7 Easy to Reach Waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg

Everybody loves a good waterfall, but not everyone has the time or ability to hike miles to see one. That’s where this list comes in!

See what the Smoky Mountains has to offer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with these 7 short and easy-to-reach waterfall hiking trails near Gatlinburg.

We visited them all in one day, but we recommend you spread them out over a few days. They’re beautiful any time of year!

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The Quick List: 7 Easy-to-Reach Waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Meigs Waterfall
  • The Sinks
  • Laurel Falls
  • Cataract Falls
  • Juney Whank Falls
  • Tom Branch Falls
  • Indian Creek Falls

All waterfall hikes on this list are no more than 2.5 miles round trip, if they even require a hike. Some don’t!

While it’s still free to enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park and drive around, a paid parking pass is now required if you want to park anywhere for longer than 15 minutes.

You can see Meigs Waterfall, The Sinks, and Cataract Falls all without a parking pass, assuming you don’t want to stick around for longer than 15 minutes at each.

The others are all far enough away from their respective parking lots that you’ll need a parking pass to not get towed/fined while you hike to the waterfalls.

Trail difficulty varies from easy to moderate and is noted for each hike.

A few waterfalls are accessible right by the road. Others require an easy stroll down a level trail. Only two of the seven waterfalls require a moderate hike.

Each hike denotes (method of access) / (miles of hike, if applicable) / (difficulty rating).

Let’s get to the details!

Northside Waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1. Meigs Waterfall

Roadside Pull-off / No hike required / Easy

Full single-tier waterfall drops down a rocky ledge in a green forest at Meigs Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Visible from a roadside pull-off, you technically don’t even have to get out of your car to admire this waterfall! Perfect if you don’t have a parking pass.

It’s slightly hidden, set back in the woods on the opposite side of the river. Many people drive right past it. There’s no sign, and the pull-off looks like just another pull-off to view the river.

Download offline maps so you can navigate straight to this pull-off. You still might almost miss it, like we did.

Alternatively, it’s only a few curves away from The Sinks. If you do drive past Meigs Waterfall the first time, just turn around at the Y-intersection before Cades Cove and try again.

2. The Sinks

Parking lot / No hike required / Easy

Water gushes over large stone boulders under a bridge surrounded by forest at The Sinks waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A small parking lot provides access to the viewing area for this waterfall. It’s very much luck-of-the-draw if you can get a spot here. We thankfully did!

If you can do it in 15 minutes or less, you don’t need a parking pass to enjoy this view.

The Sinks are located in a curve of the river and were created when a logging company tried to blast free a log jam in the late 1800s.

The resultant waterfall is not tall but constantly has a lot of volume. You’ll always be able to see a falls here!

Several hiking trails start at this location, but none are required to see the falls.

Take the “No Swimming” sign seriously. People have drowned here for the sake of a picture, and then rescue workers have to risk their lives in the dangerous waters to recover their body.

Don’t be one of those people. Stay out of the river and off the rocks along the shore.

3. Laurel Falls

Parking lot / 2.5 Miles round trip / Moderate

Water falls in two main paths down multiple tiers of rocks at the upper falls at Laurel Falls waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the most popular waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Check out our complete guide for what to expect when hiking to Laurel Falls.

Laurel Falls is tall and tiered. There are two levels to the waterfall: the paved trail leads to the top level and a moderately easy climb down some rocks accesses the bottom level.

Water flow at this waterfall is pretty strong. Unless it’s an unusually long dry spell, the falls will still be gushing.

Parking lots are located on both sides of the roadway at the trailhead, but the lots frequently fill before noon, especially in peak season.

Roadside parking is available in both directions from the trailhead, and you’ll see others walking along the road towards the trail.

Note that you’ll need a parking pass regardless if you park in the lots or on the roadside.

The parking pass does not guarantee you a spot. You’ll still need to time your arrival as best you can to avoid crowds. Bring your patience, especially in the fall.

The trail itself is somewhat paved. I say “somewhat” because it was paved at one time but it gets pretty thin in places nowadays.

Strollers are not recommended, but we saw a few parents trying to tough it out with them. Park rangers won’t let you take a stroller on top of the falls, either.

The few that made it that far stashed them on the side of the trail before continuing to the top of the falls.

This is a long hike for little ones, but they will undoubtedly enjoy playing in the water at the top of the falls.

This hike also has fairly steep grades in places We huffed and puffed a bit. Take your time, bring water, and you can do it, too!

4. Cataract Falls

Visitor Center Parking lot / 0.5 Miles round trip / Easy

A small stream of water cascades down a mossy rock slope in a green forest at Cataract Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A short walk through the woods behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center will reveal Cataract Falls.

Not a gusher like Laurel Falls or The Sinks, Cataract Falls is more of a thin stream. If it hasn’t rained in a while, there may not be a waterfall here at all.

Our first visit wasn’t impressive, despite tons of mud from a recent rainfall, but that’s not always the case.

This isn’t the most impressive waterfall in the Smoky Mountains, but it’s worth the 30 minute round trip walk to go and see.

