Whether you’re searching for Gatlinburg waterfalls, whiskey, or epic hiking trails, the eastern Tennessee mountain town of Gatlinburg is a gateway to adventure. Start your journey by choosing a cozy place to stay, finding cool local spots to dine, and planning your romp through the surrounding mountains. Be sure to include these wondrous Gatlinburg hikes and waterfalls in your bucket list.
A special thank you to Hotels.com for inviting us to share our thoughts on visiting Gatlinburg.
Best Time to Visit the Gatlinburg Outdoors
Hiking in Gatlinburg is possible year-round. However, the two peak seasons are summertime (June to August) and the peak foliage month of October. However, if you want to avoid the summer heat, the cold winter weather, and the tourist crowds, we recommend late spring (May) and early fall (September). Here’s a quick breakdown of what to expect per season:
- FALL: The fall brings several visitors seeking the sights of the colorful foliage and cooler weather. This is also the best season to go camping with warm days and comfortably cool nights. Foodies! Don’t miss the Annual Taste of Autumn where you can try local signature dishes from some of Gatlinburg’s best restaurants.
- SPRING: The peak springtime welcomes travelers looking for blossoming trees and blooming flowers. Plant lovers, don’t miss the Wild Flower Pilgrimage event in May. This is also a great time to go camping as it’s not yet too hot nor humid.
- SUMMER: The summertime is the most popular season. You’ll find an endless amount of outdoor activities to explore. This is also the perfect time to chase some of Gatlinburg’s best waterfalls and/or go for a dip in the many swimming holes near Gatlinburg.
- WINTER: This is of course the best time for winter sports such as skiing and iceskating. And while this is the low-travel season, accommodation rates can still spike during weekends and holidays. During the winter months, there are also fun events such as the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show.
Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Gatlinburg + Where to Stay
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a small mountain town famed for being at the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Every year the Great Smoky Mountains welcome around 12 million visitors looking to explore the outdoors and experience a plethora of adventure activities such as fishing, rafting, horseback riding, and hiking.
The three most popular neighborhoods to stay in Gatlinburg are:
- The Parkway District (downtown Gatlinburg). The downtown area offers a variety of restaurants and shops (pictured above) within walking distance. Perfect for first-time visitors
- Ober Gatlinburg – A serene neighborhood located outside of the busy center with easy access to the Great Smoky Mountains. The perfect neighborhood to rent a cabin with your family.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Gatlinburg is also known for its tourist-friendly charm and hospitality. As such, there are a number of unique places to stay, such as homestays, a treehouse, a rustic mountain cabin, glamping, and/or a luxury resort with access to natural hot springs. So, make Gatlinburg your basecamp for all of your Gatlinburg waterfall adventures.
The Best Gatlinburg Waterfalls to Explore
Smoky Mountains National Park
Gatlinburg is home to approximately half of the main entrances to the Smoky Mountains National Park. Thus, the park offers the best hiking near Gatlinburg. Trails Via Sugarlands Visitor Center are closest to town, while the Oconaluftee and Swain County Visitor Center areas are on the south end of the park. Cades Cove and Townsend areas are to the west; and the Appalachian Trail cuts the park in half.
Below are waterfall hiking trails near Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains National Park.
1) Gatlinburg Trail and Cataract Falls
First, the popular Gatlinburg trail connects the Sugarlands Visitor Center, park headquarters, to the town of Gatlinburg. Starting your trek in town, follow the Gatlinburg bypass road. You will cross Cove Mountain Trail before reaching the visitors center. Along your 3.8 mile round trip hike, you’ll walk at a mostly gentle slope, cross a picturesque footbridge, and follow the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. When you reach Cataract Falls, you’ll be able to view the 25 foot cascade into a small pond below.
Please Note: Gatlinburg Trail is one of two Gatlinburg hikes in the park that allows dogs. So, if you wish to explore further, make sure to have care arrangements for your pup.
