A beautiful waterfall preceded by multiple creek crossings and endless lush forest.
Trail: Ramsey Cascades Trail
Trailhead: Ramsey Prong Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738: (35.7029559114057, -83.3571624317645)
Stats: 8 Miles – 2,200 feet of elevation gain – Out and Back Trail
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous at the end.
Trail Notes/Waypoints: A reminder that you are in bear country anytime you are in the Smokies. The Girl and I always carry our own bear spray. Also, remember to keep good practices when camping, cooking, and using scented items around bears. We did not see any bears on the hike today, but a couple did tell us that they saw a few bears as they were hiking in along the creek. Just like the rest of the Smokies, dogs are not allowed on the trails.
Summary: Jump here (TL:DR) for a quick breakdown.
The Girl is originally from Knoxville, and we headed down there recently for a quick family visit. While we were in town, we took the opportunity to get in a day hike in the Smokies. We set out for Ramsey Cascades Trail in the Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The trailhead is clearly marked and starts out of the back of the parking lot. There are many creek crossings, and the first one comes early on with a nice bridge.
The first mile of the trail is relatively easy. It is the remnants of an old logging road making for a wide path with gradual inclines and mostly smooth gravel and small rock. There are even a few small benches to take a rest break on along the way. The trail runs parallel to the Middle Prong Little Pigeon River.
At 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach an old cul de sac, which marks the end of the old logging road you’ve been following to this point. This location also marks the junction with the old Greenbrier Pinnacle Trail, which once led hikers to the top of Greenbrier Pinnacle, where an old fire tower once stood. The trail, however, is now overgrown and is no longer maintained by the park. From here, the Ramsey Cascades Trail continues towards the east as a narrow footpath.
The terrain starts to pitch up a few more degrees, and you feel immersed in nature.
There are massive old-growth trees, lush carpets of ferns, mosses, and rhododendrons around every turn.
Roughly 2 miles into the trail you come to your first of two bridges made of felled trees. There is a railing on one side, and the other side is open to a 15 to 20-foot drop to the creek below. Here we spent some time exploring along the creek and enjoying the sounds of nature.
Crossing the bridge and heading towards the cascades, you stay running parallel to the river, but now you are alongside the Ramsey Prong. There are several sections where it is easy to get down to the creek for a quick cooling-off dip.
The trail continues to climb in ever-increasing steepness through a tight column of nature. The auditory experience was wondrous. You had songbirds singing their morning songs, the babbling sounds of the river, and a gentle breeze rustling the trees.
You now come to the second felled tree bridge. The first bridge was slightly wider, less moss covered, had a secured railing, and was over calmer water. This bridge is much prettier but is definitely slicker, and I did not trust the railing to support me. I can see why people might have some anxieties about crossing this bridge.
Despite being out early in the morning, the day was hot and humid. We took several rest breaks, and I used the time to explore the river banks and many of the small cascades.
The first 1.5 miles of the trail were easy and wide open. The next 2 miles transitioned to singletrack and grew increasingly in steepness for a moderate hike. The last 3/4th of a mile most people would classify as strenuous. The trail gets steeper, and you encounter larger rocks and roots with more frequency. This all made for slow going but gives you time to take in the views.
After one final section of steep and rocky terrain, you approach a gap in a boulder that you climb up through and are then presented with the Ramsey Cascades Trail Waterfall. The waterfall is the largest in the park at over 100 feet tall.
A quick word of caution: Please do not climb on the rocks. The rocks are wet and slick with moss, and as a result, are very dangerous. Several people have died as a result of trying to climb to the top of the falls.
There is usually a small wading pool at the base of the falls and large boulders on the other side of the waterfalls. The Girl and I waded through the water here and took a well-deserved rest break on the rocks. We grabbed a bit of lunch and took in the falls.
After about 30 minutes of relaxing, eating, and cooling off, we set back out down the trail. The return trip took about as long as the hike in. The trek back was relatively uneventful. We did see one snake and a salamander. We took 2 hours 10 minutes to hike out, and just under 2 hours on the way back.
We were pretty tired after this hike. Clean clothes and a cold drink felt pretty good after a hot and humid day of hiking.
Summary: Ramsey Cascades Trail is an 8 mile out and back trail. The trail starts off gradually but climbs progressively steeper and more challenging. You will be rewarded along the way by beautiful cascades, old-growth forests, and plenty of wildlife. The trail culminates at the largest waterfall in the Smoky Mountains. Remember that you are in bear country anytime you are in the Smokies, and be sure to carry bear spray.
Check out what to do if you see a bear while hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.