661 – Ramsey Cascades (TN)

Accessibility – Moderate

Height: 100′

Distance – 8.6 miles (out and back)

Beauty – 8

Photo rating – 9

Solitude – 2

GPS Info: LAT 35.70864 LONG -83.29976

First visit: 10-28-2019

Most Recent Visit: 09-06-2020

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In the world of waterfalls, the term “cascades” usually conjures something that the average tourist would walk past without batting an eye. Maybe an avid enthusiast might look at a string of slides, steps and small drops with no one segment more than 3-4 feet high, and refer to it as a cascade. Hazel Creek Cascades and Sweat Heifer Cascades fit the bill of long, diffuse portion of a creek, added up to a cascade. Then there is Ramsey Cascades, a 100 foot high waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. To call it a cascade seems misleading.

Trailhead Directions: The access road to Ramsey Cascades is located on US321 just outside of Gatlinburg TN. If you are heading toward Gatlinburg the access road is on the left about 16 miles from TN32. If you are heading from Gatlinburg, it is right across from a BBQ joint. The road to the parking area is over four miles and in decent enough shape. There are potholes, some large enough to swallow a small car. The bridges are narrow and the parking is a nightmare unless you are the first one there. This was the case on my most recent visit. I nabbed the best parking spot for my 8:30 start.

The Hike: At the upper end of the parking area a sign marks the start of the hike and indicates “Ramsey Cascades 4.0 Miles”. I have hiked this twice and the sign has been wrong both times. The hike is closer to 4.5 miles and over those miles it gains 1800 feet in elevation. Almost immediately the trail crosses a bridge and picks up a wide, graded logging road for the hike. The lower section has some elevation but there are few steep segments, more of a steady ascent. At 1.5 miles the road reaches a creek and makes a hard left. A sign says the cascades are 2.5 miles away. They are closer to 3.0 miles.

Once the trail starts up the hill, the grade increases and the surface becomes more challenging. The trail is rocky in place and rooted in others. There are numerous steep sections but little in the way of downfall. The trail sees a lot of traffic and it is well worn. A second bridge will cross you back to river left for another steep section that eventually plateaus shortly before passing over a third bridge. You are now back on river right and will finished the hike on this side. There are two more tributary crossings but they are both rock hops and easy to negotiate in normal water flows.

At 3.5 miles into the hike the trail will swing hard to the left with a pair of small trib crossings before swithcing back to the right for another crossing of the same tribs. The trail will move back toward Ramsey Prong, coming alongside 0.4 of a mile from Ramsey Cascades. Shortly after the trail meets the creek there is an opening in the foliage and you can see the creek. At this point it is tumbling over the rocks. However, there is more to this. This small cascade actually hides the 20-foot high, Waterfall on Ramsey Prong. It is worth a look if you have the time.

Once past this bonus waterfall, it is another steeply uphill 0.3 miles to Ramsey Cascades. If you got here early enough, you may have a few feet of rock to sit on and enjoy. You may have to do like I did and take off my boots for a wade to the other side. In normal flows this is simple but you don’t want to venture near the sloped rock at the top of the lower drop when you make your crossing. If you aren’t sure, stay yourself on river right. The good news is, the hike out is all downhill.