2) Laurel Falls Trail
Follow along the Cove Mountain Trail or nearby Little River Road to reach Laurel Falls Trail. This family-friendly, 2.6-mile walk leads to one of the most photographed spots in the entire park. The path is paved and leads to a viewing bridge where you can see both the upper and lower sections of the falls. Go early in the morning to avoid crowds, but keep an eye out for bears!
3) Grotto Falls
With the look and feel of a tropical waterfall, Grotto Falls is one of the most popular Gatlinburg waterfalls. Hikers do not have to stay on trail here, so you’ll be able to get up close- even behind the falls. Additionally, gorgeous wildflowers bloom all around this pleasant grotto.
Follow Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or Trillium Gap Trail to reach this destination. Should you choose the latter, consider continuing up to Brushy Mountain, just a few miles past Grotto Falls.
4) Twin Creeks Trail to Baskin’s Creek Falls
Twin Creeks Trail begins along the Gatlinburg Trail. After about two miles, the path connects with Baskins Creek Trail to Baskins Creek Falls.
First, Twin Creeks Trail is perfect for all abilities and not too remote. Enjoy the area’s serene streams as you walk, then continue on your quest to find Baskin Creek Falls. The falls are 40 feet tall, and the beautiful area makes for a perfect picnic spot. Finally, we recommend continuing your loop home via the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
5) Rainbow Falls
Continue South on Twin Creeks Trail, or follow the popular Old Sugarlands Trail to reach Rainbow Falls Trail. This is a long hike at 5.4 miles roundtrip, but well worth the effort. As you work through this strenuous hike, you’ll be rewarded with an 80-foot tall waterfall. As the tallest single-drop waterfall in the Smoky Mountains, you’ll want to take pictures. Pictures here look best when taken in the early morning, due to the angle of the sun at that time. So, start your hike out early to get the perfect shot- and use the rest of the day to hike 7 more miles to Mt. LeConte.
6) Ramsey Cascades (Greenbrier Cove)
Hiking near Gatlinburg certainly offers much variety in choice of trails. For instance, northeast of Mount LeConte, Ramsey Cascades Trail breaks off from the Greenbrier Cove Trail. Begin your 8 mile trek here, and discover a few original buildings from an early settler community.
Continuing on, you’ll gain almost 2,200 feet in elevation through a dense, old forest. You may want to bring hiking sticks, as the route becomes quite rugged towards the end. However, you’ll love the reward – a 100 foot waterfall. As the tallest waterfall in the park, Ramsey Cascades will take your breath away. But, take caution. Do not attempt to climb the waterfall, as it is very dangerous.
7) Abram’s Falls
Head to the western side of Smoky Mountains and you’ll find an area known as Cades Cove. Here you’ll be able to view Gregory Bald and Rocky Top, two spots that offer majestic views of the surrounding mountains.
Abrams Falls hides about 5.2 miles to the northwest of Cades Cove Visitor Center. The trail loosely follows Abrams Creek, reaches ridgetops, and takes you through dense forest. There is a scenic beach at the falls, but swimming is discouraged. The falls cause a dangerous undertow. Instead, enjoy the beauty around you by taking pictures, enjoying a snack, and keeping an eye out for river otters.
8) Middle Prong Trail
Middle Prong Trail might be the ultimate Gatlinburg waterfalls area. This trail passes three major waterfalls and countless other small cascades. In addition, the path was once a railroad bed, making for a smooth hike today. While you explore, keep an eye out for a hidden Cadillac left behind by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a group that built many of our nation’s trails in the 1930s. The car is over 100 years old.
9) Big Creek/Mouse Creek Falls
On the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find another of our best Gatlinburg hikes. Big Creek Trail follows Big Creek itself, leading to Mouse Creek Falls. The hike is only 4 miles long, and is absolutely gorgeous in the autumn.
Along the way, you’ll catch a few minor waterfalls and a deep pool under a six foot cascade. Eventually, you’ll reach Mouse Creek Falls, which towers at 45 feet tall. Should you wish to stay awhile, camp at nearby Walnut Bottom.
