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Rainbow Falls

Trail Features: Waterfalls, Old growth forests rainbow-falls
Trail Location: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roundtrip Length: 5.4 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1685 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 624 Feet
Highest Elevation: 4285 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 8.77 (moderate)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.67582
Parking Lot Longitude -83.48527

Directions to Trailhead:

Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. After driving 0.7 miles veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, upon which you'll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you'll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop Road. After driving roughly 0.6 miles on the loop, the Rainbow Falls Trailhead will be located on your right (if this parking lot is full, there's an auxiliary parking area about a tenth-of-a-mile further down the road).

Trail Description:

The first two-thirds of a mile along the Rainbow Falls Trail is a steady climb through a large boulder field. As you proceed through this area LeConte Creek will cascade down the mountain on your right. Hikers will find many opportunities for some great picnic sites along this section of trail.

rainbow-fallsAs you continue up the LeConte Creek valley hikers will cross over two footbridges along the way; one at 1.7 miles, and the other just as you reach the 80-foot high waterfall, located roughly 2.7 miles from the trailhead.

Rainbow Falls has the distinction of being the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies. The name for the waterfall comes from the rainbow that's produced by mist on sunny afternoons. During extended cold periods an impressive ice formation builds around the waterfall.

The falls are best viewed after long periods of rain. If you wish to go home with some great photos I highly recommend starting your hike first thing in morning, or in the later afternoon. During the late morning and early afternoon time period the sun will be directly over the waterfall, which will make photographing a challenge.

Hikers should note that the rocks around the falls are quite slippery due to mist and algae. As a result, the park warns visitors not to climb on rocks near any waterfall. Over the years several people have fallen to their deaths, while many others have suffered serious injuries.

From Rainbow Falls the trail continues to the summit of Mt. LeConte. If you still have the energy you could extend your hike for another 4.2 miles to reach the top of the third highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains.

rainbow-falls map rainbow-falls elevation profile