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National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for the Great Smoky Mountains

Ramsey Cascades

Trail Features: Waterfalls, Old growth forests ramsey-cascades
Trail Location: Greenbrier
Roundtrip Length: 8.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2375 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 594 Feet
Highest Elevation: 4400 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 12.75 (strenuous)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.70267
Parking Lot Longitude -83.3572

Directions to Trailhead:

At the junction of 441 and 321 in Gatlinburg (Light 3), turn to travel eastbound on 321. Drive 6 miles and turn right into Greenbrier (look for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entrance sign on the right). This road turns into a gravel road after a short distance. From Route 321 drive 3.1 miles to a fork in the road. Turn left here and cross the bridge, and then drive another 1.5 miles to reach the Ramsey Cascades Trailhead.

Trail Description:

This waterfall in the Greenbrier area has gone by two different spellings. Historically, the park used to spell the name as "Ramsay". However, in more recent publications, and on their website, the park is now spelling it as "Ramsey". The revised version properly reflects the correct spelling, since the cascades are named after the Ramsey family that once lived in this area.

The Ramsey Cascades Trail gains 2375 feet in elevation over its 4-mile course, and is considered to be a moderately strenuous hike. Despite this, however, the trail is still very popular, and you should expect to see a fair amount of hikers along the trail and at the falls during peak tourist seasons.

ramsey-cascadesThe beginning of the Ramsey Cascades Trail follows the remnants of an old gravel road. Roughly 1.5 miles from the trailhead you'll reach an old traffic circle, which marks the end of the old roadway you've been following to this point. This location also marks the junction with the old Greenbrier Pinnacle Trail, which used to lead hikers to the top of Greenbrier Pinnacle where an old fire tower once stood. However, the trail is now overgrown and is no longer maintained by the park. From here the Ramsey Cascades Trail continues towards the east as a narrow footpath.

Soon hikers will enter the largest old-growth forest remaining in the national park. One of the primary reasons the park was created was in response to the damage being done to the ancient forests by the logging industry. This forest was one of the few to remain mostly unscathed. Some of the trees along the trail are among the largest known in the park. Over the last 2 miles hikers will pass through an old-growth hardwood forest that includes large tuliptrees, eastern hemlock, basswoods, silverbells, and yellow birches.

The trail follows the Ramsey Prong of the Little Pigeon River, which drains off of 6621-foot high Mount Guyot, the second highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains. There are countless waterfalls and rapids that line the stream, which are intermittingly interrupted by cool clear pools of water.

Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park, as well as one of the most spectacular. Water drops 100 feet over rock outcroppings and collects in a small pool where numerous salamanders are often found.

The park website warns that hikers shouldn't attempt to climb rocks near the falls, as several people have been killed trying to do so. One other caution for hikers during the summer months: watch out for hornets' nests hanging over the trail at roughly eye level, and looking like large gray paper balls.