10) Chasteen Creek Cascade
A few miles north of Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Chasteen Creek Trail leads hikers to the Chasteen Creek Cascade. This roaring whitewater waterfall area is most impressive after a rainfall, so keep it in mind if you’ve experienced some weather.
In addition, this area provides an escape from more crowded spots in the park. So, enjoy the solitude. But also make sure to pack essentials for a more remote trip. Our day pack includes at least a gallon of water, trail mix, a protein-heavy snack, and basic first aid supplies in case of emergency. We also like to bring along an extra pair of socks, trekking poles, and a small towel on waterfall hikes.
11) Juney Whank Falls Trail
Juney Whank Falls Trail is short and steep. It leads to the 80-foot drop waterfall, and a footbridge perfect for picture-taking. Juney Whank Falls flows into the Deep Creek area of Smoky Mountain National Park, just north of the Swain County Visitor Center. If you wish to hike further into Deep Creek, you’ll see a number of unique features like:
- Stone Pile Gap Trail
- Indian Creek Trail and Falls
- Deep Creek Horse Trail
12) Spruce Flat Falls
This hike is relatively short but starts with a steep and strenuous incline. It takes about 40 minutes each way (2 miles round trip) and offers beautiful views along the way. Spruce Flats Fall is located behind the Smoky Mountains Institute (featured further below). Hikers can see about five cascades and Spruce Falls is the second.
Located in Tremont, Tennessee (one hour from Gatlinburg) this can be a refreshing day trip to one of the many waterfalls near Gatlinburg.
13) Meigs Falls
Meigs Falls is one of those waterfalls in Gatlinburg that can be for people who do not want to hike AND also those who love adventure and want to literally get their feet wet. That’s because you can either drive up to see it from afar and take a snapshot of it and go. Or you can park your car, and walk across the Little River about 50 yards downstream to get up and close to the waterfall (pictured above). If you choose the latter, please note that the water level can be about thigh-high so be careful with tides, currents, and slippery rocks. To be safer, consider crossing with rope or a long pole. Once you’re there you’ll see a rope swing for some fun by the waterfall!
Don’t Miss: The Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The legendary Appalachian Trail (A.T.) cuts through Smoky Mountain National Park, encompassing 71 miles of the classic through-hike. While most hikers don’t get to experience all 2,193.1 miles of the A.T., many do get to traverse certain sections.
You’ll know you’re on the trail when you notice cairns and white blazes painted on objects along the path. Should you choose to follow, you’ll see unique features like Rocky Top, Cosby Knob, Icewater Spring, and the Fontana Dam. When hiking near Gatlinburg, the A.T. is a must-see.
Bonus: Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
Did you know there is a school in the Great Smoky Mountains? Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont sits just above Middle Prong Trail. The institute works to connect people to nature through experiential learning. Learners of any ages can visit for a few hours, or stay a few days in GSMIT dormitories, and extend their learning into real life experiences. Some available classes are:
- Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program
- Springtime Photography Workshops
- Discovery Camp
- Wilderness Trek
- Girls in Science Camp
- Women’s Fall Backpack
Once you partake in one of these unique experiences, you’ll be forever connected to the Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountain Area.
Visiting Gatlinburg: Safe Travel Practices
While traveling through Gatlinburg, remember to follow healthy travel practices like washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask, and keeping a safe distance from others. Due to Covid-19, some activities or businesses may be closed so be sure to call ahead before arriving. Official websites will provide the latest updates on local policies and the status of local businesses.
Please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. When you are comfortable traveling, please do so mindfully and respect the local regulations. And finally, consider booking a hotel with free cancellation options in the case that you may need to change your travel plans at the last minute.
As you can see, outdoor adventures are easy to find along these Gatlinburg hiking trails. So if you’re an outdoor lover, be sure to add this unique area and enjoy all that eastern Tennessee has to offer to your bucket list!