The trail can get muddy, especially if it has rained a lot recently, but it’s flat and easy for all visitors.

Parking at the visitor centers is subject to the parking pass rules, so if you take more than 15 minutes to see the waterfall, which our experience says you will, you should have a pass.

However, I’d say you’re less likely to be noticed if you go over a few minutes here, since this visitor center is often packed to the gills. I’d rather you support the park and pay the fee, but you could make it if you’re a fast walker.

Deep Creek Area (Southside) Waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

All three of the following waterfalls are accessed from the Deep Creek Campground parking area. This is on the south side of the park near Bryson City.

To get here from Gatlinburg, you’ll have to drive the entire way through the park, up and over the mountain pass. Keep this in mind for timing your trip.

5. Juney Whank Falls

Deep Creek Parking lot / 0.6 Miles round trip / Moderate

A single spray of water falls down a vertical rock face covered in yellow fall leaves at the Juney Whank Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Named for the local who discovered it, the Juney Whank waterfall requires a short by steep climb.

Highly recommend climbing clockwise! It’s easier to climb via switchbacks that way. If you intend to see all three of the Deep Creek waterfalls, start with Juney Whank as it’s the hardest trail.

The falls splash down a nearly vertical rockface and can make the bridge over the falls slippery, so watch your step.

There’s also a very narrow and very steep side trail that climbs up to the very top of the Juney Whank Falls. The portion of it we saw was small footholds cut into the slope to create dirt steps. We opted to skip it since it was already slick enough on the main trail.

6. Tom Branch Falls

Deep Creek Parking lot / 0.5 Miles round trip / Easy

Several small trickle waterfalls of Tom Branch Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park falling down a rocky slope surrounded by green and yellow trees

A multi-tiered beauty, the Tom Branch Falls streams down the rocky hillside and into the side of Deep Creek. This is one of our favorite waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains!

Several benches line the riverbank viewing area, and the river bank itself directly across from the falls is lined with large stones to prevent further erosion and to create another place to sit and take in the falls.

All ages and abilities will find the Deep Creek trail wide, flat, and easy to traverse. It’s a straight shot out and back down the trail from the parking lot, with no hills on this portion.

If you want to see all three Deep Creek Waterfalls, this should be your second stop after climbing up and back down from Juney Whank Falls. The Juney Whank Loop will intersect the Deep Creek Trail and turning left will bring you to the Tom Branch Falls.

7. Indian Creek Falls

Deep Creek Parking lot / 1.5 Miles round trip / Easy

Two streams of water cascade down a sloped, mossy rock face in Deep Creek at the Indian Creek Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A wide rock outcropping in the creek bed creates this beautiful waterfall. Part of Deep Creek, this waterfall is also resilient during dry spells.

The Deep Creek Trail is wide and mostly flat up to the bridge that crosses Deep Creek. If doing all three Deep Creek waterfalls, you should have started with Juney Whank and already passed Tom Branch Falls before reaching the bridge.

Once the Deep Creek trail crosses the creek, there are a couple of gradual hills until the path forks. The Indian Creek Falls are a short distance up the right trail fork and down some stairs.

The viewing area is small but can be quite peaceful in the late afternoons or early mornings.

The most visited park in the entire national park system, Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomes over 12 million visitors every year. The park straddles the state line and lies in both North Carolina and Tennessee.

This national park has free entry, which makes it enticing for visitors from Gatlinburg and Asheville, but as of March 2023, a paid parking tag is required to park anywhere within the park.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, another national park service maintained property, begins near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the south side of the park.

That being said, roadways within the park can get backed up and trails can get crowded during peak season. Weekends are generally busy spring through fall; even weekdays get busy in the summer.

Be patient. A parking spot will reveal itself. Let someone else out so you can take the spot.

Plan your activities knowing that you’ll get stuck in traffic for a half hour or get behind a slow-moving RV or truck. Think of it as an opportunity to enjoy the scenery.

How Long Does It Take to See the Waterfalls?

A couple of the waterfalls are visible from the road or a parking lot right next to the main road. Spend as little as 5 minutes for a picture or longer if you want to sit and enjoy the falls.

Waterfalls that require a hike all have someplace to sit and relax once you reach the falls. Hiking times will vary based on fitness level and if your party includes little ones or elders.

Start no later than mid-morning and go until sundown, and it’s possible to see all 7 waterfalls in one day. Just be sure to pack a lunch so you don’t waste time leaving and returning to the park.

Or, break it up by location: see the northern waterfalls one day and the southern waterfalls another. There’s nothing wrong with seeing the best waterfalls in the Smokies over a long, relaxing weekend.

STEAL THESE ITINERARIES: Waterfall Adventures in the Smokies

The most time-consuming part of any trip: planning out the trip itinerary. So, we did the hard part for you! Pick one or two itineraries that best suit your traveling needs, and you’re ready to go explore!

Whether you want to see all the easy-to-reach waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in one day, or you want to space it out over several days, we’ve got you covered.

