Abrams Falls - Cades Cove
12-1-16 By now you have probably heard about the devastating fires that have ravaged the Gatlinburg area and the Tennessee side of the park. Many lives have been lost and hundreds and hundreds of homes and businesses have been burned down. The fires are still not out as of today and it will be a long time before all trails are reopened. Before you plan your visit, you should check the official web site to see what areas are open and closed.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation's most visited National Park. It encompasses more than 800 square miles - over 1/2 million acres - in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The park's biological diversity is truly amazing. Over 10,000 species of plants and animals have been documented and scientists believe another 90,000 may live in the park just waiting to be discovered! The park has over 800 miles of hiking trails that range from easy nature walks to difficult long range hikes that require backpacking and overnight camping. Many of these trails follow beautiful streams with clear and cold cascading waters.
Here's the official Great Smoky Mountain National Park site where you'll find more info on what to do, where to stay, park maps and other goodies. Here is the page where you can download the official park maps as PDF files. If you plan to do a lot of hiking in the Smokies, you should get the NatGeo Trails Illustrated map of the park at your favorite retailer or pick one up at one of the visitor centers in the park. Do not rely only on your vehicle GPS system for directions. Have a paper map as a back up. Look over the rules and regulations of the park carefully. One thing that people don't realize is that dogs are not allowed on the trails! If this is a deal breaker, you should consider the Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina. There are miles and miles of trails and plenty of waterfalls in these beautiful forests - and dogs are allowed on the trails although they must be on a leash. You can also visit this section of nationalparked.com for more photos and info on the park.
The park is divided into sections or areas as you can see from the park map. Below I've listed the areas that have named waterfalls. Not all of the areas have waterfalls, but they all have great trails where you will find beautiful scenery. Check the trail map for other possibilities which will probably less crowded. Look for trails near streams and you may discover smaller waterfalls and cascades others don't see. In the summer months, the popular waterfalls and trails will be very crowded. Go early if you want some privacy and for some of the best photo ops. A vast majority of the tourists don't get to the parking areas before 10AM :)
Big Creek area - just off of I-40 at the NC/TN border. One of the lesser used areas, but come early on summer week ends because parking is limited. A 12 site tent camping area, a group camp and horse camp area and a great picnic area along Big Creek.
Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls - 4 mile round trip, easy to moderate hike on an old road along Big Creek - kid friendly. This trail is also used by horseback riders. The Big Creek and Baxter Creek Trails in this area are loaded with wildflowers from late March into mid April.
Deep Creek area - Bryson City, NC off of Hwy 19/74 - a 92 tent and RV site camping area and large picnic area. Tubing on Deep Creek is offered by private vendors just before entering the park boundaries. Also consider driving over to Fontana Dam while in this area.
Juneywhank, Toms Branch, and Indian Creek Falls - easy kid friendly hikes
Smokemont/Cherokee area - Hwys 19 and 441, at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway (may be closed in winter). A 142 tent and RV site campground and a group camping area at Smokemont and a 46 tent site only campground at Balsam Mountain off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Also consider stopping at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mingus Mill on 441 just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The elk also frequent the grassy areas along 441 in this area at dawn and dusk. Soco Falls is also just a few miles north of Cherokee on Hwy 19.
Chasteen Creek Cascade - Smokemont Campground along Hwy 441 north - 4 miles round trip, easy to moderate - kid friendly
Flat Creek Falls - between Cherokee and Soco off of the Blue Ridge Parkway - no official trail any more
Little Creek Falls - between Bryson City and Cherokee - 3 miles round trip, moderate to difficult hike
Mingo Falls - Big Cove Rd, Cherokee - not really in the park boundaries, but close enough to include here - short hike, but lots of steps - kid friendly
Cades Cove area - west of Gatlinburg and Townsend off of Hwy 73 and Laurel Creek Rd - a 159 tent and RV site campground and group camp area. An 11 mile loop road circles this broad valley and offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the Smokies. There are also numerous historic buildings and a visitor center along the loop. From May - September, the loop road is closed to vehicle traffic on Wednesday and Saturday before 10AM - foot and bicycle traffic only!
Abrams Falls - 5 mile round trip, moderate to difficult hike
Tremont area - west of Sugarlands and Townsend off Laurel Creek Rd before Cades Cove. No camping - camp at either Elkmont or Cades Cove
Lynn Camp Prong Falls and Cascades - about 1.5 miles round trip, easy to moderate hike up a road - kid friendly
Indian Flats Falls - same trail head as Lynn Camp Prong, but an 8 mile round trip hike
Spruce Flats Falls - 2 mile moderate to difficult hike to a really nice waterfall
Sugarlands area - west of Gatlinburg on Hwy 441 at Little River Rd - the Park Headquarters. The closest park camping is west of here off of Little River Rd at Elkmont - 220 tent and RV sites and group camping.
Cataract Falls - less than 1/4 mile round trip, easy hike - kid friendly
Laurel Falls - 2.5 mile round trip, moderate hike - OK for kids, but smaller ones need to be watched very closely
Meigs Falls, Upper Meigs Falls, and the Sinks - viewable roadside except Upper Miegs Falls which is a 3.5 mile round trip hike
Clingmans Dome area - accessed via Clingmans Dome Rd which is usually closed from December 1 to March 31
Forney Creek Cascades (aka Rock Slab Falls) - 6 mile round trip strenuous hike with no crowds (on the NC side)
waterfalls on Road Prong - another strenuous but beautiful hike with no crowds (on the TN side)
Gatlinburg area - access to these 4 waterfalls in Gatlinburg are at traffic light #8 on Hwy 441. This road begins as a 2 way, but turns into a one way loop and takes you past the one way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This narrow paved road has lots of stopping places to view historic buildings and points of interest, waterfalls and other trailheads. The RFMNT is closed in the winter. No buses, trailers, or RV's are allowed - the road is too narrow!
Baskins Creek Falls - 3 mile round trip - moderate
Grotto Falls - 2.5 miles round trip, easy to moderate - mostly kid friendly and crowded during the summer
Place of a Thousand Drips - viewable roadside
Rainbow Falls - 5.5 miles round trip - moderate to difficult
Greenbrier area - east of Gatlinburg off Hwy 321 - no camping, but has a picnic area. Cosby is the closest park campground, but there are quite a few private campgrounds along 321 between Cosby and Gatlinburg if you prefer more facilities than the park campgrounds offer.
Fern Branch Falls - 3.7 miles round trip, mostly easy to moderate in difficulty. The Porters Creek Trail is a very popular spring wildflower hike, but few people continue all the way to this 35' waterfall.
Ramsey Cascades - an 8 mile round trip difficult hike to a beautiful waterfall
Cosby area - east of Gatlinburg off of Hwy 32 - a 165 tent and RV site campground and group camp area
Hen Wallow Falls - 4.5 mile round trip, moderate to difficult hike
back to my Tennessee waterfalls section
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