Rainbow Falls is an 80' free falling waterfall that spills over a beautiful multi-colored 400' long rock wall. The hike to the waterfall is a 5.5 mile round trip and is mostly moderate, but can be considered strenuous on the steeper and rocky areas. It's a very popular trail since it's also used for folks hiking to Mount Le Conte, so you had better get here early if you want a parking spot. The waterfall looks it's best after a period of decent rainfall. The falls and rock wall make for a very spectacular sight.
Directions: From Hwy 441 in downtown Gatlinburg, go to stop light #8, reset your odometer, and turn on to Airport Rd. Online maps now show this as Historic Nature Trail. In about 0.6 miles, bear right on to Cherokee Orchard Rd. Pass the old Bud Ogle homestead which is a great stop for historic buildings in the Smokies. At just under 3.5 miles from the stop light, you'll see the parking for Rainbow Falls and other trail heads. This parking area is before you get to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, so it stays open during the winter months. There are also pit toilets at this parking area.
The trail is well signed and easy to follow. Once on the trail, you'll soon pass the turn off for the Trillium Gap Trail, but stay on the Rainbow Falls Trail. The trail generally follows Le Conte Creek up the mountain, but you won't always be right next to the creek. At about 1/2 a mile from the parking, you'll come to a series of switchbacks at one of the steep sections of the trail. At almost 2 miles up the trail you will have passed rocky outcroppings and wet weather branches before crossing Le Conte Creek on a foot bridge. The trail once again becomes steep as it switchbacks past huge hemlocks and comes to a small unnamed waterfall 2.5 miles from the trail head. Keep going and cross Le Conte Creek again 2 more times before arriving at the trailside viewing area for Rainbow Falls. For closer views, you'll have to scramble up the boulders. These will be slippery if they are wet, but be careful even if they are dry! It's a long way for rescue teams to come up for an injured person. Below is a short video of the small waterfall, then Rainbow Falls and other photos from the hike.
Le Conte Creek - Rainbow Falls Trail
small waterfall along the Rainbow Falls Trail
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