Itinerary 1 – See ALL the Waterfalls in One Day

Go-getters will understand. Sometimes you just want to do it all in one day. In this case, it’s totally doable without killing yourself because we purposefully are only discussing the easy-to-reach waterfalls.

From Gatlinburg, visit the 7 easiest-to-reach waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains in the following order for efficiency:

  1. Meigs Falls
  2. The Sinks
  3. Laurel Falls
  4. Cataract Falls
  5. Juney Whank Falls
  6. Tom Branch Falls
  7. Indian Creek Falls

Drive out to Meigs Falls first, and then begin stopping at each waterfall in the order listed. Coming from Gatlinburg, you’ll pass Cataract Falls, Laurel Falls, and The Sinks before you get to Meigs Falls. That’s fine.

You’ll reduce the amount of time stuck in traffic if you do it this way. Fighting Creek Gap Road backs up at the intersection with US 441. You will inevitably have to sit in traffic here.

If you’re staying on the south side of the national park, visit in this order:

  1. Juney Whank Falls
  2. Tom Branch Falls
  3. Indian Creek Falls
  4. Cataract Falls
  5. Laurel Falls
  6. The Sinks
  7. Meigs Falls

When you finish at Meigs Falls, there’s a good chance it’ll be faster to exit the park at the Townsend entrance and take US 321 back to US 441 through Gatlinburg and then through the park to the south side, rather than turning around and taking Little River Gorge Road/Fighting Creek Gap Road back the way you came.

Pro Tip: Beware directions taking you back to your point of origin via US 129 on the west side of the park. This section of US 129 is known as “the Tail of the Dragon.”

It’s an incredibly curvy, winding route, beloved by motorcyclists and others, but your worst nightmare if you get car sick or are a nervous driver. Take the extra time and go back through the park on US 441 if you’re unsure.

And again, trust me on the order of the Deep Creek Waterfalls: Juney Whank, Tom Branch, and Indian Creek. You absolutely want to take the clockwise route up to Juney Whank. Believe it or not, it is the less steep option.

This itinerary will take all day but is doable if you start no later than mid-morning and pack a lunch to eat in the park.

Itinerary 2 – Deep Creek Waterfalls

The Deep Creek Waterfalls are Juney Whank, Tom Branch, and Indian Creek.

The Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is isolated from the rest of the park and accessed from Bryson City. Coming from Gatlinburg, drive south through the park, exit the park at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and drive west to Bryson City.

The Deep Creek waterfalls are all accessed from the same parking lot at the back of the Deep Creek campground, located inside the boundaries of the national park.

Pro Tip: Beware the directions, even from Google Maps. Take the slightly longer route through Bryson City and approach the Deep Creek campground and trail parking lot from the south.

If the directions show approaching the Deep Creek parking lot from the east, it’s taking you on a very narrow dirt road in the hills. That dirt road is passable, albeit with a few large holes, but also not great for larger vehicles or RVs.

It’s easiest to make this itinerary its own day trip adventure. Visit the Deep Creek area waterfalls but then also explore Bryson City and the town of Cherokee before heading back to Gatlinburg.

Bryson City has many great local restaurants and is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

The town of Cherokee and a portion of the land on the southeast corner of the park is actually Cherokee Nation reservation lands. Stop at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and learn about the Cherokee people and their history in the area before Europeans showed up.

Itinerary 3 – Minimal Hiking Required

Sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy to hike up and down steep hills, regardless of how short the hike may be. Or, perhaps you just don’t like hiking at all.

Either way, this itinerary is perfect for those that need quick stops and little to no hills to climb to see great waterfalls. Choose an option that best suits your needs.

Option A is the north side of the park. Cataract Falls is a short, flat walk behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and the other two are easy pull-offs from the main road before reaching the Cades Cove area on the west side of the park.

Option A

  1. Cataract Falls
  2. The Sinks
  3. Meigs Falls

Option B is the south side of the park. Both falls are on the side of the Deep Creek Trail, a wide gravel/dirt path that also allows bikes.

There is a small hill on the way to Indian Creek Falls, but it’s a gentle incline. Kids will have no trouble with it, and neither will elders that take their time.

Option B

  1. Tom Branch Falls
  2. Indian Creek Falls

Option C is for go-getters that want to see it all but may have mobility constraints. It’s important to start this early in the day to allow enough time to drive between Cataract Falls and Tom Branch Falls, about a 1hr drive through the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Option C

  1. Meigs Falls
  2. The Sinks
  3. Cataract Falls
  4. Tom Branch Falls
  5. Indian Creek Falls

Enjoy these 7 easy to reach waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains on your next trip to Gatlinburg or Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

More Western North Carolina Travel Ideas

Happy travels!

Headshot of Rachel Means at Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountains

About the Author: Rachel Means

With six-figure student loan debt and only 10 PTO days per year, Rachel started traveling the world. A decade later, she’s paid off her loans, changed careers, and been to 38 US states and 17 countries. She’s an expert at planning and budgeting for travel and loves to help others do it, too! Read her full story here.

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7 Easy to Reach Waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg7 Easy to Reach Waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg