Spring is the best time of year for a waterfall hike. After rain saturates the ground, the creeks swell and the falls roar at unrivaled capacity. Knowing where to go is essential, but knowing when plays an important role, as well.
Before you continue reading, please search the internet for more information about trails, especially if you are planning to hike with little ones. It is critical to understand the terrain as well as changes in elevation if you plan to hike with children, even if you plan on wearing one on your back.
I can't express to you how important it is to realize that trail miles are not at all like sidewalk and greenbelt miles! Most hikers (without small children) average about 2 miles per hour on a moderate trail. Rockier trails and steep terrain will impact the rate of travel, especially for a beginning hiker or for groups with children.
Prepare. Please prepare. Nothing is worse than reaching the half-way point of your hike with low blood sugar and no water. Even if you are only hiking 3 miles, take a snack and a drink. You'll thank me later.
Conditions can change rapidly. You've heard that time and time again because it's true. That doesn't mean that you need to haul 50 pounds in your daypack for a half-day trip. A light weight rain jacket and dry socks are always a good idea.
Anytime you hiker near water, be aware of swift currents and slippery rocks regardless of weather conditions. Hiking out with an injury is the last thing you want to do!
With the boring disclaimers out of the way, let's get to the fun stuff!
There are some well-known, highly visited waterfalls that are incredible, but that means you'll rarely have the trail to yourself. Some of the most popular trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (click the trail name for more information) include:
- Laurel Falls – easily accessible and features a paved trail.
- Rainbow Falls – a popular route to Mt. LeConte and easily accessible from Gatlinburg.
- Spruce Flat Falls – unmarked trail is easily accessible from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
- Ramsey Cascades – tallest waterfall in the park system but the hike is quite difficult due to terrain and elevation.
- Abrams Falls – accessible through Cades Cove and produces what is said to be the highest volume in the park system.
You can read more about accessing Spruce Flat Falls in our Beginner's Guide to the Smoky Mountains. There is a wealth of information for other trails to be found on the internet.
Essential tips for popular trails:
- Avoid hiking on weekends and holidays. Captain Obvious informs me that you'll face a higher tourist population during these times.
- Be an early bird! Hitting any trail before 8 a.m. ensures that you'll beat all of the folks still waiting in line at one of those touristy pancake buffets.
I'd like to tell you about some lesser known waterfalls that are especially breathtaking after a heavy rain.
Hen Wallow Falls
The hike to Hen Wall Falls is rated as moderate in difficulty. Keep in mind what "moderate" in a mountainous region will meal. Even moderate ratings include rocky terrain and steep topography.
A lot of this trip is spent marching through a rhododendron forest which produce beautiful magenta blooms in June and July. A signed trail will direct you to the base of the falls but the trail is steep with switchbacks. The waterfall (actually a series of falls) is 90 feet high.
Access the trail via Gabes Mountain. The trailhead is near the entrance to the Cosby Campground about 100 yards away from the designated parking area. 4.4 miles roundtrip.
Of the three falls featured in this post, Grotto Falls may be the most popular due to it's location. It's conveniently located near Gatlinburg and is accessed via one of the routes to Mt. LeConte. In order to reach the falls you'll take the Trillium Gap trail, which is also rated moderate in difficulty.
The trail will lead you through an old-growth forest. The area around the falls will be moist and lush. Make sure to look for amphibians like frogs and salamanders. Trails like this make it easy to appreciate the biodiversity of the GSMNP.
The hike is about 3 miles roundtrip. From Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8. Take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to stop #5. There is an easy to find parking area and the trailhead is well-marked.
Baskins Creek Falls
Baskins Creek Falls is accessed via Roaring Fork Motor Nature trail like Grotto Falls. This trail is less traveled than Grotto Falls. It's not unusual to have this trail to yourself if you get an early start.
You'll get some decent views of the mountains from this trail which is rated easy-to-moderate. At almost 1 mile, you'll cross the creek without a footbridge. After a hard rain, it will be hard to keep your feet dry. A side trail leads to Baskins Creek Cemetery and then you'll face another creek crossing. The last 50 yards to the falls is the most rugged, and probably the only part that keeps this trail from having an easy rating.
I've met many hikers that share my opinion: This may be one of the most underrated falls in the park.
From Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8. Once entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, you'll find the trail head after driving about 0.02 miles.
By Rebecca Tatum, Web Editor © 2011 blountmomstoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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