Hiking the Epic Rainbow Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains

There’s something special about Great Smoky Mountains National Park: no matter how many times we visit, we seem to fall a little bit deeper in love with America’s most-visited national park.

If you’re looking for a great way to enjoy the Smoky Mountains on your next visit, consider adding the Rainbow Falls trail to your next trip!

With over 100 waterfall hikes to choose from, narrowing down what east coast hike to tackle in GSMNP is quite the challenge. However, at a towering 80 feet tall, Rainbow Falls holds the distinction as the tallest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies (Ramsey Cascades is the tallest overall) and makes an indisputably excellent choice.

Located near Gatlinburg, Rainbow Falls is a popular, moderately-rated trail that can fit into most itineraries for travelers looking for a beautiful day hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hoping to tackle the Rainbow Falls Trail in the Smoky Mountains soon?

Here’s what to know before you go!

kate storm and jeremy storm standing in front of a small waterfall while hiking rainbow falls trail in gsmnp

Essential Info for the Rainbow Falls Trail

The Rainbow Falls hike in GSMNP is a 5.4-mile round-trip hike located on the Tennessee side of the park.

The hike is rated as moderate, and is mostly shaded.

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You’ll need to navigate over plenty of boulders along the way, as well as cross 2 narrow (and charming) footbridges.

The trailhead is about a 15-minute drive from Gatlinburg, and on gorgeous weekend days, the parking lot can fill up. Consider an early start if you have your heart set on this hike during a popular time of year!

kate storm snapping a photo while hiking in great smoky mountains national park while sitting on a footbridge

What’s It Like to Hike Rainbow Falls in Great Smoky Mountains NP?

Offering the serene beauty of the forest and river, we found the Rainbow Falls hiking trail to be incredibly peaceful and well worth the effort it takes to visit.

This is one of those trails that makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale, as if it wouldn’t be out of place to catch a nymph or an elf darting away out of the corner of your eye.

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We completed the Rainbow Falls hike on a beautiful spring Saturday, so the trail–and the parking lot at the trailhead–were quite crowded.

We had to end up parking about a half-mile away from the trailhead, as the parking lot nearby was full, and saw plenty of people at the beginning of the trail and at Rainbow Falls.

rainbow falls smoky mountains as seen from the side

In between, though, people were spread out enough that we would have maybe one other small group visible at a time, and there were moments we were completely alone with the babbling creek and beautiful forest.

This trail does cross a few streams, and there are signs noting that it can become impassable after heavy rainfall, but it rained all day the previous day and there wasn’t an issue, so I imagine that becomes more of a problem if it has been raining many days in a row.

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Ultimately, I loved every minute we spent both hiking to Rainbow Falls and enjoying the view once we got there, including sitting for half an hour while eating lunch and relaxing on a boulder in front of the falls.

The views and sounds of the rushing water were incredibly peaceful, and I would be happy to visit Rainbow Falls again. 

squirrel sitting on a mossy boulder in great smoky mountains hiking

Beyond Rainbow Falls in the Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is enormous, stretching into both North Carolina and Tennessee.

There are gorgeous mountain towns in North Carolina and Tennessee, and partially as a result of this, there is a near-limitless number of things to do both in and around the Smokies.

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Consider renting a cabin in Asheville for a few days to enjoy NC’s beloved mountain city and the nearby Biltmore Estate, renting an ATV for a day, or stretching your hiking muscles with a beginner backpacking trip by spending a few days on a small section of the Appalachian Trail, which runs through GSMNP.

Other popular hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park include the Alum Cave trail, Abrams Falls, Gregory Bald, and many more–you will absolutely never run out of beautiful hiking in the Smokies!

photo of creek on rainbow falls trail, white text on a black background reads "day hiking in the great smoky mountains"
About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

5 thoughts on “Hiking the Epic Rainbow Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains”

  1. You should explore Linville Falls in Linville, NC. There is also Linville Caverns. The hike can go to the bottom of the Falls or all the way to a mountain top overlooking the Falls. It is quite amazing. Also, the Caverns are a delight. Blind fish in the stream that follows along the trail inside the cavern. It has a great tour guide that makes it so enjoyable.

    • We’ll have to look into that one of these days! We get back to NC fairly frequently because we have family there–such a fun state. 🙂

  2. It sounds like you skipped the best part of the Alum Cave Trail. The second half of the trail continues on past the cave up to LeConte Lodge and ends slightly onto the Boulevard Trail and an almost 360° view at Myrtle Point. The second half is full of breathtaking mountain views and is more technical/fun to hike than the first half.
    If you get the chance to go back, I highly recommend it!

    • Sounds beautiful! Hard to believe sometimes but it has been almost 4 years since we were on that trail… hopefully we’ll make it back sooner or later! We have family in NC so make it to the general region fairly regularly.


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