Rainbow Falls trail is a unique trail filled with an abundance of jaw-dropping views throughout the hike. The name symbolizes the result of rainbows being produced by the misty surroundings of the waterfall that become visible when sunshine is present. This beautiful Smoky Mountain waterfall is mesmerizing with cascading waters and rainbows.
Length: 5.4 miles roundtrip
Duration: 3 hours
Trail Difficulty: Moderate/ Strenuous
Total Elevation Gain: 1685 feet
Highest Elevation: 4285 feet
Scenery: Waterfalls, old growth forest
Hiking Rainbow Falls Trail:
The first part of Rainbow Falls trail is two-thirds of a mile hike through a field of large sized boulders. While going through this part hikers will see LeConte Creek flowing down the mountains, which is an ideal area for a break while giving you a magnificent view.
If hikers continue up the northeast slopes of Mt. LeConte, two footbridges will be available after a mile and a half with another footbridge less than a mile from the first. Once the second footbridge is crossed the 80-foot waterfall is just a third of a mile away. This particular waterfall is the highest single-drop waterfall found in the Smokies.
Though the waterfall is the most appealing part of the Rainbow Falls trail it is also the most dangerous due to the slippery rocks around the falls, caused by the high amounts of mist. Hikers are urged to take caution and to refrain from climbing the rocks near the fall as many people have fallen and suffered severe injuries.
There may be wildlife along the banks during the first part of the hike, so be sure to gaze in the various puddles and pools for other critters that inhabit the area. The falls are set back away from the trail, allowing hikers to figure out tree roots and boulders for up-close views of the drop pool and the secondary waterfalls.
Be sure to bring plenty of drinking water and hiking shoes are recommended due to the combination of trail length, elevation gain and the rocky terrain.
Directions to Rainbow Falls Trail:
- Starting at light #8 in Gatlinburg turn on the Historic Nature Trail/Airport Road.
- Veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road where you will enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
- From there, drive another 2.2 miles and enter the Cherokee Orchard Loop. After about a half mile on the loop the Rainbow Falls trailhead will be on the right.
Day Hiker’s Checklist:
- Raingear – Carry a rain jacket or poncho at all times in the Smokies. Rain pants should be included in colder weather.
- Water – Carry two quarts per person on longer hikes.
- Extra Clothes – Cotton is not recommended in cold weather or at high elevations. Carry clothing that will keep you warm when wet such as wool or synthetic “fleece.”
- Map – A variety of park trail maps are available. Keep one in your pack at all times.
- Food – Carry high energy snacks and eat often.
- Flashlight – A good flashlight or headlamp is welcome if you are caught out on the trail after dark.
- Matches – Waterproof matches are best.
- Whistle – Bring a whistle to signal rescuers if lost. All children should carry one.