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Saved the Best for Last: Ramsey Cascades

Thursday August 23, 2018                                                               Most Recent Posts:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park                                             The Closest Trail to Home: Roundtop           
Tennessee                                                                                        A Bear Bonanza: My Last Visit in Cades Cove

I’ve saved Ramsey Cascades for my last hike in the Smokies for seveal reasons.

It’s the tallest waterfall in the park and possibly the roughest and longest hike to a waterfall.  My 7.5 mile round trip on Roundtop  yesterday was a bit of a prep for this hike which is billed as 8 miles round trip but those who’ve done it, including me have found it to be closer to 10 out and back.

It’s rated as strenuous and is all up hill though only the final 2 miles to the falls is particularly steep and rocky.  The trail gains over 2200 feet in elevation.
The trail begins with a long footbridge that crosses the middle prong of the Little Pigeon River.

It drains off of Mount Guyot, the second tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains,  a beautiful sparkling water way tumbling over the rocks.   Mount Guyot is also the source of Ramseys Branch the stream that flows over Ramsey Cascades.


For the first mile and a half, the trail is an old gravel road running along the river.



After the first mile and a half the trail becomes a typical Smoky Mountain single track through the woods.   It’s rooty, rocky and sometimes muddy.  It travels through rhododendron tunnels.


The trail gets rougher and steeper the further I go.


I begin passing by some very big trees.  Unfortunately the sun is right in front of me at this point.  I later read that this area is in one of the largest old growth areas of the Smokies. 



It’s a muddy approach to one of two foot bridges on the trail. 





The trail is seldom out of ear sound of the water.


Although it is rough and rocky the surroundings seem like a ferny velvety green fairyland.


What is this bright cone that stands out so sharply in the midst of all this green?
I haven’t seen a magnolia in this deep woods and it doesn’t really look like any magnolia cone I’ve seen.  


Eastern Native Trees Society reports that some of the largest trees in the park are located on this trail, including  the second tallest white oak in the park (123 feet), the third tallest red maple in the park (141 feet), and the tallest black cherry in the park (146 feet).  They aren’t labeled so I’m not sure which is which but there are some huge trees on this trail

The trail passes between these two but I don’t think it’s possible to experience just how big they are until you see the next two pictures with me in them for comparison.

Yet another giant on the trail.


A good hiking stick is a must on this trail.


I suppose these stepping stones are for when the trail is awash in mud.

The second one log foot bridge is longer than the first.



Pretty long, pretty narrow.


I find giants on the ground as well.



It’s slow going the narrower and rockier it gets.  But wow the trees!



Yes that is the trail there in the distance.


No bridge, figure it out on your own.


The trail goes right through there.


And right through there too.

Climb over the best you can.


And right through all these rocks in this narrow spot is the destination for the day.

Ramsey Cascades.

It’s hard not to want to hurry through to get there but this is ankle twisting/breaking boulder territory.

Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park.  I’ve only seen one taller and that was Mingo Falls on the land of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.


The water drops roughly 100’ over several tiers into a small pool where salamanders are often found before continuing on.


I am here with this spectacular falls for a while by myself before others join me.  Everyone seems to feel the same awe of the beauty.  They are respectful and quiet.  No one jumps around on the rocks or tries to climb the falls where as recently as May last year someone fell to their death.

Take a look and listen to the falls here.   There’s unfortunate interference from the sun.


I trade pictures with the couple who arrived after me and reluctantly head back down the trail.

Heading down is somewhat easier than climbing up although with the rocks, I have to be careful where I place my feet.  That necessity enables me to see and watch this fellow hopping around for a while.  I think he is a Dark eyed Junco but his tail looks twice as long as his body


Other things seen on the way back not seen on the way there is this great fungus in the midst of a fern field at the foot of its host tree.




I stop to take a look at something and get a picture and when I look down, I have a hitch hiker on my shoe.


I think he may be a type of  Eastern Comma Butterfly.


The approach to the one log bridge is quite different coming down where I can see it from above.


And guess who I find on the hand rail?



Another of my favorite things.


This has been the perfect conclusion to my summer of hiking the waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I have loved every one but none more than this challenging gorgeous hike to the wonderful Ramsey Cascades.  

I only wish David could have come to see both the falls and the amazing old growth trees.  How he would love this trail.   He’ll be here tomorrow but due to his Myeloma can no longer hike something this strenuous.  

Don’t put off coming to the Smokies to hike this trail. 
Right now, it is at the top of my “I’d do it again” list.



  1. You must be very happy to have found all your waterfalls. Quite and accomplishment I'd say. It was fun to follow along

  2. Beautiful area. Miss the Smokies. So sorry David is missing these beautiful hikes

  3. Thanks for taking us to Ramsey Cascade as we never got there this summer;o(( Not sure why we didn't, but we missed a beauty. What a challenge, but so worth it!!! Oh and those BIG trees are amazing...everything about this hike really was spectacular!!!

  4. What a great way to end your waterfall summer.

  5. Very nice falls, I have to admit I might pass with a ten mile hike:)

  6. A rough hike, but those falls more than make it worth it!

  7. I am wondering if the bird is a northern mockingbird- I just saw one on another blog with that long tail.

  8. Thank you for reminding me of giant trees in the east. Glad some have survived. I've so enjoyed your summer of hiking with videos to bring in the energetic sound of the waters.

  9. What a spectacular hike! And challenging, for sure. You are obviously in great shape to do a 10-mile hike with 2200 feet of elevation gain over such rough terrain. Thanks for taking us along on all of your beautiful hikes in the Smokies and inspiring us to follow in your footsteps! As always, I love the tiny beauties you find along the way, like that gorgeous little butterfly.

  10. Beautiful beautiful! I'll never see it in person so this was great. Thank you.

  11. What a rough trail you had to hike, but the falls at the end were certainly worth it. Love those old growth trees, glad they survived for all to appreciate and enjoy. :c)

  12. Those falls are absolutely gorgeous. And, the trees, such stately beauties. I imagine even really good pictures don't do them justice. So sorry Dad had to miss. Looks like a very tough, long trail. Worth it though for sure. I love that picture of you by the falls. A definite keeper that I might like to frame. You in your element.


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