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
Great Smoky Mountains WATERFALL ADVENTURE HIKES
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.
Location: Roaring Fork Motor Trail, Distance: 3 Miles, Difficulty: Moderate
Cool off in the mist as you walk behind this natural wonder.
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 WATERFALLS YOU CAN DRIVE TO
Location: 6 Miles NE of Mingus Mill
At 120 feet tall, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Location: Natural Trail at Sugarlands Visitor Center
Location: Blue Ridge Parkway
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 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.
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
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.
ALUM CAVE TRAIL
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.
SPRUCE FIR NATURE WALK
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.
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.
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.
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