Rainbow Falls Trail from Mt. LeConte :: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As a child, our family “accidentally” hiked to Rainbow Falls. We parked at the wrong trailhead thinking we were doing an easy hike to Grotto Falls and ended up doing a strenuous 5 mile hike – and my family was not really a ‘strenuous hike’ family. I am pretty sure it scarred my sisters’ view of hiking for the rest of their lives. But, I hadn’t been back to hike this trail since that day over 15 year ago. So, I figured, why not hike this trail on the way back down from LeConte.

Rainbow Falls is a relatively popular and, like I mentioned, difficult trial. The trail has a total elevation gain of almost 4,000 feet, meaning we lost almost 4,000 feet of elevation over about 7.5 miles.

Most people hike an out-and-back from the trailhead up to Rainbow Falls (about 2.5 miles one way and 1,500 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead), making the trail from LeConte to the falls very quiet and serene. The entire trail gains almost 4,000 feet of elevation. (Yes, the knees on the downhill were rough!) This trail was heavily affected by the fires a few year back. Not too far from the top of LeConte, you’ll see a huge area of burned trees and shrubbery, looking eerily post-apocalyptic. Around that same area, you’ll also see beautiful vistas and even Gatlinburg down below. 

As the trail winds down the mountain, you’ll cross LeConte Creek a few times before you come across Rainbow Falls, which is the highest free-falling waterfall in the park. I hear that it’s much more impressive when you go after a big rain, but it wasn’t much more than a trickle when we visited. The last part of the trail is the busiest (and the dirtiest: pack out what you pack in folks!) because its a popular day hike. And while I love waterfalls, my favorite parts of the trail were closer to the top and the smaller cascades along LeConte Creek.

Many people consider this a must-do trail in the Smokies. And while I believe any time spent outdoors is great, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Rainbow Falls as one of my top hikes in the Smokies. But again, catch this fall after a good rain and it may just make all the difference!

Practice Leave No Trace. Pack out E V E R Y T H I N G. Pick up trash. Follow signs about staying on the trail. This trail was decimated. I had filled up my entire 15L dry sack full of trash and I couldn’t get everything. Also, so much toilet paper, like seriously, how was there that much TP. These Smoky Mountain trails are getting so heavily loved, so let’s love them back. Hold yourself and others accountable while on trail.

Distance from Nashville: 4 hours

Trailhead: Rainbow Falls Trailhead, 2 parking lots – A & B – along Cherokee Orchard Road

Trail: Entire Rainbow Falls Trail from LeConte

Link to trail map: Mt LeConte via Rainbow Falls

Length of Trail: We clocked 7.5 miles total

Camping: LeConte Shelter or Lodge

Overview: Steep and difficult trail up (or down) from Mt. LeConte (3,800+ ft) featuring the Smokies highest waterfall, views and some exposure due to wildfire damage

Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave :: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There’s five trails (Brushy Mountain is the unofficial, shall we say, ‘6th Man’) up to the summit of Mt LeConte, which is the 3rd highest peak in GSMNP at 6,593 ft. One of the most popular routes is Alum Cave both because of its beauty and its shortness relative to the other trails. You’ll still gain around 2,600-2,800 ft (depending on your GPS) in about 6 miles. But, there’s plenty to see along the way to distract you from the climb.

You’ll first follow the stunning Alum Cave Creek. This part of the trail stays relatively flat before the arduous climb begins. We began around 8:30 in the morning and there was still some morning light magic. 

Then, you’ll begin a steeper climb that first leads you to Arch Rock then to Alum Cave Bluff. Both a stunning rock formations that would make a great out-and-back if you didn’t want to summit LeConte. After the bluff, it’s just a climb up the mountain. When you stop at Alum Cave Bluffs, make sure to look over the trail before you climb to the bluff overhang. Many people have spotted bears down in that valley.

Along the way, you’ll, of course, cross log footbridges, pass through rhododendron-lined trails, and see a few rolling views characteristic of the Appalachian Mountains. Once you get closer to the summit, you’ll notice more fir and cedar trees and feel a slight change in terrain. Even though this isn’t a super high altitude compared to out west, I love that near the summit, the trail did feel different.

One thing that surprised me about this trail was that it was quite a bit more rocky than some other trails in the Smokies. (It’s not South Cumberland boulder-y, but just more than I expected.)

Overall, this trail truly lived up to the hype. It has almost everything you could want from a trail (except a waterfall) It is a relatively strenuous hike because of the steepness, but not undoable. Be sure to plan ahead and prepare and know your own limits!

