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laurel falls in the great smoky mountains national park

Top 5 Smoky Mountain Waterfalls You Need to See

There’s no denying that one of the most beautiful sights to see in the Smokies is a waterfall. And there are plenty of waterfalls for you to spot while you’re here! We know it’s impossible to hike to see all the waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during one short vacation, which is why we wanted to help you narrow down your choices. Check out our list of the top 5 Smoky Mountain waterfalls you need to see:

1. Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls in the Great Smoky MountainsGrotto Falls is not only one of the most popular waterfalls, it’s one of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The waterfall itself is 25 feet high. What makes it special is that you can actually walk behind it. It’s also a popular spot for salamanders, and the cool environment around the falls makes it perfect for summer hikers.

To get there: Hike along Trillium Gap Trail for about 1.3 miles. The trail runs through an old-growth hemlock forest. Portions of the trail are rocky, so it’s best to wear sturdy hiking shoes. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to hike to Grotto Falls and back.

2. Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls is another one of the top waterfall hikes, and it’s a great hike for families to do! This 80-foot waterfall has both an upper and a lower section. There’s a walkway that stretches across the base of the upper falls, so you’ll almost feel like you’re walking right across the waterfall!

To get there: Hike Laurel Falls Trail for 1.3 miles. Mountain laurel, which is where the name of the waterfall comes from, can be seen along the trail and near the falls in May. The trail is paved, but keep in mind the pavement is rough and uneven. It takes about 2 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.

3. Ramsey Cascades

Ramsey CascadesRamsey Cascades is a must-see because it’s the tallest waterfall in the Smoky Mountains and definitely one of the most spectacular! Water drops 100 feet down rock outcroppings and collects in a small pool at the bottom. This is also a great spot to see salamanders!

To get there: The roundtrip distance to the waterfall is 8 miles. The trail gains more than 2,000 feet in elevation on the way to the waterfall. You’ll follow along rushing rivers and streams and pass through an old-growth cove hardwood forest. Because of its elevation change and length, this hike can be considered strenuous, but the view of the waterfall is worth every step! It takes about 5 to 7 hours to hike to Ramsey Cascades and back.

4. Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls is only 20 feet tall, but it’s still one of the most impressive Smoky Mountain waterfalls. The large volume of water rushing down the falls more than makes up for its lack of height. The water collects in a long, deep pool at its base, making for a breathtaking sight. Both the waterfall and the creek are named after a Cherokee chief whose village stood several miles downstream.

To get there: Hike Abrams Falls Trail through a pine-oak forest on the ridges and a hemlock and rhododendron forest along the creek. The hike takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete and is generally considered moderate in difficulty. The roundtrip distance to Abrams Falls is 5 miles.

5. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls in the Smoky MountainsYou don’t want to miss the chance to see Rainbow Falls when you visit the Smoky Mountains. This 80-foot waterfall is beautiful during any season! On sunny afternoons, you can see a rainbow produced by the mist of the falls. During extended cold weather, an impressive ice formation starts to build around the waterfall.

To get there: Hike the Rainbow Falls Trail for 2.7 miles. Between the trailhead and the falls, the trail gains about 1,500 feet in elevation. Once you get to the falls, you can decide whether to turn around, or to continue to hike the trail for about 4 miles to the summit of Mount LeConte. Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. If you’re just hiking to Rainbow Falls and back, the hike should take about 3 to 5 hours to complete.

More Smoky Mountain Waterfalls

We’ve helped you narrow down the long list of Smoky Mountain waterfalls to the top 5, but you’ll have plenty more options to choose from when you visit. To learn more about other popular waterfall hikes in the Smokies, read our blog, “Top 9 Smoky Mountain Hiking Trails with Waterfalls.”