The Smoky Mountains are known for their peaceful and otherworldly hiking trails. Especially around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, you can find many wonderful hiking trails designed for expert trail adventurers, newcomers and everyone in between.
But what if you like your hikes to have a destination? Gorgeous foliage and frequent wildlife are great, but if you’re looking for that “picture perfect” moment, then you want a hike that leads to a smooth, crashing waterfall. Here are the five hiking paths guaranteed to take you to a one-of-a-kind waterfall.
1. Abrams Falls
This 5-mile hike around Cades Cove is as beautiful as it is exhilarating. The thick foliage and adventurous wildlife (otters and deer, mostly) will lead you to a small “beach” area where you can enjoy the waterfall.
Abrams Falls is not a hike for beginners. The trail is overgrown in some areas, the paths can be slippery and even experienced swimmers are vulnerable to accidents in the water near the falls. Use caution here.
2. Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls is a short hike, just over two miles. This one is much easier than Abrams and is a lot safer, too. This extremely popular hiking trail is a favorite of many visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So much so, that you may want to plan your trip for earlier in the morning if you want to avoid crowds.
Laurel Falls boasts a “two story” waterfall and a truly spectacular photo opportunity. Do be wary of wildlife here, though. The Laurel Falls hiking trail does run through black bear territory.
3. Grotto Falls
Another shorter hike at about 2.5 miles is Grotto Falls. As the name implies, your destination here is not just a typical waterfall, but almost a little cove of sorts. Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in the Smokies that you can actually walk behind. How’s that for a photo op?
The Grotto Falls hike can be completed by itself or you can easily add on another few miles to your loop if you want to visit the summit of Brushy Mountain or Mr. LeConte.
4. Spruce Flats Falls
This waterfall has four separate tiers! It’s a truly marvelous sight, like nature’s answer to every constructed backyard water fountain.
The hike up to Spruce Flats Falls is fairly easy and relatively short (just over 2 miles roundtrip). However, there are one or two trickier areas where exposed tree roots and slick rocks make the path a little more treacherous.
5. Middle Prong Trail
Here’s the toughest hike on our list, meant only for the most serious of hikers. This 10-mile loop leads to multiple exciting waterfalls and other interesting landmarks including an old, abandoned Cadillac, chimney remnants and railroad materials.
The Middle Prong Trail can be confusing and many of its sights are easily missed. Walk this trail with your eyes wide open and be cautious of your surroundings. The hike is not just long, but somewhat treacherous, as well.
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