Caves and waterfalls allow hikers to enjoy the beauty of nature. Because most of these wonders sit inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visitors can enjoy the wonders of nature for free. These amazing sites are great for nature-lovers and budget-conscious vacationers alike.
Below are 8 of the best caves and waterfalls near Gatlinburg.
1. Waterfall: The Sinks
Although most of the waterfalls in Gatlinburg require hiking, The Sinks is one of the few waterfalls accessible by car. These falls are often crowded because of how easily accessible they are, so it’s best to get out early to see The Sinks.
The Sinks isn’t just easy to access, but one of the most unusual waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Before the park was founded, the mountains were logged. To remove a cluster of jammed logs, workers used dynamite on the riverbed below The Sinks. This created a uniquely-shaped waterfall and a deep pool great for swimming.
Swimmers at The Sinks must be very careful. This area has strong currents that have drowned swimmers who swam too close to the falls. Although there’s no hiking around this waterfall, you won’t want to miss this great location.
2. Cave: Forbidden Caverns
These caverns are just outside of Gatlinburg in Sevierville. Some claim that the Forbidden Caverns are the best cave attraction in the state. Hikers can access the cave using walkways with handrail support. Interested tourists may also take a guided tour with knowledgeable guides equipped to answer any question you may have about the caves.
Inside the cave, hikers can view the cave’s calcite formations and impressive onyx formations. This natural wonder also includes hidden niches where moonshiners once hid their distilling operations.
3. Waterfall: Rainbow Falls
The Rainbow Falls is known for the beautiful colors created by the light that passes through the waterfall’s mist. These falls stand 80 feet high, with water that tumbles down a steep face of rocks. The fall’s currents provide an even more impressive showing after periods of heavy rain.
This beautiful waterfall is located on the slopes of Mt. LeConte. To get to the Rainbow Falls, follow the 2.6 mile Rainbow Falls Trail. For those with the time and energy, there are an additional 4.2 miles of hiking trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Leconte.
4. Cave: Tuckaleechee Caverns
After the Forbidden Caverns, the Tuckaleechee Caverns are the best caves available in the Gatlinburg area. Found in Townsend, these caves offer onyx formations and a stunning double waterfall. This waterfall and cave combination offers one of the greatest sites under the Smokies.
Inside the caverns is an area known as the “BigRoom,” a giant and breathtaking chamber. Each year, around 50,000 visitors make the trip to see these astonishing caverns.
5. Waterfall: Grotto Falls
If you want to walk underneath a waterfall, Grotto Falls is an absolute must-see attraction. The waterfall’s trail goes through a small grotto caused by years of erosion and falling rocks. The mist from the falls makes Grotto Falls a great outdoor place to cool off in summer months.
To get to Grotto Falls, follow the Trillium Gap Trail. Because the falls are only 1.3 miles down the trail, this is a great short hike for family members of all ages.
6. Cave: Alum Cave
The Alum Cave is one of the most popular sites near Gatlinburg. Although it has the word “cave” in its name, it is not technically a cave, but a concaved bluff. The Alum Cave Trail offers a moderately difficult hike for visitors. This 2.3 mile hike ascends over a thousand feet in elevation.
Along the trail are footbridges, a formation called Arch Rock, and amazing views. Alum Cave is about 80 feet tall and 500 feet long. This site is an absolute must-see for more experienced hikers.
7. Waterfall: Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hike to the falls includes areas of hardwood forest, amazing mountain views, and a breathtaking multi-tiered waterfall. This hike and waterfall gets its name from the mountain laurel (a blooming shrub) that grows along the trail.
One of the highlights of the Laurel Falls trail is that the entire trail is paved. Although this makes it more accessible, the steep and uneven terrain means it is unsuitable for wheelchair use. To beat the crowds, begin your 1.3 mile hike to the falls in the early morning.
8. Waterfall: Ramsey Cascades
The Ramsey Cascades is 100 feet tall, making it the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This stunning waterfall requires an 8-mile round-trip hike, making it a strenuous journey. Although they falls were once called “Ramsay,” the national park has adopted the alternate spelling of “Ramsey” for the trial and falls.
The hike to Ramsey Cascades is rocky, leading visitors over 2,000 feet up Mt. Goyot. If you plan to see this waterfall, you should be prepared for a long and challenging hike. However, the stunning falls are well worth the effort. The 100 foot falls and beautiful pool provide hikers with one of the best views in the park.