This trail is very popular and the trailhead parking fills up quickly. So, get there early to make sure you get a spot. (We parked our car at another trailhead for the hike down and had my parents shuttle us to the Alum Cave trailhead.) Even at 8:30, the parking was very full.

One last thing I’ll mention, we picked up a moderate amount of trash (and MY GOD we saw SO MUCH toilet paper – please, please, please pack out or bury TP) along the way. It is so easy to not throw trash on the ground, so just don’t do it. The Smokies are suffering hard from increased visitation and hiker uninterested in following any LNT principles. Be a good example out there!

Distance from Nashville: 4 hours

Trailhead: Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead on US-441 (Newfound Gap Road)

Trail: Out and back (or up to LeConte and stay the night)

Link to trail map: Mt LeConte via Alum Cave

Length of trail: 6 miles

Camping: Mt LeConte Shelter

Overview: The shortest, steepest trail to the summit of Mt LeConte featuring a large cave-like structure, streams and mountain views.

Hiking Tour of David Crockett State Park :: Lawrenceburg, TN

One of my goals for this year was to visit new (to me) Tennessee State Parks. It’s easy for me to keep going back to parks that I love because I know what to expect and I have a much lower chance of being disappointed. 🙃 I made it to Pickett and now I ventured south (instead of east) to David Crockett State Park. (Not to be confused with the David Crockett Birthplace State Historic Park. Make sure you are looking at the right map and park!)

Crockett Falls along Shoal Creek Trail

One of my hesitancies of going to some of the state parks I haven’t been to yet is the shorter trails. I’ve said it before, but when I make the effort to drive somewhere, I want to hike for at least 3 hours. So, I made the unofficial David Crockett State Park Loop, connecting multiple trails to traverse most of the land in the park, totaling about 7.5 miles. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see my route. I started near the playground and Campground 1 at the south end of the Shoal Creek Trail.

(Side note: Many of the trails are not on GAIA GPS or Google/Apple maps, so I had to keep checking and comparing GAIA to the park map since I was making my own loop. Plus, I also did some of my ‘hiking’ on paved roads so I could connect everything.)

WIll this state park completely take your breath away? Probably not. But, there’s still things worth seeing. There’s the two waterfalls, a peaceful stroll along Shoal Creek, a small lake, plus a portion of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. There’s nice cabins, fishing in the lake, a campground, a covered bridge and I even saw an archery range and blackpowder rifle range. (I’m not sure if these are open and active.) There’s also a handful of ‘Connector Trails” that link the Shoal Creek Trail aight the Trail of Tears, so you can create a loop of varying lengths. I could see this being a great park for a family trip.

I mentioned 2 waterfalls: Crocket Falls and another (unnamed?) cascade kind of around the back end of the lake. It’s at the end of that little spur on my route. It was really beautiful and I had no idea it was there because it’s not marked on any of the maps. (I had to turn around at this fall and not complete the Crawfish Valley Trail because I deemed completely crossing that fall with a dog was too dangerous, so I hiked along the road for a bit instead.)

The park is almost right in Lawrenceburg, so it’s definitely not secluded but may be worth a visit if you’re looking to go somewhere new. And remember, any time outside is good!

Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 30 minutes

Trailhead: Shoal Creek Trailhead off Davy Crockett Park Rd

Trails: “Loop” form by Shoal Creek Trail, Crawfish Valley Trail, Lake Road Trail, Trail of Tears and Turkey Ridge Trail (see full route below)

Link to trail map: David Crocket State Park Map

Length of hike: 7.6 miles

Type of hike: Make your own loop

Camping: Campground No. 1 and 2 (Drive-in/RV sites)

Overview: An easy hiking tour of a state park with creeks, small waterfalls and history.

A Longer Stone Door Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

The Great Stone Door trail is a pretty well known and easy trail with a great payoff. But, driving almost 2 hours for a mile of hiking doesn’t quite make sense to me, so I made a 7 mile loop connecting the Stone Door Trail to the Big Creek Rim and Laurel Trails for a nice longer, but relatively easy hike.

The entirety of the hike is on the plateau/rim so most of this loop is flat, but not without some views of the gulf along the Big Creek Rim trail. The rest of the trail meanders through a wooded area on the plateau, making for a nice walk in the woods. The total mileage is around 7 miles, so it may be a great way to try out a longer hike without a challenge from the terrain. Taking this route, you won’t descend into the gulf, so you won’t have to navigate steep or rocky terrain, if you’re looking to avoid that.

