Smoky Mountain Hiking - Ramsay Cascades Trail through the Smoky Mountains to Ramsay Cascades Falls

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Ramsay Cascades Trail in the Smoky Mountains


With over 800 miles of trails, 270 miles of roads, and more than 500,000 acres of land, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is vast to say the least. So, just how much of it have you walked?

With all that land, the park surely has its share of wildlife. In all, there are 50 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, 80 species of fish, and 1,300 species of flowering plants. Seven trees of record dimensions can even be found in the park. Have you seen any of these plants or animals?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees nearly 10 million visitors on average each year. But do they see the real park? For most, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the best part of the Smoky Mountain region. Still, many travelers' views and experiences of the park are limited to the main roads, the Cades Cove loop road, and a handful of the most frequented trails. Perhaps these individuals are just saving the rest for another trip? While that's a worthwhile notion, most will simply revisit the places which afforded them so much pleasure during their previous visit.

Despite the park's vast expanse of land and so many historical and interesting sites, finding solitude and discovering the beauty of this national park is not a one shot deal. Rod's Guide is a useful tool in helping plan your visit to the park. Rod's Guide allows you to get lost (figuratively speaking) in the splendor of the park. Here is our take, and some highlights, on the trail to Ramsay Cascades.

Map to Ramsay Cascades Hike in the Smoky Mountains

The Trail to Ramsay Cascades

This 8-mile round-trip hike in the Greenbrier section of the park provides the hiker with many rewards. Not only do you get to enjoy the Ramsay Cascade falls, but old-growth trees which never suffered from the settler's ax or the logger's saw, appear along the trail and tug on every nature-lover's heart.

Summary: This is one of the park's most popular hikes, one trek and you'll be hooked. The falls provide the artist and photographer with an unforgettable scene, and the hiker with an ample reward. The trail begins with a slight upgrade from the start, then becomes more challenging the closer you get to the cascades. The old growth trees are found on the latter portion of the trail. A few of these trees stand at record size. The hike is approximately 8 miles round-trip and can take at least four hours, depending on whether you bring children.

Directions: From Gatlinburg, drive east along U.S. 321 (stop-light No. 3 in Gatlinburg) for approximately six miles. Turn right on Greenbrier Road and travel 3.1 miles along the Little Pigeon River to Greenbrier Cove. Turn left at Ramsay Prong Road and travel 1.5 miles to the parking area. The trail begins at the back of the parking area.


The hike to Ramsay Cascades starts on the south side of the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River. A very long footbridge is used to cross the prong. Once across, you'll pass Ramsay Branch, which flows from Greenbrier Pinnacle on your left. At mile 1.5, the trail comes to a turnaround. The Greenbrier Pinnacle Trail takes a left turn and the Ramsay Cascade Trail continues forward before starting a steep climb.

A primitive stand of black cherries, chestnut oaks, hemlocks, poplars, and yellow birch grow right beside the Ramsay Prong and form a high canopy over the trail. Ramsay Cascades by Vern HippenstealAlong this lower section of the trail, some of the largest chestnut oaks in the Smokies are found. The black cherries and poplars grow to near-record sizes in the park's higher elevations.

The trail then passes through a stand of cucumber trees shortly after the first crossing. Be sure to enjoy these trees in the spring when they are sprouting their bright, yellow blossoms. Before the trail crosses back to the Pinnacle Lead side of the creek at the 2-mile point, the undergrowth falls away, leaving the trail flanked by a grove of tall buckeyes, hemlocks, poplars, red maples, and tall black cherry trees. Thus, the Cherry Orchard, from where this part of the park gets its name.

As you approach to Ramsay Cascades, in our opinion the most spectacular waterfall in the park, you'll observe a winding passageway surrounded by huge boulders. Here, two streams converge to tumble nearly 100 feet over eight stairstep ledges. If you're looking for a place to lunch or set up the camera and tripod, or simply relax, this might be the place.

The graded portion of the trail ends at the cascades ("Ramsay Cascades" by Gatlinburg watercolorist Vern Hippensteal at right), but for the intrepid hiker, nearly one-half mile above Ramsay Cascade and through some dense rhododendron, the trail approaches a creek at a place known as Drinkwater Pool. Drinkwater Pool is the largest of a succession of basins on the Ramsay Prong. Here, water collects in pools before moving on to entice visitors at the cascades. Drinkwater Pool is surrounded overhanging rhododendron above which towers a stand of virgin birch. Many have likely stood in this area as we did and imagined being the first to lay eyes on the site. We were truly blessed to have been able to find this hidden gem amongst the forest!

Now the hike's not finished yet! Above Drinkwater Pool about a half-mile is a second cascade, higher and nearly as enjoyable as Ramsay Cascades. On the face of a 200 foot cliff are more than a dozen small waterfalls. Each is sure to catch the eye and hold it, for they are not aligned one after the other. Each fall has its own ledge where the water pools before falling to the next.

And for those who still aren't satisfied with the hike, the Appalachian Trail awaits above these falls, should you want to continue another 1.5 miles.

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