The trail to Cataract Falls is one of the best kept secrets in the Smoky Mountains. This trail, which is less than a ten minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, is only 3/4 mile (roundtrip) and suitable for families with young children.
The trailhead, which is directly to the left of the visitor center (looking at it from the parking area), starts off paved, but quickly turns to gravel. You and your group are sure to enjoy the calmly flowing Fighting Creek, dense vegetation, and the beautiful canopy of trees overhead. Even though the trail is less than two miles from downtown Gatlinburg, the crowds will seem a million miles away!
Kids are sure to love the bridges that cross Fighting Creek and parents will definitely appreciate the sturdy rails and cables to keep their children safe! The well maintained bridges cross over the creek in several spots on the way to the waterfall offering guests up close views of the creek below. Immediately prior to one of the bridges, there is an old tree that is hollow. Kids enjoy crawling inside this odd looking tree and it makes a perfect photo opportunity! Prior to reaching the waterfall, the trail will go under a bridge and up a small set of stairs. At the top of the stairs, turn right – you are almost there!
The waterfall is comprised of two low-flow streams totaling a 25-foot drop into a small pool below. After periods of rain, the waterfall is quite impressive!
It is important not to climb on or around the falls – doing so can cause serious injury and death. Off-trail hiking has inherent risks and the National Park advises against it. As recently as March of 2015, a visitor slipped on the rocks and fell 30′.
During dryer times, the left side of the falls may have minimal (or no) water flow. The waterfall is most impressive immediately following a period of rain. That being said, this makes for an easy and beautiful nature hike with water views of Fighting Creek even during the dryer periods.
Take the main Parkway (Highway 441) out of Gatlinburg into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When you reach Sugarlands Visitor Center (on your right), turn Right on Little River Road and park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. To find the trail, begin walking down the concrete path to the left of the Sugarlands Visitor Center (near the outdoor restrooms and vending area). This will quickly turn into the Fighting Creek Nature Trail to Cataract Falls.