The greater Knoxville area has several waterfalls that make the perfect daytrip. We’re here to tell you how to make it happen with Knoxville as “home base”!
After a restful night in your hotel, the aromas of roasted coffee beans and bacon await. Your hotel might have breakfast, but if it doesn’t or you want a culinary jolt to your day – we’ve got a few suggestions up our sleeves. Assess the fam, what are they hungry for? For a classic breakfast with a twist, Scrambled Jakes in Rocky Hill is a great choice. Allow yourself to be tempted by their ginormous cinnamon rolls and freshly squeezed orange juice, or opt for a healthy choice and try a ‘scrambler’. An option in the beautiful neighborhood of Sequoyah Hills is The Plaid Apron. Should you visit in the spring, this is a great choice since you can enjoy a Dogwood Trail on the way. Expect offerings from Chef Drew McDonald to change frequently, so check out their menu before a visit. Find more breakfast options and brunch picks (for the late risers) here, and for the no-nonsense people who just want a coffee thank you, go here.
Full and in high spirits, it’s time to hit the road! Take your pick of location and skill level, and do your thing. Knoxville will be waiting for you!
1. Grotto Falls
We'll start our set in the heart of waterfall wonderland, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park . Set out from the parking area on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail down the Trillium Gap Trail into a beautiful hemlock grove. For a mile, hike through a mature forest of beeches, silverbells, and maples frequented by park visitors, Pileated Woodpeckers, and llamas carrying supplies up to LeConte Lodge . After the first stretch you'll hear the steadily growing rumble of Roaring Fork, which travels from Mt. LeConte down to the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River . A straight stretch of downhill takes you to Grotto Falls. With only about a mile of pretty easy hiking, you can access this quintessentially Appalachian waterfall, and the only waterfall in the Smokies that you can actually (read: safely) walk behind.
2. Ramsey Cascades
An hour away from Grotto Falls via Gatlinburg is another mature forest and one of the best retreats in the Smokies on a hot, summer day. From the parking lot , start along an old road bed on this moderately difficult hike, and you'll eventually curve away onto a more rugged (but still very discernible) trail where you'll be greeted by large tulip trees, hemlocks, and big black cherries—some of the largest trees in the park! You'll also meet up with Ramsey Prong, which will be your babbling, gurgling, surging companion for almost the entirety of the remaining hike.
After a pretty steep final climb, the trail ends at Ramsey Cascades, a 90-foot high roar of whitewater. Soak up the sun and the gentle spray on the wide stone ledge located right next to the trail before heading back. The hike is 8 miles roundtrip.
3. Abrams Falls
An easy, wide trail follows Abrams Creek for a short 2.5 mile hike to perhaps the most frequented waterfall in the park. Only 20 feet high, the falls are popular not for their height but for the sheer volume of water that pours over them, as well as for the refreshing 100-ft wide pool at the bottom of the cascades popular amongst summertime hikers. Bring a lunch and relax on the rocks near the pool or climb above the falls via a steep access point in the wooded area to the left and wade amongst the small rapids and pools there. Be aware though: there have been some deaths in this area from drowning and pneumonia. Always be cautious to swim, climb, and explore within your scope, and take along a buddy!
4. Bald River Falls
Let's head away from the Smokies now to explore a favorite among motor tourists: Bald River Falls. We covered its majesty and grandeur in our Tellico Plains and Fort Loudoun Adventures post, but it bears repeating that this is a truly spectacular waterfall. Nestled in the Cherokee National Forest between the Smokies and the Chattahoochee NF, the falls are accessible and easily visible from the road, but if you're looking to get out and stretch your legs, there's a lovely and often deserted trail accessible from the parking lot that follows Bald River upstream for a few miles through thick greenery and a few fun little rock scrambles.
5. Wildcat Falls
Contrasted against the easy, roadside access of Bald River Falls, Wildcat Falls in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness makes you journey pretty deep into the woods for its cascading spectacle and refreshing plunging pools. This multi-tiered waterfall requires a steep hike down into the valley of Slickrock Creek, but we don't think you'll mind its arduousness, because it's one of the most beautiful and pristine areas in East Tennessee (though technically you'll be walking the Tennessee-North Carolina boarder at one point). If you're just looking to reach the falls, you can opt for the longer, more gradual descent via Stiff-Knee and Slickrock Trail or descend via Big Stack Gap and Foderstack, where you'll climb down (and eventually have to climb back up) 1500 ft in 1.8 miles. But we recommend doing the full 12-mile loop as described in this destination post to fully experience this landmark wilderness. The loop makes a perfect overnighter for weekend warriors looking for a less-congested alternative to the Smokies.
Central Filling Station
When you come back in the afternoon, hit the showers and get ready for drinks and dinner. If you’ve got kids in tow, you’d be surprised how family-friendly the breweries on Knoxville’s Ale Trail are. Schulz Brau is a good pick since who doesn’t want to have drinks in a castle (and movies in the biergarten)? And it’s within walking distance of Central Filling Station, a food truck park with enough dinner choices for everyone. If you haven’t gotten a chance to explore SoKno yet, cross the river and get you some Alliance Brewing Co. Pizza is literally waiting for you across the street at South Coast Pizza!
We know you’re exhausted after a full day of hiking, eating, and waterfall-chasing. But don’t forget, you don’t have to be in the car for hours to explore – head to Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, grab a bite downtown, and take in our arts and culture scene. It’s all what makes Knoxville a nature-loving-adventure-seeking-artsy-kinda-town!
Written by Logan Mahan for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.