10 Can’t-Miss Great Smoky Mountains National Park Waterfalls

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Smoky Mountain National Park has all the good stuff — mountains, wildlife, hiking (the Appalachian Trail runs right through it!) and more. 

We boated during our week and a half in the Smoky Mountains. We brought our speedboat, Checkie, with us from the Midwest. We stuck to Fontana Lake and couldn’t get over the crystal-clear water and beauty of the mountains. We even extended our stay to an extra day because we had so much fun. It was the most stellar vacation ever.  

During our stay, we also went on a waterfall hunt, in addition to getting some hikes in. Our kids were only six and three then, so I was ultra-careful to ensure we didn’t choose hikes that would wear them out. I distinctly remember our son tripping, falling and… yep, there was blood… during one of the hikes.

So, what were the best waterfalls in the Smokies? This guide will cover 10 of the best you’ll find in this gorgeous national park.

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Thibodeau clan at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Your Guide to the Best Waterfalls in Smoky Mountain National Park

I picked 10 waterfalls that all look different, from 25-foot wonders to gargantuan, noisy pounders. It’s incredible how varied waterfalls can look — just as different trails can look as you check them out. 

Which ones will your family think are the best? The only way you can find out is to hike up to them (or, in some cases, drive up to them) and find out.

my crew in front of one of many waterfalls found in Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Thibodeau crew in front of one of many waterfalls found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1. Grotto Falls

How to Get There: Take Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail from traffic light number eight in Gatlinburg. Turn onto Historic Natural Trail and follow it a few miles until you get to Cherokee Orchard Loop Road inside the national park. Turn right on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. 

Arrive early for parking spaces because they fill up fast! If you find a full lot, park further up the road. (Note that Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a winding, one-way road. You cannot access it in winter.)

Trail Length: The trail is three miles round trip to the waterfall, though the full Trillium Gap Trail is much longer. If you take it to Mount LeConte, it’s over 13 miles long.

Difficulty: Moderate

Grotto Falls sparkles, and the Trillium Gap Trail will thrill you. (The trail’s named after the gorgeous, three-petaled flowers.) If you’re looking for a delightful hike, pick this one because the trail winds behind the falls! It delivers such a great photo-op! 

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Grotto Falls

One of the coolest things about visiting all these water features is the potential to see salamanders. The red-cheeked salamander, also known as Jordan’s salamander, is the only one found at higher elevations within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Don’t miss this 25-foot beauty. It’s fun to cool off behind it during the summer. Take a packed lunch and let your kids romp through the falls to cool off on those 90-degree summer days.

Grotto Falls, , Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Grotto Falls

2. Meigs Falls

How to Get There: Drive west on Little River Road for 11.8 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and turn left into the parking area before the bridge. You’ll see the parking area for the Meigs Creek Trail. Drive another 1.1 miles and look for an extended pull-off area with a retaining wall. 

Trail Length: There is no trail to the waterfall.

Difficulty: Easy

If you’re in the Cades Cove area, don’t forget to stop at Meigs Falls, a graceful waterfall, before you officially hit Cades Cove. The waterfall flows gracefully over rocks from the side of the road — is there a better sound?

Meigs Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Meigs Falls

Cades Cove is one of my favorite places in the Great Smoky Mountains because of its historic structures. It looks like someone simply stepped off the homestead one day, and then you happened to walk into the home seconds later, albeit during the 21st century.

You can tour churches, cabins, barns and a working grist mill in Cades Cove. It’s a definitely-don’t-miss part of the Smokies!

Cades Cove Grist Mill, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
John P. Cable grist mill in Cades Cove

3. Cataract Falls

How to Get There: If you’re vacationing in Gatlinburg, it’s an easy waterfall to get to. Take Highway 441 out of Gatlinburg into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Turn right on Little River Road and park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Walk down the concrete path near the outdoor restrooms and vending area and hit the trailhead.

Trail Length: 1.1 miles

Difficulty: Easy

From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, check out small but charming Cataract Falls after hiking an easy trail. The picturesque scene offers everything wonderful about the Smokies — natural beauty, trees, wildflowers and the potential to see wildlife. 

