The popular Abrams Falls Trail: What you should know before you hike

Abrams falls framed with trees

Abrams Falls is one of the most popular hikes in the Smoky Mountains (photo by Theron Stripling III/shutterstock.com)

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We have – I think – a mental picture of what a typical waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park looks like. 

A beautiful waterfall, from a mountain stream or a picturesque creek, cascading over tiers of rock and falling into a small pool below before flowing further down the mountain. 

When it comes to waterfalls in the Great Smokies, Abrams Falls is anything but typical. 

The falls are fairly short and very powerful. The body of water that feeds the falls is called Abrams Creek. However, it’s more like a river at the point of the voluminous waterfall. A lot of water moves across the 20-foot Abrams Falls, creating a large pool at the base of the falls. 

The deep pool is known for strong currents and undertows, especially at the base of Abrams Falls. Therefore, while some see it as a popular spot for swimming, the National Park Service strongly warns against swimming there.

The park service notes that there is a danger of drowning at the falls either by swimming too close to the base of the falls or by climbing on the rocks around the falls and slipping. Small children should be carefully supervised. 

Abrams Falls with green foliage
Abrams Falls is a magnificent sight to behold in the Smoky Mountains (photo by Ethan Quin/shutterstock.com)

How long does it take to hike Abrams Falls?

Depending on a few factors, including how long you rest at the falls, it usually takes about three or four hours to hike in and back out. If you are going to stop at the falls and soak in the beauty of the mountains, consider the time when planning.

Keep in mind that if you’re planning a hike in the late afternoon or evening, the sun sets earlier in the Cades Cove area due to the surrounding mountains and it gets dark earlier than you expect.  

In addition, parking can be a factor. You get to the large parking lot for the Abrams Falls Trailhead via the Cades Cove Loop Road.

During the busy season, it’s a good idea to factor in vehicle traffic while planning your itinerary.

Read Also: 5 best things to do and see in the Smokies without leaving your car

How far is the hike to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove?

The Abrams Falls hike is about a five-mile roundtrip trek.

It’s one of the most popular hikes in the mountains, one of the most popular waterfall hikes and one of the most popular day outings.

It’s a great hike for Saturday mornings before the heat gets up. 

Abrams Falls with wading pool in foreground
Abrams Falls is a popular area in the Smoky Mountains, but be sure you don’t swim too close to the falls (photo by Eddie J. Rodriquez/shutterstock.com)

Is Abrams Falls Trail open?

Generally speaking, yes. Most of the park’s popular trails are open year-round, as is Cades Cove, where the Abrams Falls Trailhead is located. 

Inclement weather can cause closings, however. If you have any doubt, it’s best to check with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website. 

Is the Abrams Falls Trail difficult? 

Most serious hikers rate the trail as moderately difficult. However, difficult is a subjective interpretation. The trail to the falls is lengthy with some difficult terrain, including a steep descent or two.

The total elevation gain is a modest 629 feet, but that doesn’t mean it’s a flat trail.

The area with scenic pine-oak forest, hemlock and rhododendron forest near the creek is popular with black bears. Be sure to be prepared and know what to do if you meet a bear on the trail. Practice bear safety, do not offer any access to food or trash.

Read Also: What to do if you see a black bear: These 3 tips might surprise you

Abrams falls with mist
Abrams Falls, near Cades Cove, is especially beautiful in the autumn (photo by Donovan Colegrove/stock.adobe.com)

Where do you park to hike Abrams Falls?

The turnoff for the trailhead is located past stop #10 on the Cades Cove Loop Road. The gravel road will take you to a large parking area.

I like to go to the trailhead even if I’m not making the hike. The wooden bridge across the creek is great for pictures and the creek itself is excellent for wading and fly fishing – though the fly fisherpeople tend to frown on the wading.

The waters are stocked with rainbow and brown trout. It is also one of the places where you can find native brook trout.

Reportedly, it’s one of the most fertile waterways in the Smokies for trout. Water insects upon which trout feed are prolific there. Apparently, the water flowing through heavy amounts of limestone adds to the PH levels, which makes it a great destination for the bugs. That in turn makes it a great destination for the fish, which makes it a great destination for the fisherpeople. 

It’s named after a Cherokee Indian Chief? 

Yes. Chief Oskuah was a Chilhowee Cherokee Chief whose village was downstream from the falls.

He later took the name Abram or Old Abraham. 

Read Also: Cades Cove waterfalls: 2 popular waterfalls close to Cades Cove

Can I bring my dogs? Are bikes or horses allowed? 

No, no and no. The two trails in the Smokies that allow pets are the Gatlinburg Trail near the Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Oconaluftee River Trail near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Likewise, the Gatlinburg Trail, the Oconaluftee River Trail and the lower Deep Creek Trail are the park trails on which bicycles are allowed. Bikes are prohibited on all other park trails.

If you are looking for horse trails, the NPS website offers five drive-in horse camps that provide ready access to backcountry horse trails in the park.

Camps are located at Cades Cove (Anthony Creek), Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom and Tow String. Horse camps are open from April through October.

The John Oliver House Cades Cove
Rich Mountain Loop passes by the John Oliver Cabin in Cades Cove (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

Are there other trails in Cades Cove? 

There are quite a few trails that start in the Cove. The relatively short Cades Cove Nature Trail is popular. Longer hikes include treks to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top. 

Serious hikers can tackle the 8.5 mile Rich Mountain Loop trail. The loop starts at the entrance to the park and passes the John Oliver cabin. You can also see the Crooked Arm Falls from the loop.

Gregory bald may well be the best bang for your buck in terms of park views.

It is though, a rather lengthy hike. From the bald, you can clearly see down into the cove, Fontana Lake, Thunderhead Mountain and Clingmans Dome. Folks who lived in the Cove before the park would keep their herds there up in the high mountains during the hot summer months.

But before you set out, be forewarned. Rex Caughron, who was raised in the Cove by his father Kermit, the last person allowed to live in the Cove, told me he doesn’t much care for that hike.  

When he was young, Kermit was paid to go stay up in the high mountains by the bald to watch over the herds. But Rex said he’d only been to Gregory three times in his life. 

“It wasn’t that hard of a walk, but I didn’t enjoy going to Gregory Bald,” he said. 

But he often would hike up to Abrams Falls. It’s a great place to explore.

When planning your hikes around Cades Cove, remember it can be time-consuming just to get to the Cove. Please allow yourself plenty of time.

Have you hiked to Abrams Falls? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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