Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Hiking a Trail Under Construction–Rainbow Falls

Sunday August 12, 2018                                                                               Most Recent Posts:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park                                          Off Road, Off Trail and Bears in the Trees
Tennessee                                                                                      A Trip to North Carolina – Deep Creek

I’ve been wanting to see Rainbow Falls ever since I came to Great Smoky Mountains National

IMG_1013Park 6 weeks ago. But it’s under construction and only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Those of course are the most heavily touristed days of the week.  So I’ve bided my time trying to figure out when would be best.  Today is the day, early Sunday morning.  Maybe everyone will be in their church buildings.  My church is out here in the forest, under the trees, or by the ocean, anywhere in an inspiring natural area.


The Trails Forever Program, which  has done an amazing job in past years on other trails I’ve hiked, is busy working on this one this year.

I’m all alone when I start out on the gravel path though there was one other car in the large parking area.  That there is a second parking lot further down the road tells me how many people must often hike this trail.

Of course I soon start climbing and the gravel turns to dirt.


Le Conte creek cascades down the mountain below me.  The Rainbow Falls Trail is considered the most strenuous route to the top of Mount Le Conte.  It is 13.8 miles round trip coming back to the same parking lot on the Bullhead Trail mentioned on the sign in the first picture.  There is nearly a 4000 foot elevation gain in the climb up.  The first 1500 feet is on the way to Rainbow Falls.  I know what’s coming.


I start seeing some of the big trees I’ve read about.


The trail changes as I go and gets more rugged.  So far, other than at the very beginning I don’t see any obvious trail work though they have been at it for over 3 months now with three more to go.


I’ve been so lucky this summer with the rain.  Lots of people complain about SO much SO often but it’s made the creeks and rivers beautiful in late summer which is quite unusual.  I think it’s wonderful, but then I love water in all its forms.


I see quite a few big trees but there are only a couple I could find a way to do a timed picture with my camera.  No convenient tables for the camera out here in the forest.


Few things more beautiful than a bubbling mountain stream.

I’m perhaps half way along the trail to the falls when I encounter what seems to be new stone steps.  What excellent work.

I think they have really put a dent in or eliminated the erosion I suspect this was designed to correct..

As I hike along, I’m above the water and then next to it.


I come to another set of rock steps.  There are several more as I hike along.  These don’t look quite so new.


I catch a lovely distant view or two.


This is a very interesting trail with so many things to enjoy.



I come to the first of the one log bridges that I’ve seen many times before on the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.




When I saw this,  I really did start to sing “You really got a hold on me”.  The song stuck in my mind long after I was past this determined tree.

An even bigger tree but not the biggest I saw.  I’ve learned that unless you can put a person in the picture for perspective, it’s hard to show the size of the giants.


The Smokies are in many places almost like a rainforest with trails close in and very green.


A bit further along I come to new wooden steps and wonder about the blue thing in the distance.


Turns out under this tarp is a big pad-locked metal box which must contain the tools a group is using to work in this area starting again tomorrow.


At this point I meet up with the first people I’ve seen on the trail.  They must be from the only other car parked when I came in.  Because I’m getting pretty close to Rainbow Falls, I wonder if this mini falls is part of its water running down stream.



Glad I came upon them or I’d never have this picture of me here I don’t think.  We swapped pictures.  They went on to the falls.  I stayed a while to enjoy this lovely spot.


The trail leading on from the little falls appears to be going deep into heavy growth.


At this point there is another tool chest and MUD.  I suspect they may be going to build steps all the way down through it. Great idea.  Hope the feet this week-end don’t do too much damage to the terrain.


When I get to this little cascade I wonder if the Trails Forever team lugged all these big long rocks for us to walk on as we pass by.  How much must the one that’s the bridge weigh?


In the background just to the left of the top center of the picture I can see what sounds like it must be Rainbow Falls.


I zoom in from here.  That’s it all right.


I’m very excited when I get to this point and it looks as though no one else is there.  Perhaps they went on up toward Mt Le Conte and the lodge which I’ve talked about in previous posts. 



This time the bridge is a one stone bridge over the creek.  It’s amazing to me that these stones are so long.


