Okay, we know no one wants to admit it, but summer is coming to an end. Shhhh don’t read that aloud. There’s still time to soak up that glorious summer weather in Tennessee, though. In fact, we’d argue the best hiking weather is yet to come!
We know hiking in the summer can be a sweaty endeavor, but we all probably agree that waterfalls are best enjoyed during the heat of summer. We know, we know they’re beautiful when frozen too, but there’s nothing quite like a refreshing dip at the bottom of a waterfall after a long, hot hike. So, we decided to put together a list of some of our favorite East TN waterfall hikes to visit while it’s still warm enough to swim.
- Abrams Falls
The trail to Abrams Falls is in the beloved Cades Cove section of the Smoky Mountains National Park. The hike to the falls is about 5 miles round trip. The trail is relatively flat and follows along the river. It is rated as moderately difficult.
The waterfall is about 20 feet high and rushes with a high volume of water year-round. At the base of the falls, there’s an excellent swimming hole for the summer months. Hop in for a refreshing dip in the cold water.
Pro tip: If you’d like to avoid the crowds of Cades Cove, you can hike the longer Little Bottoms route to Abrams Falls at about 10 miles round trip.
- Spruce Flats Falls
These falls are also located near Cades Cove in Tremont. The two mile round trip hike is a great shorter waterfall hike. Spruce Flats Falls is a bit taller but with less volume than Abrams Falls. You’ll find the falls nestled among the trees with less visitors than many other falls in the Smokies. While they don’t boast an impressive swimming hole, you can certainly find a place to take a dip, and you can walk up right beside the falls for a great photo op.
- Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls’ namesake comes from the rainbow produced by the mist when it meets sunlight. The 5.5-mile round-trip trek to Rainbow Falls is relatively long but interesting. You’ll catch peeps of mountain views as you ascend. The 80-foot waterfall is the tallest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies, and the hike is best done after a rainfall to see the falls at full volume.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can continue on the Rainbow Falls trail for another 4.2 miles to Mt. LeConte for beautiful mountain views.
- Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in the Smokies that you can walk behind. It’s 25 feet high, and you can try stepping under the flow for a very cold but refreshing waterfall shower. The hike is only 2.6 miles and not very strenuous. It makes for a great afternoon trip, and the trailhead is just outside of Gatlinburg, so you can easily grab some food or explore after your hike.
- Ramsey Cascades
This waterfall is one of our favorites, but you won’t get to see it without putting in some effort. The hike is 8 miles round-trip with a 4,269-foot elevation gain. The incline is relatively steady until the last quarter of a mile, which will make you realize exactly how out of shape you are. The last quarter is basically rock stair climbing, but then you’re greeted with the glorious 100-foot tiered falls, the tallest waterfall in the Smokies. While there’s not a great pool to swim in, there are plenty of rocks to hang out on near the falls.
Another cool thing about the Ramsey Cascades hike is that you’ll go through some of the only existing old growth forest in the Smokies. That means you’ll see some of the tallest trees in the park!
- Bald River Falls
Okay, you technically don’t have to hike for a fantastic view of Bald River Falls since it has a roadside overlook. However, if you want to hike, there are options. There’s an easy 8.2 mile out and back trial that runs along the river. Bald River Falls isn’t located in the Smokies but in Tellico Plains, TN. That means you can take your dog on the trail!
Fun fact: the falls recently went viral when a couple took their engagement photos in front of the frozen waterfall last winter. If you Google the falls, you’re sure to see some of the dreamy photos.
- Bonus: Cummings Falls
These falls aren’t quite in East Tennessee, but we couldn’t write a post about must-see waterfalls without including it. You’ve never seen a more perfect swimming hole. In fact, it’s been featured on several “America’s Best Swimming Hole” lists. That’s right, BEST IN AMERICA, not just Tennessee.
When the water isn’t rushing too hard, you’ll often see people lounging on the spacious tiers of the waterfall. There’s plenty of room to swim below the fall and even some spaces where you can swim under the rocks. Cummings Falls is located just outside of Cookeville, TN. Up until 2011, the falls were on private property owned by the Cummings family; however, today the land has been purchased and declared a Tennessee state park. You won’t want to miss seeing this one!