Looking for a beginner waterfall hike for your family in the Great Smoky Mountains? Cataract Falls is a perfect hike to introduce your kids to the wonders of the outdoors!
Read on for more tips for your first visit to Cataract Falls in the Smoky Mountains!
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Hiking in the Smoky Mountains
As with any National Park, before you head out to explore, it never hurts to have on-hand some reliable and trustworthy resources for easy reference.
Here are a few of our favorite pocket guides about hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains:
For more history and information about the Smokies, be sure to check out more Great Smoky Mountains Books and Guides here!
Cataract Falls Trail Information
- Round Trip Length: 1 mile
- Trail Location: Sugarlands Visitor Center (near Gatlinburg, TN)
- Directions: Fighting Creek Nature Trailhead
- Trail Features: Waterfall
- Round Trip Hours: 1 – 2 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
The Sugarlands Visitor Center offers plenty to see and do for first time visitor to the Great Smoky Mountains! From chatting with a Park Ranger, to viewing a short video and touring the museum area, be sure to wrap up your visit at the Sugarlands with a short hike to see Cataract Falls!
This is an easy hike to the beautiful 25 foot waterfall that the whole family will enjoy. The path to Cataract Falls is on the Fighting Creek Nature trail that also offers plenty of opportunities to learn more about the native plants in the area.
How Do I Get to Cataract Falls in the Smoky Mountains?
No matter where you are coming from, you should be able to type into your GPS “Sugarlands Visitor Center” which is located at the very end of the Gatlinburg Parkway. The actual address is: 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
Once you are there, you will make your way to the main visitor center building. When facing the Sugarland’s Visitor Center, the trail actually starts on the left of the building near the restrooms.
Explore Sugarlands Visitor’s Center
If time allows, be sure to hop inside the Visitor’s Center and check out all that it has to offer. From a short 20 minute video, to the museum area and gift shop, you can easily spend an hour inside just browsing and absorbing all there is to learn about the Great Smoky Mountains! (Just be sure to check the hours they are open before you head that way!)
Check out the National Parks Passport Book & Junior Ranger Program!
It’s also a great place to check out the National Parks Passport books or the Junior Ranger Program! Be sure to get your passport cancellation or stamp while you are there!
Hiking To Cataract Falls in the Smoky Mountains
Locating the Fighting Creek Trailhead
After you find the restrooms to the left of the building, you will follow the paved trail down the hill to find the beginning of the Fighting Creek Trailhead sign.
Once you get to the bottom of the small hill, you will see the sign directing you to the LEFT for the “Fighting Creek Nature Trail” and “Cataract Falls.” Don’t forget to take your obligatory trail sign picture to document your hike!
Take a few minutes to check out the other sign there that tells a little more about the Fighting Creek Nature Trail and the community that once resided there. It also shares some “know before you go” tips that are always good to review.
There are some Nature Trail Guides available for purchase for 50 cents if you have time and want to experience more of the nature trail!
On the Trail
Even if you don’t purchase the Nature Trail Guide, there are tons of things that you can learn along the way. There are plenty of little signs that tell you about some of the plants and trees that you will find in this area and also how they were often used by the residing community of the past.
Root beer anyone?
There are also some unique trees you will find. We found some “twin” trees along the trail as well. (I don’t know if that’s a real term or not…but it also happened to be National Twin Day…so it seemed fitting!)
Something happened at some point in the growing process, the trees split and one became two! The base of the tree is very interesting and we saw several of these along the trail.
We tried to get a picture of our twins with the twin tree…but they didn’t want to risk getting poison ivy. Ha!
Moving on along, you will come across a cute little bridge area that crosses over a creek.
A little ways on down the trail, you will come to a foot bridge to cross over.
Right before you cross over the bridge, there is a fun tree that is hollow at the bottom.
Our kids have always thought it was fun to climb inside!
After you cross the bridge, there will be a sign that directs you to the RIGHT for Cataract Falls.
The next part of the trail is really pretty. This part reminds me of some of the scenes in Star Wars where the Ewoks live. (Matt says its called Endor…haha!)
Next you will go under a bridge. (Watch out for the troll that lives under there…just kidding, don’t tell your kids that. We want them to LOVE hiking!)
You then head up the hill and take a RIGHT at the top of the trail. There are more signs directing you that way. You are now just minutes away from Cataract Falls.
At Cataract Falls
Once you arrive at Cataract Falls, depending on the day, there may be quite a few people.
We went on a hot summer weekend day and there were quite a few people there. In fact, if we had wanted a family picture in front of Cataract Falls, we would have had to wait in line. It takes a few minutes to walk across the rocks to get to the bottom of the falls, so just be patient if you want a picture.
Or just go on a weekday or a non-peak time during the winter when it’s not as busy! We took the kids several years ago on a winter day and we literally had the place to ourselves.
Of course the vegetation won’t be as green around the waterfall, but it’s still pretty!
There are also warning signs posted about staying on the trail in certain areas. Be sure to pay close attention to those. I apparently totally missed them and I was in an area I shouldn’t have been and Matt called me out. Oops!
On the Way Back
Once you have taken in plenty of time at Cataract Falls, it’s time to head back the way you came. Under the bridge and through the woods. (To Grandmother’s House we go?!? Or just the Sugarlands’ Parking Lot, I guess?)
Head back to the visitor’s center, hit the restrooms and start planning your next family adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains!
A Few Things to Consider When Visiting Cataract Falls in the Smoky Mountains
- The Sugarlands Visitor Center can become rather congested during peak times. Visit earlier in the day or try to go on a weekday if your schedule allows!
- Take time to enjoy the nature walk along the way and read about more of the native plants from the region.
- Allow time to explore the Visitor’s Center and let the younger ones in your group do the Junior Ranger Program!
Cataract Falls is a simple family-friendly hike for all ages. It’s a quick ¾ mile hike that can easily be done in a short amount of time. While it can be a busy trail during peak times, it is still worth the short trek from the Sugarlands Visitor Center if you want to see a waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains!
So have you been to Cataract Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains before? What are your favorite family-friendly hikes in the Smokies? Be sure to leave a comment below!
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