How difficult is Ramsey Cascades? The tallest waterfall in the park

Ramsey Cascades in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Ramsey Cascades offers one of the best falls in the Smoky Mountains, but it is a difficult hike (photo by verinize/

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You could spend a lifetime in and around the national park and not see all the wonders contained within. 

The truth is that of the millions of visitors to the park, only a handful get to see some of the most amazing sights. 

Take, for example, the Ramsey Cascades. The cascade is the tallest waterfall in the Smokies, located deep in the Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

How tall is Ramsey Cascades?

The Ramsey Cascades tumble 100 feet down rock outcroppings that create a stair-stepping effect, creating one of the more unique views in the park. At the bottom, the water collects in a small pool, popular with a variety of the park’s salamanders.

Why, you might ask, if this is such an amazing sight, haven’t more people seen it?

Honestly, getting there is not for the faint of heart.

The dense forest is full of moss, rhododendrons and ferns.

Where is Ramsey Cascades?

The trailhead is six miles east of Gatlinburg on Highway 321. Make a turn at the Greenbrier entrance to the park. Follow the signs. It’s 4.7 miles to the trailhead.

The Ramsey Cascades Trail is an 8-mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of more than 2,000 feet over its four-mile course. The worst of the hike is the final portion, with several steep rocks and roots and boulders to navigate.

As with any of the park’s trails, it is possible to meet a black bear while hiking. Follow park guidelines for what to do if you meet a bear on the trail.

In the summer months, the trail seems to be popular with hornets that build gray nests in the trees.

Do not disturb the hornets’ nests. I wanted to make a Macaulay Culkin in “My Girl” joke but it’s still too painful. You were taken too soon. RIP Thomas J.

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

A moss-covered tree trunk in the Ramsey Cascades area
A moss-covered tree trunk in the Ramsey Cascades area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee (photo by Arlene Waller/

How difficult is Ramsey Cascades?

The hike is officially listed as strenuous and not to be undertaken lightly.

The walk takes between 5 and 7 hours along tricky terrain, so leave yourself plenty of time to get there and back. 

If you’re up for it, however, it’s one of the best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains, following rivers and streams much of the way before opening into an old-growth hardwood forest with tulip trees, basswoods, silverbells and yellow birches over the last two miles.

Take some time to appreciate the trees. They are some of the largest trees in the park.

Before the national park, these hardwoods attracted logging companies that hacked away at the forest like a deleted scene from the “Lorax”.

These trees and the loss of acres of others like them, especially in the Greenbrier section of the park, are a major reason why the national park exists at all.  

When you walk among these trees, you’re walking among American history. 

Read Also: The 5 best kept secret waterfall spots in the Smoky Mountains

Children should be closely monitored when visiting Ramsey Cascades (photo by kellyvandellen/

Can you swim at Ramsey Cascades?

The pool is far too shallow for any swimming but makes a good spot to wade and cool off before the hike back. 

The base of the waterfall can be very slippery due to mist and algae. Use extreme caution.

Though the falls are of a stair-step nature, do not try to climb them. Each year hikers are injured or killed trying to climb on rocks near waterfalls. 

Though the path follows rivers and streams, be sure to bring plenty of drinking water to sustain you over several hours of strenuous exercise. Given the length of the hike, consider packing a lunch. Just remember to pack up any trash and leave nothing behind.

The trail is rocky and difficult in places. Therefore, sturdy hiking shoes or boots with ankle support are recommended. You don’t want to turn an ankle three miles in and have to limp back out. Do not attempt to hike in sandals or flip flops.

And importantly, pets are not allowed on the trail.

Read Also: Can you swim in a hot spring? An overview of Hot Springs, NC

A man stands at the Ramsey Cascades in the Smoky Mountains
The trail to Ramsey Cascades can be difficult for beginners (photo by Martina/

What mountain is Ramsey Cascades on?

The falls are fed by the Ramsey Prong of the Little Pigeon River, which drains off of the 6,621 foot Mount Guyot, the second-highest peak of the Smokies.

Mount Guyot is named after Swiss geographer Arnold Guyot. An expedition to record accurate elevations and to name peaks along the crest of the Smokies in 1859 was led by Guyot.

Modern measurements of the mountain indicate that he missed the height by only 15 feet.

Both Guyot and naturalist author Horace Kephardt viewed the area on the North Carolina side of the mountain as among the most difficult and rugged of the Smokies.

It remained so until the Civilian Conservation Corps brought the Appalachian Trail to the Tennessee side of the mountain. 

Of course, the hike to the Cascades is not the same as the hike to the summit of Mt. Guyot.

Despite the difficulty, the Cascades are a popular destination for tourists who are up for an adventure. Hikers who undertake the trail shouldn’t expect to be alone in the woods. The trail won’t be crowded. But, it is not likely to be empty either. 

Have you hiked the trail to see Ramsey Cascades? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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