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Hike a Trail to Beautiful Waterfalls

Few parks offer the variety of beautiful waterfalls found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our favorite is Grotto Falls. The most popular waterfalls are Abrams, Grotto, Laurel and Rainbow Falls. 

Grotto Falls Walk Behind a Waterfall

Grotto Falls, a beautiful setting complete with a small cavern behind the Falls that allows you to walk behind it and gaze at the crystal clear waters. The short 1.3 mile hike to the waterfall  begins at the very popular parking area at the Trillum Gap Trail head on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The peaceful forest surrounding the trail features frequent bear sightings and is even graced by llamas!

Three days a week, a llama train makes its way up the trail to the remote LeConte Lodge to carry supplies to the lodge and return with garbage. Because there are no roads to LeConte Lodge, the llamas are able to safely grip the trail and carry the load up to the Lodge. 

This is a great free attraction to show your children that they will remember. Those wanting to see the llamas should know they usually take the train up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Llamas typically arrive between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. After loading them with supplies, they head up to LeConte Lodge between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. The hike up takes them about 4 hours, after which they have lunch. Then they are packed up with garbage, return back down the trail and arrive back at the trail head at around 6:00 p.m.  This is easily one of the most unforgettable sights in the park and is a credit to the ingenuity shown by those that operate LeConte Lodge.

Rainbow Falls Winter View by Michael Hicks

Rainbow Falls is found just before reaching Grotto Falls on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It is aptly named for the rainbow produced by the mist falling off this 80-foot tall waterfall on a sunny afternoon. In the winter, an impressive ice formation grows around the Falls and combined with the snow the display can be quite impressive. The moderate 2.7 mile hike to the waterfall can take 3-5 hours and due to the rocky terrain hiking boots are recommended. The park strenuously warns visitors not to attempt to climb the rocks around the Falls due to numerous deaths and recommends carrying drinking water with you. Also note that pets are not allowed on this trail as black bears can be active in the area

You may think that a 20 foot high waterfall is not very impressive, but the massive volume of water falling down Abrams Falls makes this one of the most visited vistas in the park. Easily accessible just past stop 10 on the Cades Cove loop, the moderate 2.5 mile hike to the Falls is surrounded by pine-oak forest, hemlock and rhododendron. The falls cascades down into a deep pool.

Swimming is not recommended at the pool at the base of the falls because the undertow and strong currents can cause drowning.

Fly fishing is very popular in the winter in Abrams Creek when crowds dissipate and fishing becomes unproductive in the rest of the Park

Abrams Falls by mpnh08

Laurel Falls features picturesque vistas, as well as a heavily shaded trail to the Falls. The moderate 1.3 mile hike to the falls can take 2 hours round trip. The neat thing about the falls is you can soak your feet in the water and relax watching the water cascade down. This trail was paved in 1932 to allow fire fighters access to the Cove Mountain area to fight fires. The trail is not suitable for strollers or wheelchairs due to rough and uneven pavement. 

Bears are frequently seen in the area and visitors are reminded not to feed or interact with the bears

Lastly I’d like to point out that there are three waterfalls in the park accessible by car for those unable to hike. You can drive to Meigs Falls, Place of a Thousand Drips and The Sinks

Meigs Falls

Place of a Thousand Drips

Place of a Thousand Drips by pfly

The Sinks

The Sinks by Rmhermen