It’s a popular area to hike during tourist season, so expect to see people on the trail from March through November. All in all, it’s a great trail for kids and older family members. 

Cataract Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Cataract Falls

4. Spruce Flats Falls

How to Get There: From Townsend, drive on Laurel Creek Road toward Cades Cove. Turn left toward the Great Smoky Mountains Institute and drive across a narrow bridge. Look for a small parking area on the right and enter the Lumber Ridge Trailhead. 

Trail Length: 1.8 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

The Spruce Flats waterfall is so pretty because it breaks from around 30 feet into four separate tiers. It lands in a nice pool at the bottom, which some people use as a swimming hole during the summer.

Having swim shoes and suits handy during your trip to the Smokies is always a good idea. The kids will love you for it!

Spruce Flats Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Spruce Flat Falls

The fun part of getting to the Spruce Flats Falls: Crossing the creek along the way. While that might seem unsafe in other areas of the Smokies, sturdy bridges or stepping stones remain in place to help you cross.

Fortunately, this isn’t a busy trail or one of the most popular hikes, so you’re apt to see a lot of wildlife, including butterflies, birds, snakes and, dare I say it… maybe black bears? You’ll also find old forest growth, tree roots and a spectacular view of the mountains.

5. Baskins Creek Falls

How to Get There:

Begin your journey at Light 8 in Gatlinburg, and take the turn onto Historic Nature Trail/Airport Road. Continue for 0.7 miles and then turn right onto Cherokee Orchard Road. Drive an additional 2.2 miles until you reach the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop. Drive 0.9 miles on this loop before turning onto the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The trailhead for the falls will appear on your left after covering approximately 0.2 miles on this one-way loop road.

Trail Length: 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

If you’re looking for a spot for your next Christmas card photo, Baskins Creek Falls just outside Gatlinburg should replace any fake backdrop your tried-and-true photographer has planned. 

The waterfall itself is the highlight of the hike. Baskins Creek Falls has gorgeous, undulating cascades with multiple tiers framed by moss-covered rocks and surrounded by rich greenery. Grab some time and a camera (and maybe a picnic lunch) and enjoy your time here.

Note that your feet might get wet from a stream crossing on this trail. Bring water shoes. It’s not a busy waterfall, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy some solitude. 

Baskin Creek Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Baskin Creek Falls

6. Hen Wallow Falls

How to Get There: You’ll take the Gabes Mountain Trail from the Cosby picnic area near the entrance to Cosby Campground. 

Trail Length: 4.4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Where I’m from, I’m sure some super creative person would name a waterfall “Big Falls” or another lackluster name. But Hen Wallow Falls! That’s awesome. Gotta love those southern names. They also provoke a little interest. Who wants to miss a waterfall by that name?

Hen Wallow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Hen Wallow Falls

Hen Wallow Falls exists on a trail in a hemlock and rhododendron forest. The top of the falls is two feet tiny and widens to 20 feet at the base.

Its name doesn’t make it sound like it will be a huge waterfall, but it surprisingly towers 90 feet into the sky. In the winter, it often freezes into a gorgeous glacial pillar. It’s one of the tallest waterfalls on our list.

7. Indian Creek Falls

How to Get There: Follow the signs to the national park through downtown Bryson City, North Carolina, to Deep Creek Campground. Drive through the campground to the trailhead at the end of Deep Creek Road.

Trail Length: 1.6 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Explore the North Carolina side of the park to discover stunning waterfalls. Indian Creek Falls is known for its captivating series of cascades.

Tom Branch Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Tom Branch Falls, another waterfall you can encounter on the trail to Indian Creek Falls

Start your journey at the Deep Creek Trailhead. The falls are known for their peaceful ambiance amid moss-covered rocks.

Along the trail, you’ll encounter Tom Branch Falls, another enchanting waterfall that gracefully flows in the Deep Creek area.

8. Juney Whank Falls

How to Get There: From Bryson City, North Carolina, drive to Deep Creek Campground. Continue past the campground to the trailhead at the end of Deep Creek Road and backtrack 0.1 miles to the trail.

