ober Gatlinburg, go horseback riding in the mountains, climb into a canoe or kayak on a quiet lake, stroll along the Parkway or ride an open-air trolley, or have a peaceful picnic in the park.
However you spend your time in the Smokies, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the beauty and serenity of the mountains. Even when you don’t want to leave the cabin, you can relax on your porch while sitting in a rocking chair, soaking in a hot tub, or just enjoying a cup of coffee and taking in the view.