Ultimate Guide to the Best Waterfalls near Gatlinburg (2022)

There are many beautiful waterfalls near Gatlinburg, TN and today we are going to look at the best ones out there – each of which is worth a trip!

A young woman stands behind Grotto Falls in early summer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.
Grotto Falls – the only waterfall in the Smokies you can walk behind

If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors, Gatlinburg is the perfect place to be. With its many beautiful waterfalls, there’s something for everyone in the family to enjoy.

You can hike (or drive to one location) to these waterfalls, and see what you find! The top waterfalls in the park are Laurel Falls, Grotto Falls, Rainbow Falls, the Ramsey Cascades, Cataract Falls, the Sinks, Abrams Falls and Mouse Creek Falls. We will look at all of those here plus a few more that are beautiful but not quite as busy.

Most of these waterfalls include a hike to visit the location, with the exception of the Sinks. So if you’re looking for a fun day out exploring the Smoky Mountain’s beauty, one of these amazing waterfalls near Gatlinburg and the National Park are definitely worth a visit.

Why are Gatlinburg Waterfalls So Popular?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, and hiking around Gatlinburg is a popular past time.

Waterfalls are popular hiking destinations because they offer a great way to see nature’s beauty. They’re also a fun thing for the whole family to enjoy, and most waterfalls are short to medium hikes.

Plus, waterfalls make for great Instagram photos! Here is an old one of our family circa 2015 at Laurel Falls (when we only had 2 boys and I was 7 months pregnant with the third!):

The author's family in front of Laurel Falls in 2015

How Waterfalls are Formed

The waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were formed when water eroded rocks or soil by slowly wearing it down. Uneven surfaces on the water’s path leads to waterfalls, and waterfalls are usually accompanied by a steep drop in elevation. The water gradually erodes the rock away until there is nothing left but water falling to the ground.

This is how most waterfalls are formed, but not the Sinks. The bottom of the river bed down below the Sinks was dynamited to break up a log jam (back when the area was logged).

This not only changed the course of the river and formed a distinctive waterfall shape, but it also created a deep pool that is ideal for swimming. If you intend on swimming at the Sinks please be careful as swimmers have drowned near the falls.

The best Waterfalls near Gatlinburg

Laurel Falls

This beautiful waterfall is among the most visited in the National Park. It’s off of Little River Road and is an easy hike of just over 2 miles. We’ve hiked this with our kids (back when we only had 2 – see the old photo above!) and it wasn’t too hard even four our 2 1/2 year old, although there were some steep drop offs that made me a bit nervous, so if you are bringing kiddos just keep an eye on them.

Hiking Trail: Laurel Falls Trail

Trail Length: 2.3 miles

Waterfall Height: 80 feet

Famous for: This is a fairly family-friendly hike so you will see lots of families on your trip, some even with strollers. The falls are gorgeous and worth the trip. We even saw a black bear mama and her cubs on our hike! Thankfully they were a ways off, but it was still totally amazing to see them.

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Grotto Falls

This easy hike to beautiful Grotto Falls is definitely worth a trip.

Hiking Trail: Trillium Gap Trail

Trail Length: 2.6 miles

Waterfall Height: 25 feet

Famous for: This is the only waterfall in the Smokies you can actually walk behind, which is an amazing experience. In the spring you can see an amazing variety of wildflowers.

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Rainbow Falls

You often really can see a rainbow at the falls here on sunny afternoons, which is why it was given the name Rainbow Falls.

Hiking Trail: Rainbow Falls Trail

Trail Length: 5.4 miles roundtrip

Waterfall Height: 80 feet

Famous for: The highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies, which produces a rainbow on sunny afternoons and is also very impressive during very cold periods when ice forms.

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Ramsey Cascades

This is the tallest waterfall in the park at 100 feet! It’s a spectacular sight but a strenuous hike gaining almost 2200 feet in elevation, so it’s not for the faint of heart. Still, it’s a very popular hike due to the beautiful waterfall.

Hiking Trail: Ramsey Cascades Trail

Trail Length: 8.0 miles roundtrip

Waterfall Height: 100 feet

Famous for: The tallest waterfall in the park as well as the largest old-growth forest remaining the the Great Smoky Mountain area with some of the tallest trees in the park. Be careful about climbing on the rocks as signs warn that four people have died in the area near the falls.

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Cataract Falls

This is an easy hike with a beautiful waterfall. Park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to start your journey.

Hiking Trail: Cataract Falls Trail

Trail Length: 1.1 mile roundtrip

Waterfall Height: 25 feet

Famous for: Cataract Falls, of course, but also birdwatching. One of the best nature walks for kids with lots to explore.

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The Sinks

This is a very unique waterfall in the Smokies, created by a lumber company blowing up a log jam. This area is used for swimming and is very beautiful, but be very careful if you choose to get in the water here as there can be strong undercurrents and at least seven people have drowned here.

Hiking Trail: Meigs Creek Trail begins at the Sinks, but there is no hiking to view this waterfall

Trail Length: Zero – you can drive right up!

Waterfall Height: 15 feet

Famous for: The large whirlpool at the base of the waterfall that swirls like water draining in a sink. It’s a popular destination because there is no hike, so come early if you want the best view.

