Trail: Rainbow Falls Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Mountain Trail, Extremely Rocky
Distance: 5.4 miles
Time: 4 hours
Foot Traffic: Crowded
Restrooms: Rainbow Falls Trail Parking Area (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Waterfall, Streams, Footbridges, Scenic Views
Rainbow Falls Trail Trailhead
From Gatlinburg: At traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail/Airport Road. Drive half a mile and merge onto Cherokee Orchard Road. Stay right at the split in the road and follow the sign toward Motor Nature Trail. From this point, drive 2.7 miles to the Rainbow Falls Trail parking area. The trailhead is on the right side of the parking lot. If the parking area is full, keep driving to the next parking area and walk back.
Illegally Parked Cars | Rainbow Falls Trailhead | Photo: Marc Bowman
IMPORTANT: Rainbow Falls Trail is an extremely popular trail. There are numerous parking spaces at the trailhead, but it is crowded. When the parking spaces are full, many hikers park next to the narrow road, sometimes in the road. However, parking outside the designated areas is illegal and it blocks traffic. On a recent drive we took the above photo. Please be considerate of others and do not park in a way that blocks this very narrow road.
Rainbow Falls Trail | Restrooms | Photo: Marc Bowman
Restrooms are located at the Rainbow Falls Trail parking area.
Rainbow Falls Trail Description
One hundred twenty-five yards from the trailhead, Trillium Gap Trail crosses Rainbow Falls Trail. At this point, the trail begins a steady ascent up the mountain next to LeConte Creek. The elevation change over the next 2.7 miles is more than 1,500 feet and this can be a challenge for inexperienced hikers.
Rainbow Falls Trail | Great Smoky Mountains National Park
In addition to the elevation change, the trail is exceptionally rocky. Rainbow Falls Trail is most likely the rockiest of all the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The elevation change and the rocky nature of the trail make this a “strenuous” hike. If you choose to hike the additional 4 miles to the Mt. LeConte summit, expect an even more difficult hike.
IMPORTANT: Hiking enthusiasts know the importance of proper footwear, especially on a rocky trail. If you classify yourself as an inexperienced hiker, I am speaking to you. PLEASE buy a good pair of hiking boots or shoes with ankle support before hiking this trail. If you choose to hike this trail in tennis shoes, sandals, or flip flops, you might not be able to walk afterwards. You have been warned.
The wildflowers on Rainbow Falls Trail are amazing in the spring. The 80’ tall waterfall is spectacular after a long, steady rain. Rainbow Falls derives its name from the rainbow sometimes visible in its mist on sunny days. Rainbow Falls is also the highest single-drop waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The National Park Service indicates that black bears frequent the Rainbow Falls area. If you see a black bear while on the trail, you need to be prepared.
RELATED: What to Do If You Encounter a Black Bear
Nearby Points of Interest
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is just a few hundred yards further up Cherokee Orchard Road. Gatlinburg is a great place to explore mountain city life.