During the summer months the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for such natural occurrences as its abundant wildlife and numerous wildflower species. And while that’s all well and good, and brings in people from all over the world, for us locals finding ways to cool off during those hot summer months is usually first and foremost. The national park is just as great of a place to cool off due to its 2,100 miles of streams – each one with a waterfall at some point along the way.
These waterfalls are a great relief for hikers and people wanting to get away from the city, and they each offer a more natural way to keep cool. There are a number within a quick drive from Sevierville, TN including the following:
Laurel Falls, cascading down 80 feet, takes its name from the mountain laurel which blooms every May in the Smoky Mountains. The paved trail to the falls is a 2.6 mile round trip hike that is considered a fairly mild hike. One other bit of information, parking, due to the popularity of Laurel Falls, is very limited. The availability of parking at the trailhead is especially hard to come by in the summer and on weekends throughout the year.
Access trail: Laurel Falls Trail
Trailhead: At Sugarlands Visitor Center, take the turn to Cades Cove on Little River Road and travel 3.9 miles to the Laurel Falls trailhead. Parking will be available on both sides of the road.
Hen Wallow Falls
You’ll enjoy a picturesque walk through a hemlock and rhododendron forest on your way to Hen Wallow Falls. Switchbacks lead to the base of the falls so be prepared and wear the proper types of shoes. From there, enjoy the view – cascades 90 feet up. It’s a roundtrip 4.4 miles to Hen Wallow Falls and also considered a rather moderate hike.
Access Trail: Gabes Mountain
Trailhead: A hiker parking area can be found at the Cosby Picnic Area (near the entrance to Cosby Campground) in Cosby, Tn not far from Gatlinburg. Park there then backtrack approximately 100 yards along the road to the start of the Gabes Mountain Trail. Signs are posted so that you won’t miss it.
This 80-foot high waterfall is well known for the rainbow produced by its mist on sunny Smoky Mou.ntain afternoons. Rainbow Falls is also known to freeze into a hourglass shape during extended winter cold snaps – a wonderful natural sight if you’re able to catch it. You’ll rise up about 1,500 feet in elevation between trailhead and when you reach the falls. It’s another moderately rated hike that runs 5.4 miles roundtrip.
Access Trail: Rainbow Falls Trail
Trailhead: Traveling from the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light No. 8 and follow Historic Nature Trail into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll pass the Noah “Bud” Ogle home site before coming to the Rainbow Falls parking area, which will be marked.
Talk about being swept off your feet, Ramsey Cascades is one of the most spectacular falls in the national park as well as the tallest. It’s a 100 foot cascade over rock outcroppings and that ends in a small pool. And if you love little creatures, you’re sure to find numerous well camouflaged salamanders sliding in and out of the rocks. Hikers rise over 2,000 feet in elevation along the trail to the cascades. Its a strenuous 8-mile roundtrip hike so be prepared for the most challenging trek as well. But it’s a scenic trip as hikers pass next to rushing rivers and streams for much of the journey. Keep an eye out for large tulip trees, silverbells, and yellow birches as you near the cascades.
Access Trail: Ramsey Cascades Trail
Trailhead: Take Highway 321 east of Gatlinburg and turn at the Greenbrier entrance to the park. Follow the signs 4.7 miles to the trailhead.