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Abrams Falls

This trail is for the more experienced hikers. It was rated as the 9th most dangerous hikes in America by Backpacker Magazine due to water related deaths such as drowning and hypothermia.

Hiking Trail: Cades Cove

Trail Length: 5.2 miles roundtrip

Waterfall Height: 20 feet

Famous for: The hike itself along Abrams Creek as well as the falls. Although the falls is much smaller than many of the other falls on this list, it is the most voluminous waterfall in the park.

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Mouse Creek Falls

The trail follows an old railroad track built for logging, although the tracks have long been removed. After a while you come across Big Creek and continue along for the rest of the trip.

Hiking Trail: Big Creek Trail

Trail Length: 4.2 miles roundtrip

Waterfall Height: 45 feet

Famous for: Midnight hole, and emerald green pool below a 6-foot-waterfall. If you continue on the trail you can find an old carriage bridge and to the site of an old logging camp.

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Indian Flats Falls

This trail is not for the faint of heart. At over 8 miles roundtrip, it’s a pretty long trek. It also gains more than 1100 feet in elevation, making it a strenuous hike. The trail begins where the middle prong of the Little River begins.

Hiking Trail: Middle Prong Trail

Trail Length: 8.3 miles roundtrip

Waterfall Height: 60 feet with 3 separate tiers

Famous for: The Tremont area, which was once a thriving lumber camp. This long trail passes three major waterfalls so you will get to see a lot on your journey: Lower Lynn Camp Falls, Lynn Camp Falls and finally Indian Flats Falls. There are several other cascades and water features on this trail as well.

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Fern Branch Falls

Hiking Trail: Porters Creek Trail

Trail Length: 4 miles round trip

Waterfall Height: 50 feet

Famous for: This is a less-traveled trail that allows you to enjoy some wonderful natural scenery. If you’re looking to skip the crowds, drive out to the Eastern part of the park and catch a glimpse of this amazing 50-foot falls. You will also see a log bridge, the remnants of the Greenbrier Cove settlement and a cemetary. This is a wonderful place to stop and have lunch and you can even continue on to a backcountry campsite.

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Indian Creek Falls and Tom Branch Falls

Take an easy hike under 2 miles to see both of these waterfalls in one trip! Be sure to stay off the rocks around the falls as these areas can be dangerous.

Hiking Trail: Deep Creek Trail 0.7 mile to the junction with Indian Creek Trail

Trail Length: 1.6 miles roundtrip

Waterfall Height: Indian Creek Falls – 25 feet, Tom Branch Falls – 60 feet

Famous for: The two beautiful falls on the trail. The Tom Branch Falls is only three tenths of a mile into the trip. If you visit in the spring, you can find some amazing wildflowers along the trail.

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Baskins Creek Falls

This is a beautiful 40-foot waterfall with two tiers is absolutely beautiful and worth hiking the 3 miles rountrip. This trail includes crossing Falls Branch without a bridge so if it has been raining a bit you might get your feet wet. There is also a park of the trail that is a bit steep and rugged near the falls.

Hiking Trail: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Trail Length: 3.0 miles roundtrip

Waterfall Height: 40 feet

Famous for: Great mountain views and even a glimpse of Gatlinburg when the trees don’t have much foliage. A small side trail will lead you to Baskins Cemetary if you choose to view it. The falls are a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch before heading back.

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Tips for visiting Smoky Mountain Waterfalls

Park opening hours vary depending on the season, so check out their website for details on opening times before going.

Some waterfalls might not be accessible during winter, and there is might be a charge for parking at some waterfalls, although most all trail lots are free in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Safety tips for visiting Waterfalls near gatlinburg

As with any visit to the great outdoors, waterfalls are no exception when it comes to safety. It’s important to make sure you’re prepared before heading out hiking.

Here are some tips for staying safe while visiting waterfalls near Gatlinburg:

Make sure you know your waterfalls well enough to hike them safely. This means knowing what you’ll encounter on the hike, how strenuous it’ll be, and what the water conditions are like. It’s also advisable to check water depth before jumping in for a swim.

If you’re visiting waterfalls with children, keep them close by at all times and don’t allow them to play near water without supervision.

Also remember that waterfalls can be slippery, so always watch your footing, and wear water-appropriate footwear.

Always be aware of water depth and water flow before swimming in waterfalls. If you’re planning on swimming at Grotto Falls or the Sinks, make sure to check water conditions before jumping in as people have drowned at these waterfalls.

What to bring with you on your Smoky Mountain Waterfall Hike

In taking care of yourself while hiking to waterfalls near Gatlinburg, it’s smart to bring water and a first-aid kit with you.

You might also want to pack some snacks or a meal for the middle of the journey (especially if you are hiking with children).

You should also wear hiking boots or water shoes as waterfalls near Gatlinburg can be slippery and sharp rocks can lead to injuries.

waterfalls near gatlinburg

Well, that wraps it up for this ultimate guide to waterfalls near Gatlinburg. I hope you’ll venture into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hike to some of these amazing waterfalls! They are definitely worth it!