The tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is called Ramsey Cascades. It is a breathtaking sight to behold as the rushing water drops a dramatic 100 feet, splashing off rock outcroppings before finally collecting in a small pool at the bottom. But you'd better be in shape to try to see this beauty. It requires an eight-mile round-trip hike over demanding terrain that gains 2,000 feet in elevation to get to it. But what a hike if you're up for it! Rivers and streams run alongside most of the trail as it cuts through old-growth hardwood forest, much of it this time of year emblazoned with color. A word of caution, though. The National Park Service warns that you should not attempt to climb to the top of the falls and that several people have been killed trying to do so. To get to Ramsey Cascades Trail head to the Greenbrier entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg, and drive 4.7 miles to the trailhead. This is an all-day affair not for the faint of heart. It'll take you at least five hours just to make the hike to the falls and back.
If the mere thought of tackling Ramsey Cascades has you huffin' and puffin' and breakin' out in a cold sweat, then maybe the 80-foot high Laurel Falls would be better for you. Get yourself to the popular Sugarlands Visitor Center in GSMNP, head toward Cades Cove on Little River Road and drive a few miles to the trailhead. The hike is only a little over a mile each way, paved and considered moderate – but don't let that fool you into being careless. There are a few steep sections and a few steep drop-offs. As always, proceed with caution.
If you visit at just the right time, you'll see how this 80-foot high waterfall in the Roaring Fork area came to be named as it is. It'll take a nearly five-and-a-half mile round-trip hike to experience it, but it's well worth it. This is one of my favorites, a tall falls requiring a fairly modest hike. Take Historic Nature Trail from Gatlinburg into GSMNP to the Rainbow Falls parking area.
A five-mile round-trip hike to see falls only 20 feet high? It might sound like it's not worth the effort, but here's what you have to understand about Abrams Falls: It is the most voluminous waterfall in the park, making it arguably the most scenic waterfall in the Smokies. The massive rush of water roars and crashes down to a deep pool at its base. Take the Cades Cove Loop Road and turn just past stop No. 10. There's good signage, so it shouldn't be hard to see.