Beat the heat this summer and take a hike to a refreshing Smoky Mountain waterfall! The abundant streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the lifeblood of this International Biosphere Reserve and the waterfalls found within are some of the most extraordinary hiking destinations year-round. When the heat of summer is upon us, there is no better place to be than enjoying a cool, misty breeze near a lush waterfall in the Smokies! We’ve got the Top 5 Waterfall Hikes in the Smokies for you!
The fine mist is so refreshing that after only a few moments you may be ready to step back into the sunlight and warm up a bit. Along the trails to the waterfalls there are often quiet, sun-dappled pools in the streams that are perfect for soaking your hiking feet. It is unsafe to swim beneath the waterfalls; just standing near one is really all you need to do to cool down.
Here are a few of our top waterfall hikes in the Smokies when the weather is warm and we’re looking for a favorite place to chill! You’ll find some of the Top 5 Waterfall Hikes are just a short walk from your vehicle, while others offer more time to explore the beautiful summertime scenery. No matter what section of the National Park you’re visiting, you’re sure to find a wondrous waterfall!
CHEROKEE / OCONALUFTEE
#1 Mingo Falls
Mingo Falls is actually located on the Qualla Boundary (Cherokee Indian Reservation) and is considered an easy hike at 0.4 miles in length but don’t let that fool you. There are over 200 steps to climb to reach the base of the falls but it is well worth it. Mingo Falls is one of the tallest in the region at 120 feet high and the cooling mist that swirls around its base makes all that “stair mastering” a distant memory.
To reach the Mingo Falls trailhead travel south from Oconaluftee Visitor Center on US-441 toward Cherokee and turn left on Big Cove Road. Turn left at the first stop sign and drive 4.5 miles to the Mingo Falls Campground and the trailhead. No special permits are required for access to the reservation.
#2 Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with most hikers reaching it via the Abrams Falls Trail in Cades Cove. From here the hike is 2.5 miles one-way and is considered moderate in difficulty. HeySmokies recommends sturdy footwear (not flip flops) to traverse the rocky terrain encountered on the trail. (For more info on suggested hiking essentials visit our 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains)
Abrams Falls is a mere 20 feet high but the volume of water funneling through earns it the unofficial moniker of the “Little Niagara of the Smokies.” The inviting pool beneath the falls can be deadly; swimmers have drowned here due to strong undercurrents and an undertow. Don’t be the next victim, enjoy the falls and its cooling mist from a safe distance. Abrams Falls is named for Cherokee Chief Abram who once lived a few miles below the falls near Abrams Creek Campground.
#3 Hen Wallow Falls
Hen Wallow Falls beautifully cascades down three sections of rock and has long been a favorite destination in the Smokies. Begin your hike to the falls on Gabes Mountain Trail in Cosby and your destination is about 2.3 miles away (4.6 miles round-trip.) A highlight of hiking to Hen Wallow Falls is the opportunity to hike among the giant trees of this cove hardwood old-growth forest. Please observe the warning signs at the base of the falls and do not climb on the wet, slippery rocks.
Hiker Parking is found just behind the Cosby Campground registration building. The trail begins across the road from the lower entrance to the picnic area.
#4 Juney Whank Falls
Juney Whank Falls is a site to behold. It plunges 90 feet from boulder to boulder down the Juney Whank Branch. This popular waterall can be viewed from the middle of Juney Whank Branch thanks to a log foot bridge. The falls has an upper and lower section which add a dramatic effect and an amazing sound. Juney Whank Falls Trail is considered moderate in difficulty due to it’s steepness although it is only 0.8 miles round-trip. For those wishing a longer hike, you can continue on the trail to the next junction and make a loop hike that totals 2.4 miles or o.7 mile ending back at the Deep Creek/Juney Whank Falls trailhead. Be sure to check your trail map for more details!
Juney Whank Falls trailhead is found near the Deep Creek Campground at the end of Deep Creek Road. From the parking area you will backtrack 0.1 miles to the trailhead on the road. Juney Whank Falls is convenient to Bryson City, NC.
SUGARLANDS / ELKMONT
#5 Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls is by far one of the most popular waterfall destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so plan to arrive early in the day to get a parking spot. Laurel Falls Trail is accessed via a parking area on both sides of Little River Road (at Fighting Creek Gap) between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground. The roundtrip mileage for Laurel Falls is just 2.6 and it’s on a paved trail; however be aware that the pavement is quite worn and rugged, and HeySmokies does not consider it suitable for baby strollers or wheelchairs.
Laurel Falls is 75 ft. tall and is divided in the middle by a concrete bridge on the trail. Be aware that in times of high water the bridge may be submerged and dangerous. Due to its popularity, this area is usually busy with visitors and several folks are injured here each year climbing on the wet, slippery rocks. Please enjoy the beauty of the waterfalls responsibly. Happy Trails!