The loop I did makes a fantastic beginner backpacking loop with a camp at Alum Gap and a side trip to Greeter Falls. (Remember, there’s no overnight parking at the Greeter Falls trailhead!) Of course there’s the always stunning views from Stone Door, but Big Creek Rim has a few great overlooks and bluff-side walking as well. The Laurel trail is probably one of the least diverse and interesting in the area, but it is full of lush ferns and greenery. And when I hike from the Stone Door trailhead, I always pop by Laurel Falls because it only add on .2 miles. (The mini loop starts right behind the ranger station.) You can also walk-in camp at Stone Door but it can get crowded and out especially on the weekends.

This loop isn’t going to blow you away compared to others in the area, but it’s nice to mix things up and try a new route. Connecting Stone Door to Big Creek Rim and Laurel trials makes for a good long-ish day hike in one of the most beautiful places in Tennessee. It’s also great to build stamina for longer hikes. You’ll clock over 7 miles of relatively flat trail, so it’s great to build up to a longer hike!

Distance from Nashville: 1hr 45 min

Trailhead: Stone Door Ranger Station (Savage Gulf North Trailhead)

Trail: Loop formed by Stone Door, Big Creek Rim, Laurel (route in red)

Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area Trail Map (left side of map)

Length of Trail: easy 7 miles, allow 3-4 hours

Campsites: Stone Door (close to parking, walk-in) and Alum Gap (about three miles from trailhead, backcountry)

Overview: Great overlooks and geological wonders plus a little waterfall and some woods walkin’. (For a shorter hike, just do the Stone Door Trail as an out-and-back.)

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Window Cliffs :: Window Cliffs State Natural Area

Window Cliffs has been on “to hike” list for some time. But a combination of dogs not being allowed, the multiple creek crossings and hearing that it “wasn’t that great of a trail” gave me pause about hiking this approximately 6 mile trail near Burgess Falls.

So, perhaps my expectation were set low, but Window Cliffs completely surprised me. It was, quite simply, a delightful hike.

So, let’s start off with perhaps the most daunting thing about this hike: the NINE creek crossings of the winding Cane Creek. I went during a relatively dry period and the deepest creek crossing was about knee-high and a couple were completely dry. Just like most trails in the Cumberland Plateau area, water levels are highest in the late winter (Jan-March), so that might not be an ideal time to hike this trail. (Also, I’m sure the water is freezing, so probably not the most pleasant experience.) All that to say, don’t be deterred by the creek crossings in the summer and fall, they are totally doable. (Please note that when water levels are high, the trail may close without notice. If it’s just rained, I would call ahead to check the status of the trail.)

I’d recommend hiking in Chacos or Tevas or something comparable so you don’t even have to worry about wet socks and shoes. The terrain is not particularly rocky or root-y so hiking sandals worked perfect for me. There’s cables at every creek crossing but I’d also highly recommend trekking poles for balance and stability.

Let’s talk about the highlight of this trail. There’s a waterfall, cedar groves (low key one of my favorite nature things), spots that felt like Smoky Mountain Balds, the creek crossings, and the namesake limestone cliffs. There was always something different around the bend and kept my attention the entire time. Also, the first (downhill) and last half mile (uphill) are pretty dang steep, but the rest of the trail is relatively level. So, just be prepared for a challenging last half mile!

The view from the top of the cliffs was more stunning that I thought it was going to be. You can’t really see the ‘windows’ from the top, but there’s what I’ll call an ‘underlook’ (because you are looking up to the view) where you can see the windows in the limestone.

As another bonus, there’s two rare plants – at least in the TN area – in this area: plains muhly and northern white cedar. Plains muhly has only 2 known locations in TN and looks like spindly desert grass that grows in rocky or sandy areas. Northern white cedars are also not common in the south and prefer to grow in rocky places. Just something for everyone here at Window Cliffs, folks.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and hike an A+ trail in Tennessee that’s surprisingly close to Nashville.

The creek crossings are numbered. This was one of the dry ones.

Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 10 min

Trailhead: Window Cliffs State Natural Area (8400 Cane Creek Rd Baxter, TN), Be aware that trail may close without notice when water levels are high.

Link to trail map: Window Cliffs SNA Trail Map

Length of hike: 5.5 miles, out-and-back

Brief overview: Cedar groves, waterfalls, creek crossings, and some cliffs with a view, this hike will keep you on your toes with beauty and diversity.

