Ramsey Cascades, Ramsey Cascades Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Ramsey Cascades - 8.0 miles

Ramsey Cascades Trailhead

Ramsey Cascades

Ramsey Cascades

Round-Trip Length: 8.0 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,165' - 4,256' (4,260' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,091' net elevation gain (+2,235' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Ramsey Cascades - 8.0 Miles Round-Trip

Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It tumbles 100' along Ramsey Prong, which forms on the slopes of Greenbrier Pinnacle and Mount Guyot (6,621'), the Park's second highest peak. While the falls are exceptional, the hike is equally compelling.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Ramsey Cascades Trail passes through Cove Hardwood Forests in the Greenbrier section of the Park, one of the largest swaths of old growth timber in the Smokies. Visitors will enjoy rushing streams and luxuriant forests on the hike to Ramsey Cascades:

The trail crosses Little Pigeon River and rises steadily beneath a towering canopy to a fork, past which the trail narrows, steepens, and grows considerably rugged (1.6 miles : 2,665').

The trail climbs to a bridge over the Ramsey Branch confluence, and bends northeast to a second bridge (2.25 miles : 3,012'). Here the grade picks up on a rocky, rooted, and oft-slippery path beside Ramsey Prong. Look for access to many small pools and cascades along the way.

At 3.25 miles (3,667') the trail crosses (left) over a dry stream bed and resumes a twisting climb in an old growth forest. The trail fades in a boulder field just before reaching the falls, but they're audible at this point and intuitively reached with a short scramble.

Ramsey Cascades (4.0 miles : 4,256') fan out into a large drop pool on a fairly level rock slab at its base. While ideal for viewing the falls, this area is deceptively slippery and dangerous if not careful. A second tier fills another large pool that's suitable for wading and ideal for spotting salamanders, of which there are at least two dozen species in the Park.

About Cove Hardwood Forests
Cove Hardwood Forests are typically located in heavily watered, west-facing valleys that carry debris down from higher slopes and deposit mineral rich nutrients in a fan delta. Cove Hardwood Forests feature up to 30 canopy tree species and dozens of flowering shrubs and perennials.

Primary constituents include silver bell, yellow poplar, tulip trees, basswood, sugar maple, buckeye, beech, and hemlock. Cove Hardwood canopies can reach more than 150' high. Magnolia, dogwood, holly, laurel, and rhododendron fill out the understory.

While many old growth forests have been felled by loggers, remote and largely inaccessible ones such as those found in the Greenbrier and Ramsey Prong area have remained untouched.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N35 42.163 W83 21.427 — 0.0 miles : Ramsey Cascades Trailhead
  • N35 42.155 W83 21.013 — .5 miles : Moderate climb on wide gravel path
  • N35 42.248 W83 20.563 — 1.0 miles : Steady rise through lush forest
  • N35 42.243 W83 20.135 — 1.5 miles : Trail narrows and begins rugged travel
  • N35 42.311 W83 19.718 — 2.0 miles : Undulating travel beside Ramsey Prong
  • N35 42.407 W83 19.505 — 2.25 miles : Cross bridge # 2 and resume rugged travel
  • N35 42.493 W83 19.327 — 2.5 miles : Steep climb from 2.0 miles to 2.5 miles
  • N35 42.546 W83 18.875 — 3.0 miles : Steep, rugged, and twisting climb
  • N35 42.561 W83 18.610 — 3.25 miles : Faint trail crosses small stream bed
  • N35 42.572 W83 18.469 — 3.5 miles : Rugged trail conditions continue
  • N35 42.518 W83 18.004 — 4.0 miles : Ramsey Cascades

Worth Noting

  • 'Prong' means a fork or major branch in a river or stream.

  • Ramsey Prong is named after the Ramsey family, who homesteaded here in the early 1800s.

  • Enjoy waterfalls from a safe distance, and be mindful of slippery surfaces. Do not attempt to climb the falls. Deaths have occurred at numerous falls throughout the Park.

  • This trail is rugged and can be very slippery, especially after heavy rains. Sturdy footwear is recommended.

Camping and Backpacking Information


Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.

Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/

Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.

Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

General Backcountry Regulations

1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.

2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.

3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.

4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.

5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.

6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.

7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.

8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.

9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.

