Everyone loves a good waterfall. The crashing water, sparkling drops, roiling pools, and stunning rainbows are testaments to the magic of Mother Nature.
Happily, these lovely hiking destinations abound in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With dozens of falls from which to choose, though, it can be hard to decide where to go. Our guide will help you decide which falls are the best for your trip, with some recommended reading at the end.
Get ready to experience some of the best waterfalls in the East – and in the world.
1. Mouse Creek Falls
Easily winning Cutest Waterfall Name, Mouse Creek Falls is a demure little waterfall at 45 feet high. While hiking along Big Creek Trail, you’ll come across Midnight Hole – a beautiful pool with 6-foot falls – as well as Mouse Creek Falls.
To get there, follow Big Creek Trail for about 2 miles, then take the side trail. After a short walk, you’ll get to the falls.
2. Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls is a truly glorious sight, tumbling in great volume into the pool below. The falls are only 20 feet high, but so wide that the sight and sound are impressive indeed.
One of the best things about Abrams Falls is the size of the pool. It’s about 100 feet across, which means there’s plenty of room for summertime swimming with friends, partners, or kiddos. The hike is about 5 miles round trip, however, and of moderate difficulty. Be aware before anyone very old or very young signs up.
3. Laurel Falls
A moderate hike of 2.6 miles round trip will get you to Laurel Falls. This braided waterfall tumbles over rocks in multiple streams that crisscross, giving you all the photo ops a photographer could dream of.
At 80 feet high, the falls are one of the most popular destinations in the park. If you want them to yourself, consider coming in winter (the icy falls are a spectacular sight, especially in the snow!), early spring, or late fall, when the park is less busy.
4. Grotto Falls
Located along Trillium Gap Trail, Grotto Falls is about 25 feet high. Although that may not sound very glamorous, the falls are truly beautiful. The waterfalls are in a continuous stream over empty space, giving it a smooth arc to the pool below.
Even better, the trail goes behind the waterfall, which is always a treat. If you’re patient, you can always find some salamanders here. But be sure not to handle them … it can kill them.
5. Hen Wallow Falls
Hen Wallow is about 90 feet high, growing from 2 feet at the top of the falls to about 20 feet at the base. In winter it freezes into a lovely ice tower, while in summer you’ll often see salamanders hanging out.
If you’re looking to get some exercise during the viewing, Hen Wallow is one of the best waterfalls to prioritize. It’s a 4.4-mile hike out and back, though you can opt to continue along Gabes Mountain Trail further to enjoy the beautiful old-growth forest.
6. Juney Whank Falls
A double-decker waterfall? Yes, please. Juney Whank Falls (said to be named after Mr. Junaluska “Juney” Whank, who was buried in the area) are a sight to behold. At 90 feet high and splashing down two different rock faces, they are perfect for photo ops. The viewing platform stands in the middle of them, so you can get a good look from above or below.
Although the hike from the parking lot is only about a third of a mile long, be aware that it is moderately difficult and involves some climbing.
7. Mingo Falls
If anything says “classic waterfall,” it’s Mingo Falls. This gorgeous river of water is spread out across the rock face, trickling down 120 feet into the streambed below. It’s a horsetail waterfall and of the tallest of any kind in the Appalachians, with ribbons of water streaming down from every angle.
To get there from the parking lot, you need to hike only .4 miles. However, it is considered moderate difficulty, so wear supportive shoes and make sure everyone has strong knees.
8. Rainbow Falls
Aptly named, Rainbow Falls hangs over empty space, scattering rainbows as it makes its 80-foot journey to the rocks below and kicks up spray.
To get there, you follow the Rainbow Falls Trail for 2.7 miles. It’s somewhat challenging, with elevation changes and switchbacks. However, the trail does not end there; if you’ve still got sunlight and strength left, continue on to reach Mount LeConte’s summit. As the third-highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s sure to offer some great views.
9. Ramsey Cascades
If you’re looking for a full day of working out, this is the waterfall for you. The hike in is four miles long and gains approximately 2,000 feet of elevation. It’s considered difficult, so come prepared with appropriate gear, layers, water, and food.
It is widely considered one of the most spectacular in the entire region, though, so it’s well worth the trip. You will see a variety of tulip trees, silverbells, and yellow birches, along with plenty of other wildlife.
Please note that you should not try to climb the falls, as this can be – and has been – deadly.
Further Falls Exploration
If you want to view a few more falls and don’t mind not hiking to get there, then you should add Meigs Falls, The Sinks, and Place of a Thousand Drips to the list. The National Park Service explains how to get there by car. For true enthusiasts, it recommends reading Waterfalls of the Smokies for a full-color guide to the more than 40 falls that litter the beautiful park.
Now that you know exactly where to go, by foot or by car, we’re sure you’ll enjoy your adventures that much more. Let us know how it goes!