As far as hikes go, hiking within the Great Smokey Mountain National Park was a wonderful and beautiful experience. I didn’t get to hike inside this famous National Park with the famous hazy mountains either time I previously visited, and I certainly wasn’t passing up the opportunity a third time! While staying in nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee we researched various trails in great detail and eventually landed on Rainbow Falls (via Trillium Gap Trail). 🌈
The “address” is Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, TN, but it’s not an exact address, just more of a general area. There are multiple parking areas, which makes it a bit confusing, so we ended up choosing the first spot we found. Parking was scarce, so best to get there as early as possible. We took the first trail we found, unsure of where it’d lead us. It turned out to be a small, easy trail that led to Trillium Gap Trail and a decision to make – Grotto Falls to the left or Rainbow Falls to the right. We headed towards Rainbow Falls. We were completely alone on Trillium Gap, hiking for about a half mile, something that was equally eerie and terrific. We even came upon a herd of wild turkey!
Rainbow Falls Trail is quite picturesque, but it’s also noticeably more trafficked and more difficult than Trillium Gap. Trillium Gap was mostly flat and wide the whole way, and while Rainbow Falls starts out flat and easy, it becomes far rockier and more uphill. Rated “moderately challenging” by the popular hiking app AllTrails, you’re hiking to the top of a waterfall, so it’s steadily uphill for a good portion of the way. A bonus to this? You get to hike next to a cascading creek the entire time. It was a fairytale landscape, even with the heavy foot traffic.
The entire trail is 5.1 miles, out and back, and takes around 3 hours to complete. We hiked for approximately 2.5 miles before asking a couple of passersby how much further the waterfall was, to which they replied, “about another two miles or so”. My hiking partner was not happy to hear this. I begrudgingly gave into her requests to turn around and hike back, but not before first stopping to snap pictures next to the beautiful Le Conte Creek. We watched it flow over the gigantic rocks, the result of the Rainbow Falls far up above that we never got to see.
Side note: We kept coming upon cairns along the trail and amongst the rocks in the river (please see below). Per Wiki, “a cairn is a man-made pile (or stack) of stones raised for a purpose, usually as a marker or as a burial mound“. I was a member of a couple of Facebook hiking groups (before I unsubscribed due to the rampant superiority complexes and location gatekeeping), and cairns are a heavily debated topic. Bottom line, many hikers really dislike them, as they say it “disrupts the landscape” and you’re supposed to “leave nothing but footprints”. Well, they would really despise this trail, as cairns were everywhere and quite unnecessary (the trail was very easy to follow). However, I personally couldn’t care less.
Overall, this is such a beautiful hike and location. I strongly recommend everyone visiting the area to give it a whirl. The hike is easy and completely doable as a morning or afternoon hike, leaving plenty of time in your day for other activities. Seriously, how can you come to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and NOT hike?! As always, I strongly advise carrying protection with you and following basic hiking safety guidelines. Hike smart and remember, take nothing but pictures (or you may end up on a Facebook hiking page as someone’s rant post). 📸 ✌🏼