There are more than 100 cascading waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains. This makes it one of the most visited parks in the Nation.
February is an excellent time to visit to avoid the crowds. However, some of the iconic trails are closed due to snow fall on the roads. For example, the road to Clingmans Dome was closed all month long.
Get the most out of exploring the Great Smoky Mountains by staying 4 nights in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and another 4 nights in Bryson City, North Carolina. If time allows, complete your trip with 6 days in the Blue Ridge mountains for the perfect 2 week getaway.
If you enjoy hiking, waterfalls, animals, and very large estates you are traveling to the right place! Build your own itinerary with our list of places we visited. This article lists the places we saw in the order we experienced them. However, we include some tips to be more efficient and fun.
The Gatlinburg Trail is a 3.8 mile almost entirely flat walk along the river side. Walk to the visitor center and back on one of the two dog friendly trails in the Great Smoky Mountains.
At almost 6 miles long with 1,500 feet of elevation gain this trail is considered moderate. The waterfall plunges from 80 feet. On a sunny day the mist creates a rainbow. FYI: this trail is not dog friendly.
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Best Winter Hiking Gear for Waterfalls and More in the Smoky Mountains
Laurel Falls is within close proximity to Rainbow Falls. Therefore, we did this trail in the same day. This waterfall has two significant cascades with a bridge to get across. Since it is considered an easy hike, it was quite busy especially in the early afternoon with large families.
Unfortunately, it is not dog friendly. However, it is stroller friendly with most of it nicely paved with a slight elevation gain.
Best Camelbaks and Waterbottles for Hikings
Waterfalls and More in the Smoky Mountains: Cataract Falls
The following day we woke up to a snow covered winter wonderland. However, by the end of the day the snow was gone and the trails were muddy and quiet..
This trail is relatively flat on the entire 3/4 mile out and back walk to a 25 foot waterfall. This was the easiest hike of the trip and convenient since it is directly outside of the Visitors Center in Gatlinburg.
The Gatlinburg Trail meets up to Cataract Falls allowing you to do them both at once. However, dogs are not allowed on this portion of the trail.
The next day we took off from Gatlinburg to check out the North Carolina side of the Smokies. There are many outlooks along US route 441. This would be the perfect time to check out the highest peak in the Smoky Mountains, Clingsmans Dome because it is on the way.
Waterfalls and More in the Smoky Mountains: Oconaluftee River Trail
Oconaluftee River Trail is one of two dog friendly trails in the Smoky mountains in Cherokee North Carolina. This was the perfect spot along our way to Byson City.
There is a large parking lot to start your hike across the street. This is an easy and flat 3 mile out and back trail. The trail ends at the old farm village, Oconaluftee Visitors center and museum.
Hiking Waterfalls and More in the Smoky Mountains with Dogs
Bartram Falls in the Natahala National Forest
In a short 30 minute drive from Bryson City is the Nantahala National Forest. The day we decided to take on this moderate hike, the main road was closed for construction. Therefore, we had to park at the Duke Energy lot and take the Nantahala River Bike/Bartram Trail to the beginning to Bartram Falls. That added almost 2 miles to this trek.
Once we crossed the road/railroad we followed the river taking us off trail right from the start. However, we saw some beautiful waterfalls. We decided to turn around to find the actual trail when it got too steep to climb.
There were trail markers crossing the river. Once we made it across there was a steady incline from there. We had to stop short since we were running out of day light. Even though we didn’t make it to the end it was a fun day full of scenery. In conclusion, we will be going back to finish this hike.
Day Trip to Biltmore Estate
Reserve your tickets ahead of time for a day at the largest estate in the entire US, the Biltmore Estate. This was about a one hour drive from Bryson City.
Key tips and takeaways:
- Get an early time spot to avoid crowds
- Arrive 30 minutes early
- Get your tickets at the office and immediately scan the code provided to insure you receive a time slot for the complimentary wine tasting
- After parking near the mansion go straight to your tour (unless you are earlier than 30 minutes)
- After the tour make sure to check out the 8 plus gardens, shopping, and treats
- Allow 20-30 minutes to drive to the wine tasting in Antler Hill Village
- Consider going to dinner in Antler Hill Village
Road Trip Gear
Waterfalls and More in the Smoky Mountains: Deep Creek Falls Loop
This easy hike does have a 500 foot elevation gain at the beginning of the hike. However, with 3 waterfalls in 3.5 miles we think it is well worth it. FYI dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Road to Nowhere Tunnel
On our way out of Bryson City we had to check out Lake View Drive. It is a 6.5 mile ‘Road to Nowhere”. It was rainy and foggy the day we explored, but I assume the views would go for miles on a clear day.
This tunnel/road was an unfufilled and expensive promise from the United States government. However, there is many trails all around to explore.
Unfortunately, you will have to leave your pooch since they are not allowed. We did not adventure out as far as we would have because we already checked out of our Airbnb and the pups were in the car.
Just outside of the National Park you will find this 120 foot waterfall in Cherokee. This trail has 120 stairs over less than half a mile. Therefore, it is considered a moderate hike.
We decided to stop on our way out to the Blue Ridge mountains. However, if you make a stop on your way from Gatlinburg to Bryson City it would be more efficient.
Located in Murphy, North Carolina you will find this gem of an alpaca farm. This is 1 hour and 20 minute drive from Bryson City. However, we had 6 days in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia which was only 30 minutes from our airbnb.
Get your tickets ahead of time to reserve a date and time you prefer. They are only allowing private tours right now to stay safe during the pandemic.
What you will experience:
- lama cutouts with face masks
- beautiful location with mountain vews
- feed the chickens
- collect eggs from the coop
- hold baby goats (if possible)
- feed and love on mama goat
- feed the alpacas
- walk the grounds with alpacas
- shop the gift shop for delicious honey and salsa