These waterfall hikes near Gatlinburg, Tennessee are a “must-do” for your upcoming vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains. They are breathtaking, very enjoyable, relatively easy and absolutely worth the time.
For years, I had been hearing about how amazing and fun the Gatlinburg area is. Since I had never been, my husband and I decided to put it on our “vacation bucket list” of places we wanted to visit with our kids before they were all grown and out of the house.
We were able to spend a week exploring Gatlinburg and the surrounding area this past summer and had a truly fabulous time. In fact, my husband and I both agree that it may be our favorite family trip yet.
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Surrounded by the stunning Smoky Mountain National Forest, Gatlinburg is the perfect mixture of nature, history and eye-catching tourist attractions. Not to mention, the food there is amazing.
My husband and I could spend all day meandering through a forest and taking in the sites. But we knew we needed to throw in some commercialized fun in order to keep the kids engaged and entertained. Again, Gatlinburg was perfect for just that.
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There were many trip highlights throughout our week but the waterfall hikes really stood out as experiences the whole family enjoyed.
There were always places to stop along the paths to take a break and play in streams. We always brought plenty of water and snacks along so no one got too hot or too hangry.
If you have the time, you could really make an entire morning or afternoon out of one of these hikes by packing a picnic lunch and wearing a bathing suit to splash in the water.
Waterfall Hikes Near Gatlinburg, TN
Midnight Hole to Mouse Creek Falls
I’m just going to start off with my favorite hike of the trip. Describing it as stunning is an understatement. Not that I’ve been on A TON of hikes, but I can easily say it was the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on.
For most of the 2 mile, easy-to-moderate hike to Mouse Creek Falls (4 miles roundtrip) you’ll hike beside the roaring waters of Big Creek. There are several places to stop, rest and take photos along the edge of the stream.
And make sure to bring your bathing suits! Along the trail, there is a great place to stop and swim at Midnight hole. While there, you can even jump off the rocks into the emerald green water. Warning: it is FREEZING but totally worth it. There were butterflies everywhere when we were there in late July. It was truly beautiful.
If you are looking for a very easy, short and lovely waterfall to knock out quickly, Cataract Falls is it!
Located right outside downtown Gatlinburg and just behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center, this waterfall is only a 1 mile round-trip trek. The terrain is simple to traverse and the path is wide. Plus, you can stop in at the visitor’s center to use the restroom, pick up a few pamphlets, learn about the history of the park and check out the gift shop.
The hike to this waterfall is completely paved and around 2.6 miles round trip. Even though the path is paved, I would not say that the path was easy. I’d say it was moderate. The terrain was uneven at times and the incline was fairly steep.
Funny anecdote: we were about 1.1 miles into this hike and almost to the waterfall when it started lightning, thundering and POURING rain.
But since we were SO CLOSE to the falls we decided to push through and hike on! My kids may need therapy in the future. Check out the pic below.
Ok… so this is not technically a waterfall hike but we loved it so much I figured I throw it in there as a nature and water-play option. We accidentally happened upon Metcalf Bottoms as we were driving to Cades Cove and needed to make a quick restroom stop.
We pulled off at the closest stop and found ourselves at Metcalf Bottoms. It was a beautiful creek to wade through with tons of rocks to play with and on. Our quick restroom stop turned into 45 minutes of outdoor fun but it was worth it!
This is one of two hikes on the list that my family did not actually do. It is along the Cades Cove Motor Loop in Townsend (highly recommend) and is a bit longer at 5 miles round trip. HOWEVER… I’ve heard great things. If we had had the time that day and if my kids weren’t totally exhausted by that point, I would have loved to do it.
Waterfall Hikes along the roaring forks motor trail
The Roaring Forks Motor Trail is right outside of downtown Gatlinburg. The motor trail is a one-way, paved road that takes you through a lush, green forest with babbling brooks for about 5.5 miles. The views will take your breath away.
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Along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Along the motor trail are 2 waterfall hikes worth checking out. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, my family was only able to do one of them. We chose Grotto Falls.
Grotto falls is a moderate, 2.6 mile roundtrip hike to a beautiful waterfall that you and your family can walk behind. Leading up to the falls, there are numerous places to stop and have a picnic lunch or snack along the creek and play in the water.
Something to consider: parking can be tight at the trailhead to Grotto Falls. We did this hike at 9 am on a Friday morning in early August and had to park about half a mile away from the trailhead along the side of the road. Thus, our 2.6 roundtrip hike turned into about a 3.6 mile roundtrip hike.
Leading up to Grotto Falls
This is the only other water fall on the list that my family did not hike. However, had we had more time, we definitely would have. It is also located along the Roaring Forks Motor Trail and is a little longer hike at 5.4 miles roundtrip, According to the internet, the hike is considerate moderate in difficulty.
The name, Rainbow Falls, comes from the rainbow that can be seen on sunny days from the mist that floats off of this 80-foot high waterfall.
Hopefully this beginner’s guide to waterfall hikes near Gatlinburg, Tennessee leads you and your crew on an unforgettable adventure.
Whatever you choose to do in and around the Gatlinburg area, I have no doubt you’ll have a blast! It’s an area of the United States that’s jampacked with both natural beauty and good, old-fashioned fun!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I loved writing it! Visit The Flower Donkey homepage to check out some of my other family and parenting articles. Thanks and happy reading!
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