Abrams Falls Trail: The Best Waterfall Hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its sandstone ridges, rolling mountains, and rushing waterfalls. If it’s waterfalls you’re after, one of the best trails in the park is the Abrams Falls Trail in Cades Cove, which features a stunning 20-foot waterfall cascading down a limestone cliffside. Here’s everything you need to know about the Abrams Falls Trail, the best waterfall hike in the Smoky Mountains. 

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Couple looking at Abrams Falls from a rock in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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About the Abrams Fall Trail


5.0 miles

Elevation gain

616 feet



Woman hiking up stairs along the Abrams Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee


Unfortunately, much like other U.S. national parks, Smoky Mountains is not particularly dog-friendly, so the pups will have to stay at home for this one.

Permit or pass?

Smoky Mountains is a bit of an odd duck in the National Park System. Instead of charging an entrance fee, like most other national parks, Smoky Mountains is free to enter.

However, to park anywhere in the park for longer than 15 minutes (like, for example, at the Abrams Falls trailhead), you are required to buy a parking pass–$5 for one-day, $15 for a week, or $40 for an annual pass. You can purchase these passes at machines around the park, including at the beginning of the Cades Cove loop and most visitors centers.

An America the Beautiful Pass (or any other interagency pass) is not accepted here.

Woman smiling with a parking tag for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennesee

Time needed for the Abrams Falls Hike

Two and a half to four hours

Trail map

How to Get to Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls is located here in the Cades Cove section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, about an hour and 20 minutes from Gatlinburg, an hour and 10 minutes from Pigeon Forge, or an hour and 20 minutes from Knoxville. 

If you’re not familiar with Cades Cove, it’s an isolated valley, surrounded by the Appalachian mountains, that was once the hunting grounds for Cherokee Indians and one of the first sections of the park that was inhabited by white settlers. Today, it’s one of the most popular sections of the park, with historic log cabins you can explore and an 11-mile one-way scenic loop, renowned as an incredible place to see wildlife.

Couple smiling in front of the John Oliver historic cabin in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

All that is to say that getting to the Abrams Falls trailhead, which is Stop #10 on the loop about halfway through the Cades Cove loop, can be a bit of an adventure.

Expect lots and lots of sloooow traffic along the way—this is especially true if you’re visiting during autumn, when the park’s iconic fall foliage causes the number of visitors to balloon. It took my husband, Justin, and I well over an hour to reach the Abrams Falls trailhead from the beginning of the Cades Cove loop—but at least you can take in the views and potentially even spot some wildlife while you’re waiting in traffic!

View of the Smoky Mountains in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

The trailhead has a pretty large parking lot, but, due to the popularity of the trail (with up to 1,000 hikers a day!), it can fill up during peak times, especially on weekends. Accordingly, I’d recommend trying to visit during a weekday or getting there early in the morning to maximize your chances of scoring a parking spot. 

Alternatively, you can continue down the road about a mile to the Cades Cove Visitor Center, which has an even larger parking lot and a water refill station to fill up your water bottle. From here, you’ll walk along an unmaintained trail along the north side of Mill Creek to the trailhead, which will add about 0.8 miles (one-way) to your hike. 

There’s a (notoriously stinky) vault toilet in the trailhead’s parking lot.

What to Expect Along the Abrams Falls Trail

Almost immediately after departing from the trailhead, you’ll cross a footbridge and notice the trail forks into three paths. Follow the signs and continue straight on the path ahead for the Abrams Falls Trail (the left path is the Rabbit Creek Trail, whereas the right leads you to the Elijah Oliver Cabin, built in 1818).

Woman leaning over a railing along Abrams Creek in the Abrams Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The hike weaves along the babbling Abrams Creek through a dense pine-oak forest, with vibrant rhododendrons in the summertime and thick hemlock near the water. The trail climbs up along a series of three ridges, with gentle inclines and steep descents. This is actually one of my least favorite kinds of trails—where you actually climb downhill on the hike out and have to climb uphill on your return. So be sure to reserve some energy for the hike back to the trailhead!