10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.

11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.

12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.

13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.

14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.

15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.

16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.

17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park

18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.

  • The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.

  • A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.

  • Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.

  • Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.

  • Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.

Rules and Regulations

  • There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  • Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.

  • Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but are not allowed on park trails.

Directions to Trailhead

The Ramsey Cascades Trailhead is located 10.5 miles from Gatlinburg TN in the Greenbrier section of the park (north central quadrant).

From downtown Gatlinburg, access Highway 321 at traffic light #3 and head approximately 6 miles north (east) to Greenbrier Road. Turn right (south) on Greenbrier Road and travel 3 miles to Ramsey Prong Road. Turn left (east) on Ramsey Prong Road and follow it 1.5 miles to the parking area. Note these secondary roads are packed gravel, but generally passable for any car except when flooded.

Contact Information

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Visitor Information - Recorded Message

Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)

Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)

Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)

Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"The falls are cooking right now and it's important not to misjudge the slipper rock slabs at the base of the falls. I saw someone slip and almost get swept downstream. There's a lot of mist you can't see coating these rocks. The hike is beautiful and this is a great time of year to see emerging rhodies and azalea."
Jesse Coulter  -   -  Date Posted: April 19, 2017
"This is a very difficult trail. Let me start out by saying that I am a treadmill walker/runner. By saying that, this was my first hike. In my mind, this was going to be a trail that was a paved trail...NOT. You will be hiking over boulders, large tree roots and large rocks. You will need to be in some great shape and if you have any back problems, you will be hurting when this hike is done. I wanted to quit and turn around mid way up the trail. If it wasn't for my boyfriend that wanted to do this hike, I would have. I cried twice... I did love seeing the great scenes of nature. Make sure you take lots of water and snacks...you'll need them. Since it was such a strenuous trail, it took us 4 hrs to get up and 3 hours to get down so make sure you start early. I've seen people coming up that had misconceptions what this trail was also. Some were wearing flip flops and no back packs. Do not attempt this trail without the proper attire and food and water. The waterfall was absolutely beautiful and being able to see all the beauty along the trail was just as wonderful. I'm not trying to scare anyone from not doing this trail, I just want you to know what you are in far...Good Luck"
Lisa Cunningham  -  Howey In The Hills, Fl  -  Date Posted: July 26, 2016
"My husband and I hiked the Ramsey Cascade trail thinking it would be, as the trail book stated, a moderately challenging hike. It was a more of a challenging strenuous hike. The scenery was beautiful , we just missed a bear crossing our path and the falls were beautiful. However, if one is not a hiker or in shape this is not the hike for you. It is a steady incline at first turning to a dramatic incline towards the ends. There were lots or tree roots and rocks, large and small as you got closer. Also if you are skittish about heights, the two foot bridges, I mean foot wide, that you must cross to continue towards the falls, this isn't for you. We were up for the challenge, and pushed on. Just note that if you are interested in this day hike, plan for 4 to 5 hours walking, wear hiking shoes, bring lots to drink and snack, and be prepared for rain. It is well worth it!"
Annie  -  Pittsburgh  -  Date Posted: June 19, 2014
"My wife and I along with our two teenage sons hiked the Ramsey Cascade trail on 9-14-13. Beautiful weather and the scenery is spectacular. Now the truth is, this is a very difficult trail. A lot of folks we passed along the way quit and turned around. The Cascades make it well worth it. Take plenty of water and food."
Michael Breeding  -  Ramsey Cascades  -  Date Posted: September 16, 2013
"Great weather for the trail. Not too hot nor cold. The trail condition is very good. The first two miles have a few steep grades. The second two miles has a vast amount of grades and has many opportunities for slipping injuries, those not in good physical condition probably want to opt for a less rugged trail. But the 4 miles in is well worth the trek for those who want to see some very beautiful falls deep in the back country."
Jeff  -  Powell, TN  -  Date Posted: September 7, 2013
"Wording indicates you only need a permit if you don't plan to utilize a designated campsite or shelter. To hike you need no permit. You CANNOT camp in the GSMNP backcountry unless you have a permit - $4 per person, per night. You can only camp in the backcountry in a designated campsite or shelter."
Michael Hagan  -  Garlinburg, TN  -  Date Posted: June 16, 2013


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