Gatlinburg Visitors Can See Five Waterfalls with Little Effort
There are several waterfalls on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that are easy to find and reach, even for visitors who prefer not to hike.
Every year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomes more visitors than any other national park, partly because of the majestic waterfalls created by the rivers and creeks that run through the mountains. On the Gatlinburg, Tennessee side of the park, there are several waterfalls that can be seen with little to no effort. Even visitors with physical disabilities can enjoy the waterfalls, as there are two beautiful falls that can be seen easily from the road.
The easiest waterfall to enjoy in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is The Sinks. This waterfall is visible from Little River Road and has an ample parking area directly beside it. In the summer months, The Sinks is a popular swimming hole. It is not uncommon to see adventurous tourists jumping from the rocks beside the fall into the reservoir below. However, this activity is not endorsed by the National Park Service.
Meigs is located close to The Sinks on Little River Road, about 13 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It is also visible from the road—but you must be looking for it to see it, as it is several hundred feet away from the pull-off. Meigs is surrounded by the Little River, so it is impossible to reach it by foot, but the pull-off offers an excellent vantage point for taking pictures and enjoying the fall’s majestic beauty.
One of the least publicized of all the Smoky Mountains Waterfalls, Cataract Falls is one of the easiest to find. The nature trail located directly behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center splits about .10 mile from the trailhead, leading to the right for Cataract Falls. The .75 mile roundtrip path is clearly marked and accessible year-round. The fall is reportedly 25 feet high but looks much taller when close. Rangers in the Sugarlands Visitor Center offer maps to Cataract Falls, but the map is not necessary.
The most popular waterfall in the park, Laurel Falls, is located on Little River Road only 3 miles west of the Sugarland’s Visitor Center. Mild hiking (2.6 miles roundtrip) is required to reach the fall, and great care should be taken to reach the waterfall in winter when the fairly steep concrete trail at the trailhead ices. Laurel Falls stands at an impressive 80 feet and is most beautiful in May and June when the laurels (rhododendrons) lining the trail are in bloom.
Grotto Falls is located in Gatlinburg on the Roaring Fork Nature Trail. The grotto is 25 feet high and is easily found on a three-mile roundtrip hike. Roaring Fork Nature Trail is a gravel road, so it is closed in the winter months and in cases of inclement weather. The trailhead for Grotto Falls is located at stop #5.
Smoky Mountain Waterfall Tips
Although all of these Smoky Mountain waterfalls are easy to find, visitors should remember to avoid climbing the rocks near the waterfalls, as several people are injured in falls from the slippery rocks every year. Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are advised not to leave valuables in their cars when hiking, even the short distances to these falls. It is advisable to visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up a park map and check weather reports before embarking on a waterfall adventure.