Bryant Grove Trail :: Long Hunter State Park

Usually when I’m heading to Long Hunter, I hike the Volunteer Trail. But, I was looking at a map of the state park and found a trail I hadn’t done: Bryant Grove. I’m not quite sure why I’d never seen this trail before, but I’m glad that I found it.

The Bryant Grove Trail runs from the Couchville Lake area to the Bryant Grove Area. (FYI: When I went, the Bryant Grove Area was closed from the road, so to be safe, start at Couchville Lake.) It’s almost completely flat and pretty much follows the shoreline of Percy Priest Lake. It’s an out-and-back trail so, it’ll be about 8 miles total if you do the whole thing.

This is a great trail to trail run because it’s flat and there’s relatively little roots and rocks on the trail. Parts of the trail are exposed and meander through limestone glades that feel unlike most Tennessee trails, which makes sense because limestone glades are pretty rare for this area.) It really does have a beach-y feel. This hike reminds me of one I did in a state park in the Florida panhandle. At the Bryant Grove area, there’s a few benches to take a break and look out onto the lake. Plus, there’s a great chance you’ll see some wildlife; I saw a few herons!

This trail looks and feels completely different than the Volunteer Trail and Day Loop, even though they are part of the same park and a mere miles from each other. So, if you want the full Long Hunter and Percy Priest hiking experience, don’t miss out on Bryant Grove!

The rare limestone glades
A heron!

Distance from Nashville: 30 minutes

Trailhead: Bryant Grove Trailhead at Couchville Lake

Trail: Bryant Grove Trail (Out-and-back)

Length of trail: 4.0 miles one way

Trail map: Long Hunter State Park Trail Map

Brief overview: Meander through both tree-lined trails and exposed beach-y limestone glades as you hug the coastline of Percy Priest Lake. A great trail to run or work on getting your hiking mileage up.

Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail :: Ashland City, TN

It’s always nice to find a new multi-use trail close to home. The Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail is 6.5 mile (one way) trail just outside Ashland City, TN, which is northwest of the city. This trail is part of the ‘rails to trails’ project which turns former rail lines into trails.

There are two trailheads – Marks Creek and Eagle Pass – and the trails ends at Cheatham Lock and Dam Campground. The path from Marks Creek to Eagle Pass is paved making it wheelchair accessible and from Eagle Pass to the campground is packed gravel (not suitable for road bikes). About a mile from Marks Creek Trailhead, there is a a spot called Turkey Junction Native Gardens that has picnics tables, restrooms (currently closed, I believe) and a little garden.

The trail follows the Cumberland River and features an impressive trestle bridge, almost constant views of the river, a few trail side trickling waterfalls, wildlife refuges and even a little hobbit hole! The entire trail is completely flat, so it’s great training to up your mileage. It’s also a relatively wide path, which is welcome in the times of social distancing.

There’s plenty to see along this path, which completely surprised me. (Don’t miss the extra special hobbit hole trail magic!) It’s a great place to visit close to Nashville that truly can be used by almost anyone. So grab your walking shoes, your bike, your dog, and your lunch and enjoy a day outside not too far from home.

The tiniest lil waterfall
A surprise along the trail!
Turkey Junction

Distance from Nashville: 35 minutes

Trailhead: Marks Creek or Eagle Pass

Trail: Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail

Trail map: Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail

Length of hike: 6.5 miles one way from Marks Pass to the campground

Brief overview: A flat, multi-use trail following the Cumberland River with an impressive trestle bridge, wildlife refuges, and multiple spots with picnic tables.

Trails of Fort Henry Area :: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

You win some, you lose some.

I have been feeling stretched for hikes lately, so I looked at Google Maps and found all the close-ish green areas and decided on Land Between the Lakes (LBL for short) because I figured I should check it out.


LBL is definitely not a prime hiking destination despite cool trail names like Devil’s Backbone. This name really got me, I was decently exactly to hike this and it was literally a flat trail in the woods. -__- (EDIT: supposedly the trails in the northern part of the park are better and more well kept, so maybe focus your efforts there.) The couple trails I hiked to form a loop were all relatively boring and very flat. They were also pretty poorly marked. On the trail map, each trail had names, but there were no names actually on the trail, just numbered posts. There were no arrows telling which trail went which way when there was a split. There were tons of ticks despite the tons of 100% DEET bug spray I doused myself with. So, just not a lot going for it hiking wise.


This was the most interesting thing I actually saw ON the trail: an old candy box as a trail marker…

The most interesting parts of the hike were when I gave up on the trails and hiked the last 3/4 mile on one of the roads back to my car. I found a civil war cemetery and the remains (foundations and brick pillar) of an old house.