After about 2.6 miles, you’ll start the final descent along the rocky banks of the plunge pool around Abrams Falls. While the waterfall is only 20 feet tall, the amount of water pouring out of it is incredibly impressive—in fact, it’s actually the most voluminous waterfall in the park! 

Couple sitting in front of Abrams Falls along the Abrams Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

While the plunge pool beneath the falls may look cool and inviting, especially in the hot and sticky summer, do not attempt to swim or wade in the water here. Abrams Falls has actually been ranked one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, due to the number of drowning deaths that have occurred here—so please do not add to that statistic! If you want to cool off, there’s a sandy “beach” to the left of the plunge pool that gets plenty of frosty mist from the waterfall.

On a less grim note, keep your eyes peeled for river otters swimming in this pool—it’s one of the best places in the park to spot them! In fact, the Cherokee word for Cades Cove is “Tsiyahi”, which translates to “place of the otter”.

When you’re done soaking in the views of Abrams Falls, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead. 

Woman hiking along a ridge with limestone boulders along the Abrams Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As noted, the climb back is actually more strenuous than the hike to the falls.

While there’s nothing overly technical about the climb, I’d recommend wearing proper hiking shoes, like these hiking boots for women or these for men, to help provide additional support and traction on the mud, rocks, and roots you’ll come across. We saw a woman hiking in knitted yarn booties on our way back from the falls and she decidedly looked like she was not having a great time—so don’t let that be you!

When to Visit the Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls is open and accessible year round.

The best time to visit is the springtime (April and May), when the temperature is pleasantly warm, the springtime blooms are flourishing, and the wildlife is becoming more active. 

Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

In the summer, it gets pretty hot and sticky in the park, with temperatures regularly exceeding 85° and the number of visitors in the park swells. 

The fall is a beautiful time to visit (September through October), thanks to the cool weather, active wildlife, and spectacular autumnal foliage—but it’s by far the most crowded time in the park! If you’re visiting during this timeframe, I’d recommend trying to visit on a weekday and to be prepared to share Cades Cove and the Abrams Falls Trail with lots of other visitors. 

Pssst.... if you're visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park in fall, you should also consider checking out the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway and its fantastic hikes, like the Crabtree Fall Trail, which also is known for its jaw-dropping fall foliage. 
Man walking along the Abrams Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee

If you plan on visiting sometime between spring and fall, it’s worth noting that Cades Cove is closed to vehicular traffic every Wednesday, from May 1 through September 25, 2024, to allows pedestrians and bicyclists to enjoy Cades Cove without cars. 

If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, winter is the quietest time in the park. Just be sure to bring plenty of warm layers and to check the status of the roads beforehand—it’s not unheard of for Cades Cove to be closed due to ice and snow on the roadways. 

Tips for Visiting Abrams Falls Trail

Visit bright and early on a weekday

Not to beat a dead horse, but Abrams Falls is one of the most popular trails in THE busiest U.S. National Park. If you’re hoping to soak up the peace and quiet of nature along the trail, you should try to visit the park on a weekday and aim to get there early (as in, before 8 AM). 

Man walking along a log bridge along the Abrams Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennesee

Visit during the rainy periods

If you’re a waterfall lover like me and want to see Abrams Falls at its maximum flow, visit during the rainy season of winter and spring, when the waterfall is absolutely RUSHING.

Be bear aware

Black bears are known to be occasionally active in the Abrams Falls area. 

If you see a bear, observe at a distance (at least 100 yards away) and continue along the trail. If the bear starts approaching you or exhibiting aggressive behavior, like making grunting or swatting at the ground, you are too close and should back away, while continuing to keep your eyes on the bear and making loud noises. 

As a precaution, Justin and I always carry bear spray when we’re hiking in bear country. 

It’s no wonder Abrams Falls Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Do you have any questions about hiking this trail? Let us know in the comments below!

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