Trail Length: 0.8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

You will like this waterfall, and for good reason: Imagine saying its name as you feel it spraying sparkling water on you on sunny afternoons.

young girl on the bridge at the Juney Whank Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
My daughter at the Juney Whank waterfall

I mean, Juney Whank! Such a delightful southern name. It’s so hills-of-Tennessee-and-North-Carolina, and I love the falls, too. 

Juney Whank Falls and bridge, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Juney Whank Falls

Juney Whank Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall featuring a series of cascades along its descent. Lush greenery and mossy rocks also surround the falls — the views here simply scream Smoky Mountains! 

Juney Whank Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Juney Whank Falls

9. Mingo Falls

How to Get There: From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, from Cherokee, North Carolina, head towards the Big Cove Road on US-441. Take the second left onto Big Cove Road. At the first stop sign, turn left and drive 4.5 miles to Mingo Falls Campground, where the trail begins.

Trail Length: 0.4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

One of the most beautiful cascading waterfalls on our list, Mingo Falls is a 120-foot-high waterfall that splashes across a wide swath of rocky ledges. When you add the final “ingredient,” the foliage of the surrounding forest, it is stunning and the tallest waterfall on our list.

Mingo Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Mingo Falls

As you check out the base of the falls, pay attention to the rocky pool or basin and the large rocks and boulders that the water has shaped over time. Super cool!

Mingo Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Mingo Falls

10. Laurel Falls

How to Get There: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn toward Cades Cove on Little River Road. Drive 3.5 miles to the trailhead, where parking areas are on both sides of the road.

Trail Length: 2.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

One of the most popular waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Laurel Falls draws visitors because of its accessibility and scenic beauty.

Laurel Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Laurel Falls

A two-tiered waterfall, it has upper and lower sections around 80 feet. The water cascades down from the upper section to the lower section, creating a picturesque and tranquil setting. The falls are framed by the surrounding forest, adding to the area’s natural beauty. 

Like many Smokies waterfalls, it’s an easy paved trail, popular in summer and on weekends and wheelchair accessible.

Laurel Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National ParkPin
Laurel Falls

What You Should Know About Hiking to Waterfalls in the Smokies

Safety first! 

Don’t climb on rocks around waterfalls. Over the years, several people have fallen and suffered serious injuries from slipping on moss-and-algae-covered rocks. It’s easy for kids to slip and fall. 

Some people also use the park’s cascades as a swimming hole. The National Park Service doesn’t recommend swimming anywhere in the national park. It’s easy to get wedged underwater between rocks or logs, and if kids aren’t wearing life jackets… Yikes. 

What’s the adage? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? In this case, that’s true.

Brock family at one of many Great Smoky Mountains National Park waterfallsPin
My family (Melissa) at one of many beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park waterfalls

When’s the Best Time to Visit Waterfalls in the Smokies? 

On your next trip, consider visiting during spring to capture a large volume of water. The wetter the winter, the more likely you’ll see the results in the spring. 

The National Park Service can offer trail maps and recommendations, particularly when you have questions about when you’ll find light traffic on the most popular trails and which easy walks will give you access to plenty of waterfalls.

Pin this Great Smoky Mountains National Park waterfalls information for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Waterfalls: What to know before you goPin
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About Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is a writer, editor and the owner of the website College Money Tips. She loves to strap on her hiking boots and strike out on a trail. Her favorite trail (so far!) is the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. Her love of travel has led her to explore the following national parks with her family: Rocky Mountain, the Everglades, Yellowstone, Voyageurs, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Crater Lake, Badlands, Arches, Grand Teton. (She's not done yet!)

3 thoughts on “10 Can’t-Miss Great Smoky Mountains National Park Waterfalls”

  1. These are fantastic photos and such helpful info about these trails. I love how adventurous your family is!

    Elena
    elle-alice.blogspot.com

    Reply
  2. Melissa, your photos of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Waterfalls are stunning! I appreciate your detailed information within.
    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article with Sweet Tea & Friends Link Up this month.

    Reply

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