Smoky Mountain Trail: Ramsey Cascades

Smoky mountain rocky waterfall river flowing in autumn fall leaves nature

Ramsey Cascades – 4.0 miles, beginning at Ramsay Cascades parking area, and ending at Ramsey Cascade, 8 miles round trip

Highlights: Cascades, virgin forest

Cautions: Rocky trail in segments, slippery rocks, {DO NOT CLIMB}

Trailhead: Drive 5.9 miles from Gatlinburg on US 321 and enter the park on the Greenbrier Road to the right. The paved road ends and narrows just past the ranger station. At 3.2 miles turn left at a sign for Ramsay Cascade on to a bridge that crosses the Middle Prong. Drive 1.5 miles to the parking area at the end of the road.

Ramsey Cascades is the most beautiful falls of water in the park. It is also the highest at 105 feet in height. Ramsey Cascades Trail provides two kinds of hiking, easy road hiking along the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River and then a much harder hike, narrow trail hiking along Ramsey Prong. Not long after the trailhead, the first stream crossing is on a long bouncy footbridge where Middle Prong plunges over a huge boulder into green swimming pools. From there you will climb gradually along the old road through cove hardwood forest. The presence of black locust trees just across the footbridge and many small, straight tulip trees throughout the woods indicates that this area was cut over and probably farmed.

At mile 1.5 you come to the old traffic circle and get the first view of Ramsey prong as it meets Middle Prong. The old Greenbrier Pinnacle trail used to start here, but since the park no longer maintains it, it may be difficult to follow. To the right of the Ramsey Cascades trail sign is a three-trunked witch hazel tree at the stream edge, behind it a black cherry leans precariously out over the water. To the left of the sign a tunnel of rhododendron and mountain laurel signal where you start the serious climb to Ramsey Cascades. The Ramsey Cascades Trail narrows and steep in some places but in excellent condition.

About a mile up the trail, you walk between two huge, straight tulip trees, as majestic as Roman columns. Even the selective loggers didn’t come up this far. Just around the bend on the left side of the trail is the real giant, another tulip trees with roots like elephant toes. Ahead on the right are several large silverbell trees. They are small compared to the tulip trees, but they are near record size for their species. Another large tree along the trail is the basswood, or linden, which can be identified by clusters of shoots growing up around the base of the tree.

The trail crosses Ramsey Prong and loops away from it for a while. Suddenly when you’re beginning to wonder just how long 2.5 miles can be and you don’t think you can go another step, you’ll come out on the right of Ramsey Cascades and forget how hard the hike to the top was. When water splashes more than 90′ from ledge to ledge, and the cool spray feels wonderful on a summer day. You might have to take your shoes off to wade across to the flat rock at the base, but heed the warning signs and do not climb on the falls. The temptation to climb the rocks and boulders at the base and sides of the cascades is strong. This is VERY DANGEROUS! Ramsey Cascades is the highest waterfall accessible by trail in the park. Most of the water comes from Mt. Guyot, two thousand feet higher. Hiking time is 2-4 hours going up and 1 1/2- 2 1/2 hours coming down. During the spring Ramsay Cascades is beautiful to photograph when the rhododendron is in full bloom. Be sure to take your camera on this one.