Buchanan Civil War Cemetery

I am sure there are better ways to enjoy LBL besides hiking trails, so if you decide to make the trip here, leave out the hiking and see what else this national recreation area has to offer.

Distance from Nashville: 1hr 45min

Getting to the trailhead: South Welcome Station on Land Between the Lakes and surrounding areas. I started at the Boswell Backcountry Area (wouldn’t recommend starting here though)

Trails: CYOL (Create your own loop) with Pickett, Telegraph, Devil’s Backbone, Artillery, Piney, Ridge Volunteer (route in red)

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Link to trail map: Fort Henry Trails

Length of trail: The loop I formed was about 6 miles, allow 3 hours

Overview: Just don’t do it if you’re looking for decent hiking. (Or check out the northern part of the park, although I can’t vouch for those trails.)

Walls of Jericho :: Bear Hollow Mountain WMA

This hike barely squeezes itself into Tennessee. It straddles the Tennessee-Alabama state line and there is a trailhead in both states. You can do this as a shuttle hike (Start at the Tennessee trailhead and end at the Alabama one and drive back to the starting point. You would need 2 cars for this option) or you can make it into an out and back like I did because taking two cars on a solo hike is quite challenging.


To do the out and back, start at the Alabama trailhead which is off of AL-79.  You’ll hike to the Walls of Jericho on the Tennessee side, then hike the same trail back out.

The trail isn’t too bad on the way in (read: downhill), but it is a steady (and sometimes intense) uphill most of the way back out. But, there is variety of terrain to keep you interested and not so much thinking about the uphill.

Here is the first thing that greets you when you get to the final destination:


So what are the “Walls of Jericho” anyways? Jericho isn’t just for bible stories anymore. The Walls of Jericho are a huge limestone rock amphitheater fed by streams and cascades. It truly is pretty spectacular. I usually don’t stick around when I get to the “cool spot” of the hike, but I couldn’t help myself here. It was just so other-worldly, like if I was walking on a very lush moon or something.

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If possible, try to go when it hasn’t been raining a ton. It’s hard to get back into all the parts of the amphitheater when the water is calf deep. It’s not impossible, just makes for a soggy and squishy hike out.

Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 50 min

Getting to the trailhead: I-24E from Nashville to exit 127 for US-64/TN-50W. Turn left onto TN-16, which turns into AL-79. Less than a mile after entering Alabama, there is a sign for the trailhead on the right. Or just Google Map “Walls of Jericho Alabama trailhead”.

Trail: Walls of Jericho AL entry (See route in black, out-and-back)

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Link to trail map: Walls of Jericho Map

Length of hike: just under 7 miles, allow 4-5 hours

Overview: Steep descents and ascents, limestone amphitheater and falls, stream crossings. Wear your sturdy hiking boots for this one. A great challenging hike that’s not very crowded. Highly recommend!


Savage Day Long Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Back again to my favorite spot in middle-east(?) Tennessee.

The Savage Gulf Day Loop is a popular 5 mile day hike, which I was going to happily do, until I found out I could make it into a 10 mile loop. So, of course, I took the long route. But, of course, you can do the 5 miler and still complete a great hike.


One of the suspension bridges

I connected the Savage Gulf Day Loop to part of the North Plateau and Mountain Oak trails which then connected to the North Rim back to the Savage Gulf Loop. It’s kind of a wonky loop, but it works.


Overlook on the North Plateau trail

There is a big different between a hard 10 miles and an easy 10 miles. It can be the difference of an 8 hour hike and a 4 hour hike. This was an easy 10 miles and only took me about 3 1/2 hours. But, the payoff is great compared to the difficulty of the hike. The Savage Gulf map says that the North Rim trail has the most overlooks of any trail in Savage Gulf. There’s also a few suspension bridges and forest wandering.


If you are looking for a little more of challenge, but don’t want to kill yourself with a very difficult hike, try this longer loop from the Savage Gulf Station.


Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 45 minutes

Trailhead: Savage Gulf Ranger Station off of TN-399

Trail: Lollipop loop formed by Savage Day Loop, North Plateau, Mountain Oak, North Rim, Savage Day Loop (route in red)

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Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area (this loop on far right of map)

Length of trail: 5 or 10 miles, allow 2-3 or 4-5 hours

Overview: Easier, flat 5 or 10 mile hike with overlooks of the Gulf, suspension bridges, and a few waterfalls; great moderate hike.