Ramsey Cascades Trail: Smoky Mountain Waterfall Hike

Welp. I found my sweet spot.

My hiking sweet spot, that is. And I don’t mean location. I’m talking distance.

After nearly two months of life in Tennessee – hiking lotsa trails of various lengths – I’ve discovered that 8-mile hikes are juuuuuuust right, in that Goldie Locks-esque sort of way.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me a shorter hike. They’re ideal to get the heart rate up and enjoy some time outdoors – preferably with a waterfall or sweeping mountain view. But y’all, I also love a challenge and feel like I’m stretching myself around that 8-mile mark.

When I learned that the hike to Ramsey Cascades in the Smoky Mountains is exactly 8 miles roundtrip, I cheered. (Silently, but still.) I also bumped it to the top of my hiking list and made it happen that same weekend.

Driving to Ramsey Cascades Trailhead

Now, I gotta warn ya. Driving to the trailhead is torture for the last 20 minutes or so. That’s how long it took me from SR 321 to the parking area, thanks to a narrow gravel road, pitted with jumbo-sized potholes that plagued me about every 10 yards. Oyyy.

Parking my car felt like an accomplishment.

Ramsey Cascades Hike

And then came the hike. It started with a gradual, sorta rocky incline. Nothing too crazy for the first 1.5-ish miles. After that, the incline intensified with only the occasional level or downward stretch. But mostly, the trail went upward, all rooted and rocky – and sweaty ol’ me felt happily challenged.

Much of the trail stays close to the river, with periodic views of smaller rapids, two log bridges, and several shallow spots where crossing on the rocks is required.

Overall, it’s a beautiful hike – and, while strenuous, don’t for a second think you can’t do it! Midway to the waterfall, I overtook a family with 5 kids ranging from maybe 2-8 years old, and they made it to the falls about 45 minutes after I did. Color me impressed. Also, on the ascent, I passed a couple around the age of 70 making their way back down with backpacks and walking sticks. The gentleman kindly informed me I had about an hour left to go – which, converted into my git ‘er done pace, wound up being 30 minutes.

Overall, this 8-miler took me 2 hours and 40 minutes roundtrip (not including about 45 minutes at the waterfall). I’ve honestly no idea what a fast hiking pace is, but I’d guess mine’s on the faster side since the National Park Service estimates the roundtrip hike to take 5-7 hours.

Compared to hiking I’ve done on past travels, I’ve seen noticeable improvement in my hiking endurance level since moving to Tennessee – all thanks to more strength training and less cardio. Get after those squats and lunges, friends!

But alrighty, back to Ramsey Cascades. I felt a combo of relief and awe when the falls came into view.

Several guys were just leaving, so I had the place to myself for nearly 30 minutes. Score. I scurried over rocks, soaked in the majesty of the scene, and took a bunch o’ selfies.

Just before I left, a couple I’d passed on the trail arrived. Then the family with the young kids. As I walked by the young mom, I paused and applauded her for teaching her kids to adventure at an early age. So inspiring!

Ramsey Cascades is a sweet spot for sure. And the 8 miles roundtrip… absolutely my sweet spot for trekking. If you haven’t done this hike yet, git ‘er done.

What’s your hiking sweet spot?

3 thoughts on “Ramsey Cascades Trail: Smoky Mountain Waterfall Hike

  1. Dale Boyer

    My hiking sweet spot is from my boyhood past. Sunday afternoons were my favorite time to hike up the river to a place where a hermit had carved scriptures into the rocks. I have recently learned that the scripture rocks stretch for about 7 miles and returned last year to visit some others. A sacred pilgrimage for me.


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