There are several waterfalls near Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that are easy to find and access, even for visitors who prefer not to get out and enjoy a Smoky Mountain hike.
Every year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomes more visitors than any other national park. Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee there are several waterfalls that can be seen with minimal effort. Even visitors with physical disabilities can enjoy the waterfalls, as there are two beautiful falls that can easily be seen from the road without ever leaving your car.
The easiest waterfall to enjoy in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is The Sinks. The Sinks are a combination of hydraulic rapids and deep pools. Folklore tells of how a logging train once derailed and plunged into the Little River at this spot. It was never found as the bottom could not be reached. Thereafter, this spot was always referred to as “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 about a mile past The Sinks on Little River Road coming from Gatlinburg, about 13 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center and 7 miles east of the Wye in Townsend, TN. It is visible from the roadway—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 almost impossible to reach it on foot, the river runs swiftly in normal flow, so it isn’t safe to cross for a closer look, 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 in Gatlinburg splits about a tenth of a mile from the trail head, leading to the right for Cataract Falls. The 3/4 mile round trip path is clearly marked and accessible year-round. The fall is reportedly 25 feet high, but looks much taller when up close. A very easy hike, perfect for families looking for a quick excursion from the hustle and bustle of downtown Gatlinburg.
The most popular waterfall in the park, Laurel Falls, is located on Little River Road only 3 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Mild hiking (2.6 miles round trip) is required to reach the fall, and trail is paved/concrete the entire way. Laurel Falls stands at an impressive 80 feet, and is most beautiful in the spring, when the laurels (rhododendrons) lining the trail are in bloom. This trail is wonderful for families with kids, but be sure to keep a close eye on the little because there are several steep drop offs along the trail. Don’t forget your camera and arrive early for parking is limited at the trail head.
Grotto Falls is located in Gatlinburg on the beautiful Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Grotto Falls is 25 feet high, and is easily found on a three mile round trip hike. The trail head for Grotto Falls is located at stop #5 on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The narrow, winding, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail invites you to slow down and enjoy the forest and historic buildings of the area. The 6-mile-long, one-way, loop road is a favorite side trip for many people who frequently visit the Smokies. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. There are several unnamed waterfalls along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail during the rainy seasons. To access Roaring Fork, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg, TN at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. Just beyond the Rainbow Falls trail head you have the option of taking the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in winter). Please note that buses, trailers, and motor homes are not permitted on the motor nature trail.