When I get closer, I see my companions are still here and he gives a good perspective for the size of the falls.  At 80 feet it is the tallest single drop waterfall in the park.  The falls gets its name from the rainbow that can be produced by mist on sunny afternoons.  Though I’d love to see that, I wasn’t willing to chance what I’m sure are huge crowds in the afternoon on the chance.  Not sure how common a rainbow is since I couldn’t find any pictures on line of a rainbow here.


This is my favorite picture.  I spent over an hour having a snack, taking pictures and just enjoying this magnificent sight and the wonderful sounds.  The other hikers left shortly after I arrived and I was amazingly alone.


I move about as close as I can get, given wet rocks, for this shot and use my phone because of the spray.


Imagine a rainbow.  Maybe on the rocks behind the falls.


This is just a gorgeous spot here in the mountains.  No wonder it is one of the most popular trails in the park.  I am so lucky to have it all to myself for so long.


People do begin to arrive.  To be expected since it’s after 10:00. Time for me to head back.  I grab this “snack with a view” picture a la John and Pam, send a selfie, as I always do, to Carrie and David.



IMG_1157As I leave, I look back across the creek and the one rock bridge and see yet another tool box with a blue tarp.  I wonder if it’s one crew moving from box to box or more than one.  How wonderful that these trails are being maintained. 

It’s hard for me to leave a trail that continues on.  I didn’t find the climb on the way up particularly difficult and am now wishing I’d planned to do the entire 13.8 mile loop but I figure I’m only half way up at this point and have neither enough water nor enough food.  Next time?

I retrace my footsteps and it is just as lovely going back as coming up and easier.  Does the tree look as big when I’m not hugging it?


They look as happy as I feel.



Lucky lucky me to be here in this place, at this time, surrounded by so much beauty!
Nothing could be more inspiring on a quiet Sunday morning.IMG_1188


  1. Kind of amazing to have that fall all to yourself, Sherry. I know you love the water, but after a time, all those trails start to look the same to me. OF course, that is only in photos, as I am sure that the real life experience is much more unique for each and every trail. I love water, but would have a harder time than you being in gloomy skies for days and days. I need sunshine. One of the biggest reasons we were happy to leave the woods at Rocky Point and come to our west facing sky at Sunset House. Still, it is nice to look at your pictures and imagine the sounds of running water.

    1. There really weren't gloomy skies. This is eastern Tennessee. It just rained a while many days and then the sun came back out. Nothing like the PNW. Every trail really is different. Sorry my pictures seem so much the same. it was a wonderful summer.

  2. What a nice hike. Thanks for bringing me along.

  3. Yes...Lucky, Lucky YOU!!! Beautiful pictures and to have it ALL to yourself...WOW!!! We were never brave enough to fight the crowds...HA!! HA!!

  4. Have to give lots of credit to those folks that are building and maintaining those trails. Magnificent work that nicely blends in to the surroundings. :c)

  5. I can see the allure of those last waterfalls.

  6. What a beautiful trail. Nice that you had so much variety with the rocks, stream, and so many varied ideas for steps. Boy, they are working hard to save the trail. Very pretty falls and so sweet to be alone:) Love the "snack with a view!"

  7. I think our church is the most lovely and inspiring! So nice to be there with you :-) Your bubbling mountain stream pic is really special. Love that the bridge at the falls is one stone - wow! I was thinking about the crew hauling those big tool chests up the trail, then you mentioned the big rocks too! Quite the effort for such a good outcome. Wonderful to have those beautiful falls to yourself for so long. Karma does take care of those who pay attention :-)

  8. We go to the same church as you do, too—and we try to go every day, wherever we are (the scenery varies greatly, of course!). That was another lovely, interesting hike, and how wonderful that you had it mostly to yourself. I think that might be the most beautiful waterfall of all in your collection of summer adventures.

  9. WOW! To have the falls to yourself is such an amazing gift. You are so smart to get early and ahead of the crowds. Wouldn't be near as magical with perhaps 100s of your newest friends.

  10. The Smokies are the most beautiful place on earth in my opinion, and I'd have a hard time picking my favorite spot in the Smokies. Your photos brought back so many wonderful memories.

  11. Absolutely gorgeous falls! So nice to have ut all to yourself. Excellent trail maintenance indeed and everything so green.


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