The Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains close to 3,000 miles of streams and tributaries, including 19 major streams and rivers. With numbers like that there’s no surprise that the park is filled with stunning cascades, tranquil pools and a never ending list of waterfalls. Below we have listed 6 of the Smokies waterfalls that are accessible by trail. Not only are each of the waterfalls a sight that you don’t want to miss, but the hike to the destination is just as beautiful in every season as well! Happy hiking!
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located just outside of downtown Gatlinburg. The area is a favorite among guests to the park, as well as locals. Within just a few moments of beginning the drive you’ll find that it feels almost as if you have been transported to a completely world, especially when compared to the hustle and bustle of the shops and attractions located just minutes away. The Roaring Fork area is filled with history, streams, flourishing surroundings and beauty. It’s also home to a few trails that will take you to some of the best waterfalls in the park.
The Rainbow Falls Trail is one that is easily accessible all year long and that not only takes you to the beautiful Rainbow Falls, but can also be used to access the summit of Mount LeConte. If you’re up for a 5 mile round-trip hike you can witness the 80-foot waterfall firsthand. In the afternoon hours when the sun is positioned behind hikers viewing the waterfall, a rainbow can often be seen. Hence the origin of its name.
The Trillium Gap Trail is where you’ll find a very unique waterfall and on some days, even the LeConte Llamas can be seen as they deliver supplies to the LeConte Lodge. Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in the Smokies where the trail actually goes behind the waterfall. To hike to Grotto Falls with less than 4 miles of trail time, you’ll need to begin the hike at the Trillium Gap Trailhead and parking area. You can extend the hike by parking at the Rainbow Falls Trail and hike the connector trail to the Trillium Gap Trail. The extended is 7 miles round-trip and is the quickest way to access Grotto Falls in the winter months. If you’re taking a hike up to LeConte, you can easily combine the two trails and see one waterfall on your climb up and on of your trek back down. Currently the trail is undergoing restoration therefore Trillium Gap is only accessible from Friday until Sunday, you’ll want to plan accordingly.
If you’ve already explored the two previous waterfalls or if you’re looking for a hike that is only a few miles but also offers a decent workout, you may want to check out the Baskins Creek Trail along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Baskins was once a small community but today is a charming hike that takes you past an old homesite, underneath towering tulip poplar trees and to a 30-foot waterfall that is said to have once been used by members of the community for showering. On a hot summer day, you may find yourself using a bit of the water too cool off as well! If you find that you’ve hiked up an appetite, grab some grub at Tom & Earl’s Back Alley Gril or Old Dad’s General Store before making your way back to your room with us at the Old Creek Lodge.
A 15 minute drive from our Gatlinburg hotel will take you into the Greenbrier section of the Smokies. It’s an area that the park considers to be “off the beaten” path and it’s certainly quieter than some parts but it’s also filled with flora, fauna, history and stunning streams. A simple drive along the gravel road will reveal the area’s wildflowers, large boulders, cascades and maybe even a bear or two. However, to see the real splendor of Greenbrier you’ll want to lace up your boots and hit the trails. If you’re looking for a nice walk in the woods that is filled with features like a historical farmstead, a cemetery, towering trees, a stream and a 60-foot waterfall that is surrounded by lush moss and plants then you’ll want to take the Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls. The hike to the waterfall is 4 miles round trip and an excellent hike during all seasons, but is especially appealing in the spring and autumn months.
Hikers looking for a more challenging hike will enjoy a trek to Ramsey Cascades. The cascades are at the end of the Ramsey Cascades Trail and they are the perfect reward for the 4 mile climb. Don’t worry though, you’ll find plenty of motivation and beauty along the journey to the top as well. The trail winds through some of the most stunning old growth trees in the park and wildflowers are often seen as well as plenty of fungi and other interesting forest finds! After finishing up the 8 mile round-trip adventure, take advantage of the Greenbrier Picnic area and enjoy an evening in the Smokies before wrapping up the day at our hotel.
Little River Road
One of the most popular roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers easy access to plenty of roadside swimming holes, cascades and waterfalls. You’ll find a popular area known as The Sinks, a spot that is greatly loved among kayakers and those looking to cool off during the summer months. Meigs Creek Falls can also be seen from a pull off located on Little River Road and the family friendly hike to Cataract Falls can be found next to the Sugarlands Visitors Center. To stretch your legs a little more, take a walk to Laurel Falls. The trail is one of the most popular in the park as well as paved. The full hike is just around 2 miles long and if you wish to avoid the crowd and find parking easily you’ll want to plan the stop at Laurel Falls to be first on your list or last in the evening hours.
During your stay with us at the Old Creek Lodge, you’ll find that all of the waterfall hikes listed above are easily accessible from our hotel. Along with free parking at the hotel, we also have a trolley stop in the parking area. You may want to note that the National Park Tan Route for the Gatlinburg Trolley runs through October and makes stops at the Sugarlands Visitors Center, the Laurel Falls Parking Area and Elkmont Campground. The first route departs the Mass Transit Center at 9a.m and then runs up River Road where we’re located. The time of departure gives you plenty of time to join us for a free complimentary breakfast at 7a.m and then head out for an adventure. When you’re finished up with your time of exploring the Smokies, enjoy our walk-in showers, outdoor pools or just kick back and relax on your private balcony by the river!
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