Gatlinburg sits – basically – on the Western edge of the Smoky Mountains.
What that means – among many other things – is a significant change in elevation moving East to West from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park toward Pigeon Forge, Knox County and also the rest of the Tennessee Valley.
Additionally, an average of 85 inches of rain falls in the high country each year.
As a result, the elevation and rainfall create one of the truly most magnificent attractions of the Smokies: An abundance of gorgeous waterfalls.
In fact, according to the National Parks Service, in heavy rain years, peaks like Mt. LeConte and Clingman’s Dome receive over 8 inches of rain.
That water has to go somewhere.
It starts in small creeks and streams and builds momentum and power as various tributaries and prongs connect. And it creates a large volume of water racing down the mountains.
The result is a glorious and wide variety of Smoky Mountain waterfalls for visitors to see.
Some of the waterfalls you can drive to. But others require a short hike or even a moderate hike. Still, others are far more remote.
Whatever way you access them, there is no shortage of stunning waterfalls around Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains.
Editor’s Note: A word of warning for all of the following falls.
The NPS warns against climbing on wet rocks in or around waterfalls or swimming in their pools.
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, 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.
12. Meigs Falls
One of the park’s waterfalls you can just drive to, no hiking required.
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.
11. The Sinks
Another falls you can drive to, The Sinks are located on Little River Road between Gatlinburg and Townsend.
The Sinks is small in stature but includes the entire volume of the Little Pigeon River. They were, 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.
10. Baskins Creek Falls
Another falls 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 round trip hike. The falls themselves are 40-foot high and contain two tiers.
9. Spruce Flats Falls
Located just off Upper Tremont Road, 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.
8. Rainbow Falls
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.
7. Abrams Falls
Located off the Cades Cove Loop Road, the Abrams Falls Trail is a 5-mile round trip hike. And the trail leads to a large volume of water rushing over a 20-foot falls into a picturesque pool.
The moderate hike will take about 3 to 4 hours. 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.
6. Hen Wallow Falls
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 can freeze into icy sheets.
5. Ramsey Cascades
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 is 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.
Turn off of Highway 321 into the Greenbrier entrance of the park and follow the signs 4.7 miles to the trailhead.
4. Laurel Falls
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 – the park sometimes requires guests to use a parking reservation.
The idea is to reduce traffic on the trail and limit congestion on Highway 321 once the parking lot fills and visitors get “creative” trying to get a spot.
During the inaugural fee trial in the summer of 2021, the park charged a $12 fee per personal vehicle, with a $2 per ticket reservation fee per ticket.
That fee was lifted in the off-season but the park could bring it back again if they feel the park once again becomes too congested.
There has even been discussion as of late about charging a parking fee throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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
The trail is considered moderate in difficulty.
3. Grotto Falls
Take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to the Trillium Gap Trailhead. The 2.6 mile round trip hike, which is considered moderately difficult, will take you to the only waterfall in the Smokies you can hike behind.
The trail winds through old-growth forest before taking you behind the 25-foot falls.
Read Also: Grotto Falls hiking guide: How long is it? How do you get there?
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 Forks Motor Nature Trail. 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.
1. Mingo Falls
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. No special permits are required to visit the falls which are located on the Pigeon Creek Trail.
From Gatlinburg, take US 441 over the mountains into North Carolina. Turn left on Big Cove Road then turn left again at the first stop sign.
The short hike to one of the best waterfalls in the region is only .4 miles however, it’s not an easy hike.
Do you have a favorite waterfall in or around Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments.