Hike the Abrams Falls Trail to one of the finest waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains, located several miles from the rolling pastures of Cades Cove.
LOCATION:in the Great Smoky Mountains
OFFICIAL MAP: Trails Illustrated #316: Cades Cove, Elkmont: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Abrams Falls is perhaps the most impressive of all the falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While the cascade itself is rather short, it’s incredibly impressive – and cited as the park’s waterfall with the highest water volume. And surrounded by blocky rock outcroppings and lush, green forest, the views of the falls are rather spectacular.
Be warned, though: this waterfall is responsible for scores of fatalities and injuries. As always, avoid climbing, jumping from, or swimming anywhere near a waterfall, and keep a careful eye on your footing. With caution in mind, this moderate trek is easily one of the most awe-inspiring in the area!
At five miles, round trip, this hike follows a popular and scenic path through the western reaches of the Cades Cove valley. The hike explores a lush forest along the way, and the gentle roar of Abrams Creek offers a harmonious background to the descent into the waterfall’s basin. The Cades Cove area is known for its plethora of wildlife, and the region in and surrounding the falls is rife with flora and fauna alike. Sightings of black bear, river otter, a variety of snakes, and the occasional elk are common. Be sure to pack binoculars and photography gear.
Abrams Falls: the hike
The adventure begins off Cades Cove Loop Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Travel on the loop road is restricted seasonally, so be sure to check the GSMNP website for closures and schedules before you go. The scenic drive along the one-way single lane loop to the trailhead is simply beautiful. The drive scores gorgeous views of the Horseshoe and Leadbetter Ridges to the southwest, juxtaposed by the rolling fields of the valley. Taking time along the route to the trailhead is well worth the effort, as black bear, elk, and whitetail deer sightings are common in this popular destination in the park.
The hike begins at the waterfall’s parking area (view maps and driving directions), located just past stop #10 on the Cades Cove Loop. The trail immediately crosses the first bridge over Abrams Creek, flowing calmly in its north-westerly direction. The loose dirt, exposed roots, and shale skree are an indication of this hike’s popularity and are symptomatic of many of the trails in the Smokies. As the hike closes in on its first mile, tall stands of oak and pine dominate the canopy above, blanketed at their roots by thick swaths of rhododendron.
The trail angles to the northwest, away from the gentle roar of the creek, skipping the creek’s wide meander to the west. At just under 1,800 feet above sea level, the apex of this stretch of trail yields expansive views of the river valley below.
The trail joins the creek once again. The trail crosses a wooden bridge over Stony Branch at just over one and a half miles. The bridge makes an excellent spot for a mid-hike rest beneath the treetops. Streamside views of the crystal clear pools along the creek are beautiful, bordered by small, gently tumbling cascades.
At two miles the trail makes a final ascent. After cresting the knob at just under 2.25 miles, the hike embarks on its final descent into the waterfall’s basin. The path crosses a series of two single-width timber bridges guarded on the downstream side by a sturdy, hardwood handrail. (These structures are often very slippery, so their crossing demands some extra caution!)
The trail crosses the final bridge and rounds a bend at 2.5 miles, suddenly catching views of the stunning Abrams Falls. The enormous cascade drops twenty feet into the pool below, and driftwood and rocks strewn about the waterfall’s basin offer prime seating to catch views of the falls from a distance.
After soaking up the waterfall’s beauty, the hike returns to the trailhead along the same route, retracing the outbound path in reverse. It’s a rolling, mostly-uphill hike to the trailhead, making the second half of the hike a considerably more difficult workout than the first half. The adventure reaches the trailhead at five miles, completing the hike.
Nearby hikes in the Smoky Mountains
With enormous waterfalls and view-packed summits, the Smoky Mountains offer a ton of fantastic trails that rarely disappoint. Hike the Forney Ridge Trail from Clingman’s Dome to the stunning stretches of Andrews Bald, catching views from a grassy bald mountaintop. Hike to Mt LeConte on the Alum Cave Trail, exploring the Alum Cave Bluffs, Arch Rock, Gracie’s Pulpit, and the popular backcountry lodge on the LeConte summit. Follow the Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls, exploring the beautiful cascades of a walk-behind waterfall near Gatlinburg. And check out the full list of our favorite hikes in the Smoky Mountains for more adventure inspiration in this ruggedly beautiful stretch of wilderness.
Waterfall hiking safety
Slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall. And, as always, please pack out everything you pack in and leave no trace to help preserve the trail’s beauty.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Abrams Falls Trail Map, Directions & Details
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Free parking is available at the trailhead.
35.591067, -83.852450 // N35 35.464 W83 51.147