Unforgettable Sites In The Great Smoky Mountains

Alone with the sounds of running water in Alum Cave Trail

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This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

After months of being cooped up in the house, I needed the mountains more than ever, and the Great Smoky Mountains was this wildlife and landscape photographer’s dream come true. Endless waterfalls, wildlife, mountains, and lush green forests all for the low, low price of free since Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not charge an entrance fee.

Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the United States and is infamous for it’s vibrant fall colors.  Those flocking to the park in the fall are missing out on the cascading waterfalls, lush green plants, and animal life found during the spring and summer months. If you are looking for a budget, COVID friendly, year-round adventure, then this is the guide for you!

Waterfalls In the Great Smoky Mountains


Deep Creek Trail

Location: Bryson City, North Carolina, Distance: 2.5 Miles, Difficulty: Easy

In just 2.5 short miles, this nature trail leaves nothing to be desired as you follow along the creek and listen to the sounds of its three cascading waterfalls.

Abrams Falls Hike

Location: Cades Cove, Distance: 4.5 Miles, Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Graveyard Fields Trail

Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Distance: 2-5 miles, Difficulty: Hard

The hike isn’t physically hard, but it is unmarked and unkempt so be prepared to get lost and traverse some interesting terrain. Looking at this picture, I think it’s safe to say the views are worth the effort.

Grotto Falls

Location: Roaring Fork Motor Trail, Distance: 3 Miles, Difficulty: Moderate

Cool off in the mist as you walk behind this natural wonder.

Long shutter speed creates flowy water look at Grotto Falls
Small waterfall on Boogerman Trail in Catalooche Valley, North Carolina

Caldwell Fork Falls

Location: Cataloochee Valley Horse Trail, Distance: 1/2 mile, Difficulty: Easy

It’s only a half-mile out and back hike to see this beauty, but you can continue to the Boogerman Loop for a more challenging 7-mile hike.

Smoky Mountain Water Falls You Can Drive To

Mingo Falls

Location: 6 Miles NE of Mingus Mill

At 120 feet tall, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Tall thin waterfall splashes onto rocks and deadwood at its base
Roots of  a tree at the base of Cataract Falls

Cataract Falls

Location: Natural Trail at Sugarlands Visitor Center

Soco Falls

Location: Blue Ridge Parkway


Sun Rays Shining Through Dense Trees at Soco Falls
Small flowing falls of Laurel Creek

Laurel Creek

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.

Motor Trails

Cades Cove

Cades Cove receives rave reviews online and is one of the Smoky Mountains’ most prominent attractions for good reason. The area is known for its historic cabins built in the late1800s and early 1900s and abundant wildlife.

John P Cable Grist Mill - Great Smoky Mountains
Golden Hour silhouette in the Great Smoky Mountains


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


You’re missing out if you don’t visit this secluded loop which contains some of the most serene, breath-taking views in the park.

Tranquil stream in the Great Smoky Mountains

Hiking Trails


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.

Alone with the sounds of running water in Alum Cave Trail
Tranquil Trails


This pit stop on the way to Clingman’s Dome is an easy half-mile walk with a moss-covered forest floor that smells like Christmas.


A challenging hike that requires wading through water deeper than your boots, but the sites and sense of accomplishment are worth it.

Winding Hiking Path of the Great Smoky Mountains


It happened, my greatest fear, I came face to face with a bear. I kid you not; while unloading the car a bear arrived between trips hoping to help himself to a snack from the car and we were within six feet of each other when I noticed him. We were equally scared of each other and each slowly backed away; 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.

Great Blue Heron Catches a Fish for Dinner


The Smokies dense forest makes it difficult to spot wildlife, so the easiest way to catch a glimpse of those majestic creatures is in one of the few open fields. Cades Cove is a one-way road circling an open field which makes it a prime location for spotting wildlife. In a single day I saw, a baby deer and his momma, two bears, a turkey, a heron, and several birds.


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

Adult Male Elk
Small Pine Warbler Bird


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

Equipment Used


Great Smoky Mountains In of a stream in a green forest Pin

Author Bio

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Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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