There's an assortment of waterfalls throughout the Smokies. Waterfalls aren't really my thing, but there are exceptions to that. Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park that is accessed by trail. Mill Creek Falls is slightly taller, but accessible by off-trail means only. Ramsey Cascades is around a hundred feet high, but what makes this waterfall more unusual than other is that it is not a "single drop waterfall", but rather, water cascading straight down a number of rock ledges. Not only is the destination of this hike rewarding, but the trail is too. On the trail, you will cross Ramsey Prong several times, as well as pass through an old-growth forest that contains some of the largest trees in the park. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 28, 2014. My plan was to follow the Ramsey Cascades Trail to Ramsey Cascades, and return the same way, since there were no other ways to return from the waterfall.
R/T Length of Trail: 8 Miles
Duration of Hike: 5 Hours
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: First 1.5 miles are easy; old-growth forest; numerous water features in addition to waterfall
Cons: Half of trail is rocky; steep sections; dicey rock scramble in the end; several small un-bridged creek crossings; slippery footbridges; most of the trail does not have any views of Ramsey Promg
Beginning Point: The end of Ramsey Prong Road
Directions: From Pittman Center, TN: Follow US Route 321 (East Parkway). If you are coming from the east, you'll see the entrance to Greenbrier on your left at a small Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign. Turn left here onto Greenbrier Road, and follow it for about 3 miles. Pass the Greebrier Ranger Station on your right, and shortly after Greenbrier Picnic Area on the left, reach a road turning left and crossing Porters Creek on a bridge. Turn left here. Follow Ramsey Prong Road for about 2 miles through Greenbrier Cove, before reaching the end at a moderately large parking area.
I've been to various waterfalls over the past few years. However, most of them didn't make any significance to me. This wasn't the case with Ramsey Cascades. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful waterfall I have ever been to.
The trail starts at the end of Ramsey Prong Road. The first 1.5 miles are an old road, but it is blocked off by several large rocks at the beginning of the trail. The trail follows the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River, but it immediately turns left to cross it on a sturdy bridge at 0.1 miles. The river is full of large boulders, making it more beautiful. Most of the bigger rivers and streams in the Smokies are like that. After the crossing, the wide trail started ascending gradually. Most of the next 1.5 miles were gradual ascent with a couple of short descents. Around 1 mile from the start, the trail crossed a small bridge over Ramsey Branch. Before that, a couple coming down the trail told me that a bear had crossed the trail 10 minutes before, but throughout this hike, I never saw any bears or their traces. All along this part of the trail, there was quite a bit of rosebay rhododendron blooming. At 1.5 miles, the trail reached a cul-de-sac (from the old road). Here the faint traces of the overgrown Greenrbier Pinnacle Trail went off to the left, and the single track part of the trail started. I went down a small path to the bank of Ramsey Prong. It was beautiful!
The trail was very rooty as it started ascending somewhat more steeply. There was one small tributary crossing, and at 2 miles from the start, the trail reached Ramsey Prong and the first footbridge crossing. The footbridge was pretty slippery and narrow. It was pretty high above Ramsey Prong providing a great view of it. It was raining all the time too. On the other side of the stream, the trail stayed close to the bank, but I couldn't see much of the stream due to lots of undergrowth and some trees blocking the view. Although generally the ascent here wasn't steep, there were a few steeper sections with rocks and roots. At 2.5 miles, the trail reached an old-growth forest. In fact, three huge trees were found here, and I heard they are among the largest in the park. The rest of the trail was still in an old-growth forest, but most of the trees I saw were certainly not as large as the three I just mentioned. The trail reached the bank of the stream at some point, and it was a bit confusing here. You have to climb over some boulders and go to the far right, where the trail continues its ascent up a set of steps. At 3 miles, the trail reached Ramsey Prong again, and crossed it on another footbridge. This one was considerably lower and wider than the first one. I twas also on angle, as it turned right at the middle. This was when the hardest section of the trail started, although it was still only moderately strenuous. The trail left the Ramsey Prong for a bit, and crossed several small streams via rock hop. The ascent was getting considerably steeper with lots of rocks and roots. The steepest part was particularly after 3.5 miles. The rain earlier had ended, but a second thunderstorm started now. The trail was very rocky as ti was ascending on numerous stone steps. Soon the sounds of Ramsey Prong were heard again, and the trail started on the final push to Ramsey Cascades.
At 3.9 miles, the trail made the biggest tributary crossing of the day. It was a little tricky with all the slippery rocks, but not too bad. Following that, a final ascent up more stone steps brought me to a sign stating the danger ahead and that 4 deaths happened at the falls. The very last part after the sign was tricky as well. There was some rock scrambling needed. And then... there it is! Ramsey Cascades is an amazingly beautiful waterfall, and probably the best one I've seen. The name "Cascades" certainly illustrated the beauty of this waterfall! The second thunderstorm was abating by now, but I definitely couldn't be more wet than I was.
The way back down the Ramsey Cascades Trail was uneventful, but it was quite a bit easier with everything being downhill. Remember I just said I couldn't get more wet than I was at Ramsey Cascades? Well nevermind, a third thunderstorm started just as I started the old road section of the trail, and the deluge was at least twice as heavy as the previous two. When I made the final bridge crossing over the Middle Fork of the Little Pigeon River, I could see the water was way up since I started here a few hours ago. When I was driving down the road, I saw some whitewater rafters parked on the shoulder. The water seemed to be pretty good for rafting.
I think this trail is one of the better combinations of "moderate and rewarding" in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I am pretty sure mostly everyone can do this trail. If you have knee problems, then descending the 4th mile may be somewhat problematic, but it's not that bad! You should definitely visit this waterfall, as there's not that many waterfalls this beautiful in the Southeast! This is almost a Best Hike. The only thing that prevented me classifying it as one was the lack of views of the river from the trail. The entire trail is mainly hidden in a thick forest that does not allow any good views of Ramsey Prong, so the only reward on this trail is its destination. Below are some pictures and a video. Also, please note that the auto focus on my wide-angle camera lens stopped working, so some of the pictures may be a little blurry. Not too bad. I think the reason behind this may be all the way back when I dropped my camera into the water on the Cumberland Trail in Early May. It's going to take me some to fix the issue, but I will try my best to post pictures that are as least blurry as possible.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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