Hiking to Abrams Falls
On our vacation this year, we decided to go to split our time between Disney World and the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. During our time in the Smoky Mountains, we decided to hike to Abrams Falls, which is located in Great Smoky Mountain National Park as part of our trip. I had read about the falls before hand, but was not sure how the falls would actually be, especially since the water levels seemed low. The falls itself is impressive, even though, it is only 20 feet high because it contains a high volume of water that rushes over the cliff. The picture at the trailhead does not do the falls any justice. It was much better than what I was expecting. It was a wonderful experience and very rewarding as we came across a deer grazing about 20 yards off the trail. We stopped to take a few pictures of it before it ran off into the woods.
Cades Cove Loop Road
Directions to the Abrams Creek Trailhead
The trailhead is located on a gravel road about halfway around the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road. For those who do not know, the Cades Cover Loop road is a one-lane, one-way road through a beautiful valley that is full of wildlife. Allow extra time if you plan to hike on this trail because it will take you a good amount of time to drive around the loop as Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the park. Also, it is important to remember that this road is closed to automobile traffic on Wednesdays and Saturdays before 10:00 am Eastern time, so people can ride their bikes or walk the road. The gravel road is marked with a sign and only runs a few hundred yards to the parking area which has a decent amount of parking spaces. However, I would advise you to get there as early in the day as this is one of the most popular hikes in the park and is very busy during peak tourist season. There are restrooms available in the parking area. No bikes or pets are allowed on this trail.
Abrams Creek Trail Details
The Abrams Creek Trail is a beautiful and scenic trail that takes you on a path through the forest that runs along Abrams creek. The trail is well marked and begins at the wooden bridge near the parking area. Even though this trail is one of the more popular hikes in the park, we did not constantly see people as we hiked.
The trail is rated moderate in difficulty, but I would say that it is more moderate to strenuous because of there is a decent amount of elevation gain that is quite steep in places. Do not let this scare you, my 6 and 7 year old boys did not have any problem with this hike. The trail itself to the falls is a 5-mile roundtrip hike and it is well maintained. However, there are a few sections where it does get very rocky so it is important to watch your footing. It is important to either wear hiking shoes or a sturdy pair of tennis shoes. It is not a good idea to wear sandals. Be sure to bring plenty of water along with you. It is important not to start this hike to late in the afternoon, because you very well may not return until after dark. The hike to Abrams Falls and back should take about 3-4 hours. We made it in about 3 hours and 45 minutes, including stopping for about 15 minutes to take pictures and relax by the falls. We also stopped a few times to take pictures along the way. I would say that the average hiker can expect to make it back in closer to 3 hours.
When I was researching this hike for my vacation, I did come across an article from October 2008’s Backpacker magazine that listed this hike as the ninth most dangerous hike in the United States. I want to assure you that the trail itself is perfectly safe. The main danger on this trail is the rip currents near that falls that have led to multiple people drowning there. There is a sign at the trailhead warning of these dangers. In the summer months, this is a popular area to wade into to cool off. If you do decided to wade in, stay in the calmer waters away from the falls. Pay close attention to how fast the water is running before wading in. Also, do not climb on the rocks to get to the top of the falls as they are wet and slippery. People have died doing this as well. The third thing to be aware of is that there are three log bridges that are about 8-10 inches wide and have only 1 guardrail. If you are hiking with children, keep a close eye on them as you cross the bridges. Take your time crossing especially on the one nearest to the falls because it was very rocky below the bridge. Finally, the last thing to be aware of is to keep an eye out for black bears. The previous time that we visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which was a few years ago, we saw several bears in the Cades Cove area. In addition, the National Park Service website notes that bears are sometimes active along this trail. On our way back to the parking area, we ran into some people hiking towards the falls that said that they saw a bear up on top of a hill about 100 yards off of the trail. We never saw the bear ourselves, but it is important to be on the lookout for them. Remember to make noise as you hike to alert the bears to your presence there so that you do not surprise them. The National Park Service has a whole page dedicated to bear safety.
The highlights for the hike to Abrams Falls are first and foremost the falls itself. I have been to Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Niagara Falls and think that Abrams Falls was impressive because of the amount of water rushing over the falls. The best part of the falls is the way that it is framed by the surrounding landscape that is hidden until you come around a corner and there it is. I would love to go back and see it again when the water levels are higher. The hike itself is a peaceful hike through the beauty of God’s magnificent creation. It was beautiful in the spring with all of the different shades of green coming from the leaves on the trees. The trail winds through a forest of majestic oaks, maples, pine, and hemlock trees. I can only imagine what it must look like in the falls when the leaves start to change colors. Another highlight is the abundant wildlife in the area that includes deer, wild turkeys, black bears, otters, and more.
Video that I took of Abrams Falls
If you plan to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, hiking this trail should be on your list of things to do. Abrams Falls is an impressive waterfall especially for its relatively small height. My family and I really enjoyed our time on this hike and the beauty of it.