Ramsey Cascades

Top choice hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Image by groveb / Getty Images

One of our favorite hikes in the park, the trail to Ramsey Cascades travels through old-growth forest dotted with massive tulip trees to one spectacular waterfall. You'll need to work hard to make it here – it's tough going, with an elevation gain of 2280ft.

The hike's start is deceptively easy, along a wide, packed trail beside the rushing Middle Prong of the Pigeon River. At mile 1.5 things get interesting (hard, rather) as the path narrows and winds its way uphill over spidery roots and past scenic overlooks of the rushing river below. Around mile 2.6 you'll pass massive old-growth trees that have loomed over the forest canopy for centuries. The final half-mile steepens even more before you finally reach the refreshing falls, which plunge 100ft over chiseled ledges of gray stone. Congratulations, you've made it to the highest waterfall in the park. Don't ruin the moment by trying to climb up the waterfall, as a few people have died falling from the slippery rocks up top. Instead, keep an eye out for well-camouflaged salamanders on the periphery of the pool at the base of the cascades.