Ramsey Cascades Trail
The Great Smoky Mountains Ramsey Cascades Trail
With hundreds of miles of mountain hiking available, the Ramsey Cascades Trail is one of the more popular hikes within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. It's not the longest, nor the most strenous, but it is scenic and offers an excellent view of the 90ft cascades at it's terminal point, making it worth the effort.
I was there in the spring time and along my hike I recorded a few photos to share. I'm not a photographer but hopefully you can find some useful information about the trail and come away with a good idea of what it offers hikers, photographers, and other visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Finding the Ramsey Cascades Trail
The Ramsey Cascades Trail lies in the northern portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hikers can reach the trailhead from the northwest by taking Exit 443 (Foothills Parkway) on Interstate 40 toward Cosby, turning south and taking highway 321/73 along the park border as it turns westward, to the drive heading to Greenbriar Campground (south, into the park itself), or approach from northwest in Gatlinburg by turning east on 321 at Stoplight #3 and continuing west to the same Greenbriar Campground drive.
The Greenbriar Campground drive is a mostly gravel road which is narrow but lightly traveled. After going just over 3 miles, hikers will come upon the bridge that leads across the Little Pigeon River, taking this Ramsey Prong Road to the east (left) will lead to the trail head 1.5 miles further.
Hiking the Ramsey Cascades Trail
The trail itself is 4.0 miles long. However, like many trails in the Great Smoky Mountains it is a fairly strenuous hike thanks to the nearly continuous upgrade. For frequent hikers and those who are fit, the hike will present no problem. For others, there just needs to be a good motivation/desire to see the cascades and an understanding that they will need to pace themselves. You don't have to be an athlete to enjoy the hike but time and a fair amount of exertion is required.
At the outset, hikers will cross the Little Pigeon River (pictured above). The trail follows along the Middle Prong rather closely for most of it's length. The sound of the rapids will be present for the majority of the hike. The photos on this page were taken on a spring day when I hiked the trail. The morning sun was bright with the sparse leaves.
Footing along the Ramsey Cascades Trail is generally good. For the first mile and half, the trail is wide and the incline is moderate. The trail becomes a bit steeper and narrower after this point. Tree roots and rocks litter the path.
During my visit in the spring there were small cascading waterfalls coming from the ground above and spilling across the trail, then rushing down to the stream below. (one is pictured here)
Thanks to the time of the year, there was also a nice display of wildflowers. I will include a few photos of those and a number of other trail shots below as well.
Hikers will cross the stream at least a couple of times on narrow foot bridges over the course of the hike.
The final portion of the trail (.5 to .75 miles) becomes particularly steep. Hikers will scramble over large rocks/boulders on the final ascent to the cascades. They will then come to a rushing stream with a small waterfall. After crossing, they will be able to view the 90ft Ramsey Cascades ahead. A final climb up some more rocks, and hikers will have an upclose view, perhaps catching some spray although they certainly won't get soaked.
I've included one shot of the 8 tiered cascades here in the photo gallery below, but thanks to an unobstructed morning sun, the options for getting a good shot were very limited (I'm a hiker, not a photographer.) The boulders provide a great viewing platform but hikers need to navigate their way carefully. Children should be very closely supervised.
Hikers can continue upward to the Drinkwater Pool, but since I didn't continue the hike beyond the Cascades, I can't provide additional information about that.
More About Hiking the Ramsey Cascades Trail
To hike from the trailhead to the Ramsey Cascades and back will take the average person 4 to 4.5 hours. At no point did the trail become difficult to follow and I would consider the risk of getting lost along the trail minimal, but it's always important to take along some water and preferably an energy bar or something similar.
Because of the length of time hikers will be out, there is the likelihood of changing weather/temperatures. Due to this, as well as elevation changes, it's smart to layer clothing.
A Great Smoky Mountains map (with other useful information) can be found via the Park Service. Trail maps are available at the visitor center for $1.