Gatlinburg sits on the Western edge of the Smoky Mountains.
That means there is a significant change in elevation moving East to West from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park toward Pigeon Forge, Knox County and the rest of the Tennessee Valley.
Since an average of 85 inches of rain falls in the high country each year, the elevation and rainfall create one of the truly most magnificent attractions of the Smokies – an abundance of gorgeous waterfalls.
It starts in small creeks and streams and builds momentum and power as various tributaries and prongs connect.
Area Deals and Discounts
Subscribe to our newsletter and we will instantly deliver the best area discounts to your inbox.
What is the easiest waterfall to hike in Gatlinburg?
There are some waterfalls near Gatlinburg that you can drive to, and others require a short or moderate hike. I’ll rank them by difficulty below.
But whatever way you access them, there is no shortage of stunning waterfalls around Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains. Here are some of the best waterfalls near Gatlinburg TN, ranked by difficulty:
1. Meigs Falls
Meigs Falls is one of the park’s waterfalls you can just drive to. In other words, there’s no hiking required.
However, it can sometimes be easy to miss while you’re driving, so definitely keep a close eye out for it.
The pull-off to view the falls is on Little River Road, 13 miles west of Gatlinburg or 7 miles east of Townsend, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
2. The Place of a Thousand Drips
The most exquisitely named spot in the park, The Place of a Thousand Drips is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Again, no hiking is required.
During rainy periods, the unique waterfall is fantastic as the water breaks into small channels, cascading around rocks and creating the Thousand Drips.
The waterfall is located at stop #15 on the trail, which closes in the winter season.
3. The Sinks
Hike: Mostly drivable
Another falls you can drive to, The Sinks are located on Little River Road between Gatlinburg and Townsend.
The Sinks area is small in stature but includes the entire volume of the Little Pigeon River. The area was, in part, created when loggers tried to solve a massive jam on the river with too much dynamite.
Because of the strong currents, they are among the most dangerous areas in the park, if you judge by the number of drownings that have happened there over the years.
There’s a parking area nearby the falls along Little River Road. You may have to get out of the car to properly see the falls, but there is very little walking required.
4. Cataract Falls
Hike: 0.7 miles, easy
The walk to Cataract Falls is a pretty easy trail, and it begins at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail itself is either paved or graveled and features a few bridges on the way.
The falls are 40 feet tall and can be particularly impressive after heavy rain.
5. Baskins Creek Falls
Hike: 3 miles, easy
Baskins Creek Falls is another waterfall that is accessible by a trail connected to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Baskins Creek Falls is – appropriately – located on the Baskins Creek Trail.
The relatively easy hike features a short climb and a long descent over the three-mile hike with a gain of approximately 1,000 feet in elevation. The falls are 40 feet high and contain two tiers.
6. Mingo Falls
Hike: 0.4 miles, moderately difficult
Possibly a little far to be considered in the “Gatlinburg” area, the Mingo Falls are nevertheless spectacular.
The 120-foot tall falls are located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation just outside the national park, located on the Pigeon Creek Trail.
The short hike to one of the best waterfalls in the region is only 0.4 miles. However, it’s not an easy hike.
From Gatlinburg, take US 441 over the mountains into North Carolina.
Start at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and drive south, taking the second left on Big Cove Road. At the first stop sign, turn left and go an additional 4.5 miles to the campground.
7. Spruce Flats Falls
Hike: 1.8 miles, moderately difficult
This short but more than moderately difficult hike is popular for the scenery as well as the deep pool swimming hole created by the falls.
The hike is just about 1.8 miles round trip and takes about an hour to complete. Though the overall change in elevation is relatively mild, there are some steep rocky sections. This hike is more than a simple walk through the woods.
It is located just off Upper Tremont Road.
8. Grotto Falls
Hike: 2.6 miles, moderately difficult
The 2.6-mile round-trip hike, which is considered moderately difficult, will take you to the only waterfall in the Smokies you can walk behind.
The trail winds through old-growth forests before taking you behind the 25-foot falls.
To get there, take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to the Trillium Gap Trailhead.
9. Laurel Falls
Hike: 3.5 miles, moderately difficult
Among the most popular destinations in the park, Laurel Falls is located on the Laurel Falls Trail, which starts about 3.5 from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
There is parking available at the trailhead but be warned – this is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Smokies.
Try to plan your outing for off-peak times, as parking is often an issue for this trailhead.
The difficulty and proper description of this trial also seem to be a topic of debate as opinions vary. And so, to describe this partially paved trail, we will use the National Parks Service’s wording:
“The trail is paved at the trailhead but the pavement is rough and uneven and does not extend the full length of the trail. The trail has short, steep sections which can be slippery in wet weather. Portions of the trail have steep drop-offs.”– The National Park Service
10. Hen Wallow Falls
Hike: 4.4 miles, moderately difficult
Located off the Gabes Mountain Trail, which is accessible from the hiker parking area at the Cosby Picnic Area, the moderately difficult hike is 4.4 miles round trip.
The base of the 90-foot high falls is popular with salamanders.
During very cold weather, the falls are known to freeze into icy sheets.
11. Abrams Falls
Hike: 5 miles, moderately difficult
Located off the Cades Cove Loop Road, the Abrams Falls Trail is a 5-mile round-trip hike. The trail leads to a large volume of water rushing over a 20-foot waterfall into a picturesque pool.
The moderate hike will take about 3 to 4 hours, so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time.
Remember, it gets dark in the Cove earlier than sunset due to the topography of the region and the sun falling behind the mountains.
12. Rainbow Falls
Hike: 5.4 miles, moderately difficult
Located on the Rainbow Falls Trail in the Roaring Fork area, the trailhead is just past the historic Bug Ogle homestead.
Named for the rainbow that appears in the mist of the 80-foot high waterfall on sunny afternoons, the Rainbow Falls Trail is a difficult hike due to the length, gain in elevation and rocky terrain.
It’s 5.4 miles roundtrip to the falls, but the trail continues another 4 miles to the summit of Mt. LeConte.
13. Ramsey Cascades
Hike: 8 miles, strenuous
Located in the Greenbrier area, Ramsey Cascade Trail is 8 miles round trip. The hike is considered strenuous, gaining over 2,000 feet in elevation over 4 miles.
The NPS notes the last two miles are through an “old-growth cove hardwood forest with large tulip trees, basswoods, silverbells and yellow birches.”
The cascades are the tallest waterfall inside the park at 100 feet. The water “cascades” over a series of rock outcroppings.
To access Ramsey Cascades, turn off of Highway 321 into the Greenbrier entrance of the park and follow the signs 4.7 miles to the trailhead.
What you should know about waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains
If you plan on visiting any falls, remember that the NPS warns against climbing on wet rocks in or around waterfalls or swimming in their pools.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not have an entrance fee, but parking permits are required for visitors who park for more than 15 minutes in the park.
When hiking to waterfalls, always closely supervise children. Hikers are advised to carry drinking water, wear proper shoes and be prepared to react appropriately if encountering a bear.
Also, keep in mind that pets are only allowed at the Gatlinburg Trail near the Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Oconaluftee River Trail near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Pets are prohibited on all other trails.
Do you have a favorite waterfall in or around Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments!
View the web story version of this article here.