The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is a photographer’s dream come true. Visitors can explore an endless number of waterfalls and mountain scenery, as well as abundant wildlife such as bears and elk for free because there are no entrance fees to the park! Although most visitors flock here in autumn when all the trees turn vibrant falls colors, they are missing out on springtime where cascading waterfalls and densely forested landscapes.
Waterfalls In the Great Smoky Mountains
GSMNP Waterfall Hikes
Deep Creek Trail
Location: Bryson City, NC, Distance: 2.5 Miles, Difficulty: Easy
Deep Creek Trail is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for an easy hike. This 2.5-mile nature trail leads you through beautiful scenery and leaves nothing to be desired as it follows along the creek with three cascading waterfalls.
Graveyard Fields Trail
Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Distance: 2-5 miles, Difficulty: Hard
Graveyard Fields Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s not hard, but it can be tricky because there are no markings and you’ll have to traverse some interesting terrain. The views are worth it though!
Location: Roaring Fork Motor Trail, Distance: 3 Miles, Difficulty: Moderate
Grotto Falls is the perfect place to escape the summer heat. The 25-foot high waterfall that allows you to walk behind it offers a refreshing mist and if that’s not enough cool you off, then take a dip at the base of the falls.
Caldwell Fork Falls
Location: Cataloochee Valley Horse Trail, Distance: 1/2 mile, Difficulty: Easy
Caldwell Fork Falls is only 1/2 mile out and back, but if you are up for more of a challenge, the Boogerman Loop is 7 miles. If you want to take your time on the trail, enjoy the scenery, or avoid the crowds, this is a hike that will not disappoint.
GSMNP Waterfalls You Can Drive To
Location: 6 Miles NE of Mingus Mill
Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the Appalachian Mountains and a must-see for any nature lover. The hike to the base of the falls is short but requires climbing up a steep 161 step staircase.
Location: Natural Trail at Sugarlands Visitor Center
Cataract Falls is a 25 foot waterfall located on an easy flat walking trail that follows along the creek so it’s perfect for the whole family.
Location: 1.5 miles south Blue Ridge Parkway on Hwy 19
Soco Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the North Carolina mountains. It’s a short, but steep hike from the road and it’s absolutely worth it! The falls are stunning as the sun rises and sets through the foliage.
Location: Laurel Falls Trailhead
The trek to Laurel falls is 5 miles round trip, but you won’t have to walk much for some teaser falls at the trailhead.
Cades Cove is known for its historic cabins built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, abundant wildlife, and scenic views of rolling mountains. It’s also one of the few places you might spot a bear. I saw three while I was there!
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a national parkway protected and operated by the National Park Service. Starting in the Great Smoky Mountains, the parkway follows the Appalachian mountain range through Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia to Shenandoah National Park.
Blue Ridge Parkway is a fantastic alternative to the crowded smoky mountain trails for panoramic views and lesser-known hikes. It’s also an excellent way to see some of America’s most beautiful landscapes without having to drive hours from one destination to another.
If you’re looking for a secluded, peaceful place to enjoy the beauty of nature then this is the spot. This loop has some of the most breathtaking views in all of Great Smoky National Park
ALUM CAVE TRAIL
You can choose your own adventure with an out and back from any distance to one of Alum Cave’s unforgettable points of interest, or hike all the way to Mt. Le Conte for an 11-mile round-trip.
The views are incredible and you get a chance to see some amazing wildlife on this trail! It’s also great for beginners who want something short but still challenging. There are plenty of places along the way where you can stop and take in the view, too!
SPRUCE FIR NATURE WALK
The Spruce Fir Trail is an easy half-mile walk with a moss-covered forest floor that smells like Christmas. It’s an easy and scenic way to get your heart rate up before heading to Clingman’s Dome, or just enjoy the beauty of nature on your own time.
If you’re up for a challenge, then boogerman’s trail is perfect for you! Its an exciting hike that requires wading through water deeper than your boots, but the sites and sense of accomplishment are worth it.
I couldn’t believe it. My stomach sank, my heart raced and I was left with goosebumps as I locked eyes with a bear less than 6 feet from me!
I had been unloading the groceries and between trips a bear thought he might help himself to a snack; he looked at me then turned around and ran away. I did the same. We were equally scared of each other and thankfully my instinct was exactly what the National Park website recommends you do if you encounter any black bears.
While it is a cool story now, I was terrified at that moment. Wildlife that interacts with humans in any way must be put down, so I want to stress the importance of following the park’s guidelines for your safety and theirs. Thankfully, no bears or humans were harmed in the making of this story.
In spite of my near-death encounter I was still eager to see some wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains; from a safer distance of course. As you may have guessed from this story, wildlife won’t be hard to find and these hotspots will all but guarantee some wildlife sightings.
OCONALUFTEE RIVER PULLOUTS
Highway 441, which parallels Oconaluftee River, is known for its elk sightings off the side of the road. Though herbivores, elk are still dangerous, so protect yourself and the elk and keep your distance. While you’re in the area, check out the historic buildings in the Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center
You can purchase a birding guide that contains a map of all the known birding hotspots in the park, a list of common birds, and how to identify them.
- Cades Cove
- Laurel Falls Trail
- Alum Cave Trail
- Metcalf Bottoms
- Maloney Point Overlook
- Spruce Fir Trail