With more than 2000 miles of streams and rivers that soak-up more than 85 inches of rain each year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to more than 100 waterfalls that are scattered throughout the vast park. So, with only a limited amount of vacation time, which falls should you visit on a day hike? Below is my list of the top waterfall hikes that will hopefully provide a little guidance. Please note that the rankings reflect the entire hikes, which encompasses all of the features that hikers will encounter along the route:

Number One: Abrams Falls

Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet high, the large volume of water rushing over the sandstone cliff more than makes up for its lack of height. In fact, Abrams Falls is the most voluminous waterfall in the park, easily making this the most scenic waterfall in the Smokies. As a result, the moderate 5.2-mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall is one of the more popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Number Two: Middle Prong Trail

In addition to the old rusting Cadillac from circa 1930, the Middle Prong Trail in the Tremont area of the Smokies passes several small waterfalls and cascades, as well as three major waterfalls, including Lower Lynn Camp Falls and Indian Flats Falls.

Number Three: Porters Creek

The Porters Creek Trail just about has it all. You'll stroll along a beautiful cascading stream through a lush old-growth forest, while walking past many remnants of the early settlers in this area before reaching a little known waterfall. If you hike this trail during the spring you'll have the additional benefit of witnessing spectacular displays of wildflowers. The forest floor is usually carpeted with bloodroot, hepaticas, violets, trillium, fringed phacelia, rue anemone and many other wildflowers during the early spring. Roughly 1 mile from the trailhead is a short side trail that leads to the John Messer farm site, which includes a cantilevered barn built around 1875. There's also a cabin that was built by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club in the mid-1930s. At roughly 2 miles, Fern Branch Falls slides and tumbles nearly 50 feet down the ridge just off the side of the trail.

Number Four: Big Creek / Mouse Creek Falls

This is a great hike for novice hikers as this trail is relatively smooth, and is a gradual climb of only 605 feet over the course of the two miles to the 45-foot Mouse Creek Falls. The Big Creek Trail follows an old railroad grade, built by the Crestmont logging company in the early 1900's to haul lumber out of the mountains during the logging boom. The trail was improved by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s when it was converted for hiking use.

Number Five: Laurel Falls

The paved path to Laurel Falls is a favorite hike among many park visitors. A fairly easy hike, close proximity to Gatlinburg, and a picturesque 80-foot waterfall, all combine to make this an extremely popular destination within the Great Smoky Mountains.

Number Six: Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that a person can actually walk behind. The 25-foot high waterfall offers a cool, shady, and moist retreat for summer hikers. This same environment also provides ideal habitat for salamanders as well.

Number Seven: Baskins Creek Falls

Relative to their popularity, this 40-foot, two-tiered waterfall just might be the most underrated falls in the Great Smoky Mountains. It's also a great place to kick back and enjoy a picnic.

Number Eight: Indian Creek Falls

Hikers will reach Indian Creek Falls via the Deep Creek Trail, which was one of the first trails constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s. In addition to visiting the 45-foot waterfall, hikers will also pass by the 80-foot Toms Branch Falls along the way. This is another great hike for early spring wildflowers.

Number Nine: Spruce Flats Falls

Spruce Flat Falls is one of the most scenic waterfalls in the park. Though it isn't marked on the official park map, the trail is well defined and very easy to follow.

Number Ten: Chasteen Creek Cascades

The Chasteen Creek Cascades, located near the Smokemont Campground on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, is a very pleasant cascading waterfall. During the spring hikers will also enjoy lots of wildflowers along the route.

Honorable Mentions: 

  1. Ramsey Cascades 

  2. Rainbow Falls

While planning your visit, be sure to visit our accommodations page for a variety of lodging options in the Great Smoky Mountains area.