The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the nation and one of the most popular hikes in the park is the Ramsey Cascades Trail. This incredible trail leads to one of the tallest waterfalls in the park, Ramsey Cascades.
Hikers can expect to travel approximately eight miles round trip through the picturesque Smoky Mountains on the way to the falls. The trail follows wild mountain streams and rivers as it gains nearly 2,200 feet in elevation before you reach the highlight – the incredible Ramsey Cascades!
Depending on who you ask and what publication you believe, the drop over rock outcroppings to the pool below is between 60 and 90 feet. An abundant number of salamanders make their home at the small pool at the bottom of the falls, but you’ll have to look closely to see them because their natural camouflaging allows them to blend in seamlessly with your surroundings.
The beginning is comprised of the remnants of an old gravel road that starts just east of the parking area. Shortly afterwards, you’ll encounter a long footbridge that crosses the middle prong of the Little Pigeon River, where you’ll be treated to an amazing view of a sparkling stream cascading over the rocks.
The old gravel trail road part of the trail ends after 1.5 miles, when it transforms into an authentic Smokies trail and follows the Ramsey Prong of the Little Pigeon River upstream, where you’ll see a thick understory of wild rhododendron.
As you continue along the trail, you’ll encounter giant popular trees, a forest that looks like a magical scene from a storybook because everything is covered with velvety green ferns and soft mosses, and carpets of alpine wildflowers sparkle like jewels in the dappled sunlight.
After another half-mile, you’ll walk through a majestic old-growth forest, and four miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach Ramsey Falls. Bear in mind that the last third of the mile before reaching the falls is rough and rocky terrain where rocks and roots abound. After you rest there for awhile and enjoy the incredible scenery, it’s time to begin the four mile return trek to the trailhead.
The Ramsey Cascades Trail is no casual stroll. Use extreme caution at near the waterfall, and don’t attempt to climb on the rocks. Several hikers have been killed in recent years trying to do so, and others have sustained serious injuries. Another environmental danger to be on the lookout for is hornets’ nests, which resemble large, gray balls and that hang from the trees at eye level during the summer.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open on a year round basis, and Ramsey Cascades Trail offers an abundance of natural beauty no matter what season you choose to hike. Summer brings verdant green foliage, autumn provides visitors with vibrantly hued leaves and quintessential crisp fall air, and winter has an austere beauty that’s enhanced by the absence of summer crowds, but park roads may be closed at times due to ice and snow. Spring means glorious wildflower displays of wild geranium, trillium, and orchis, phlox, camassia, and an abundance of other mountain wildflower species.
From downtown Gatlinburg, take the Main Parkway to 321/East Parkway. Head east on on Route 321 and continue for approximately 6.0 miles (when you see a Hungry Bear BBQ on the left prepare to turn). Turn right (south) into the Greenbrier entrance into the National Park and follow the signs to the trailhead. It is located 4.7 miles into the park and is just after the ranger station.
-If you’re a wildflower enthusiast, the best time for you to experience this hike is during the spring. If you visit in April, you’ll be greeted with a cheerful patch of crested dwarf iris, or blue-eyed grass, to the east of the parking lot.
-Even if you see other people climbing on the falls, resist the temptation to do so! Several hikers have fallen to their death while attempting to climb the slippery rocks.
-Because it’s a moderately difficult hike with a few steep sections and loose rocks, it is not recommended for novice hikers or children.