Hiking Townsend – Rainbow Falls Trail

Mount LeConte is one of the most hiked peaks in the Smokies. To get there, many hikers go by way of the Rainbow Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Of course, the trail is popular due to the Rainbow Falls break point. And while it’s not exactly in Townsend, hikers coming through town usually mark the Rainbow Falls trail as a “must see” on their list. The trail is actually closer to Gatlinburg, but still a wonderful local hike. It’s a challenging hike to say the least, but the reward of experiencing Rainbow Falls makes it all the more worth it.

As previously stated, the Rainbow Falls Trail is fairly challenging if you’re hiking all the way to the top of Mt LeConte. From the start, it’s about an hour and a half hike to Rainbow Falls and four hours to Mt LeConte. You’ll gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation hiking to Mt. LeConte.

The Rainbow Falls trail is one of the oldest routes to Mount LeConte and begins along LeConte Creek. One mile above Cherokee Orchard, it twists away from the stream to a ridge before returning creek side. From here, you’ll definitely notice a set of switchbacks as you make your way along the trail.

Crossing the stream a second time, you can see the high cliff from which the falls descend surrounded by rhododendron and a hemlock growth. LeConte Creek is fairly narrow at this point, forcing water outward into a heavy mist before settling 82 feet below. Sunlight reflecting off this mist creates the rainbow effect which gives the falls their name.

When you cross the LeConte Creek for the third time, Rainbow Falls comes into complete view. Navigation over the rocks allows a closer approach, and a better view of the falls. The trail continues beyond Rainbow Falls, becoming steeper, before settling into a more even-keeled route. Temperatures can change considerably at the this point and unprepared hikers might find themselves in a bit of a pickle – especially if it’s raining. With the change in altitude and temperature, plant life changes as well. Balsam, spruce, and mountain ash dominate the trees, and crimson bee balms, asters, Indian Pipes, and monkshoods are also evident.

A short distance from the summit of Mount LeConte the Bull Head and Alum Cave Bluff trails intersect the Rainbow Falls Trail. At this point, you will be only a few hundred yards from the top of Mt. LeConte and LeConte Lodge.

Starting point: Cherokee Orchard Road – Turn at light No. 8 in Gatlinburg and follow Airport Road one mile out of Gatlinburg and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along the way, the road will change from Airport Road to Cherokee Orchard Road. About 2.5 miles after entering the Park, Cherokee Orchard Road approaches the Rainbow Falls parking area where you can walk over to the Rainbow Falls trailhead.

Hiking Townsend – What to pack for a short jaunt in the Smokies.

Many people come to Townsend, TN and the Smoky Mountains to get into the Smokies’ more natural environment – to hike to some secluded destination or explore some far off mountain top. It’s trip that many of us have thought about, planned, or even just hopped in the car and begun. Whether you’re backpacking, or hiking, there are a number of things to take into consideration before starting out. One, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is made up of trails ranging from beginner to advanced. Like the Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared” once you set out and choose wisely based on experience.

You’re sure to lace up your best hiking boots or trail shoes soon thereafter. But that’s it? Nope, there are number of other items to consider. Either way, whether you’re camping for a few nights or just hiking for a day, a backpack is a good thing to bring along. This will evenly distribute weight during the hike and maximize your comfort for the whole of the trip.

For short day hikes, these items are handy to pack for the trip:

  • Clothing. In the higher elevations, an extra layer can be a life saver, literally. A lightweight jacket with a hood will help combat the cool, windy air. Pack a hat and gloves if you think there’s a possibility you’ll really need them.
  • Weather protection. These days, sun protection is essential whether you’re at the beach or in the mountains. Pack some sunscreen as well as some Chapstick.
  • Hiking Safety. Pack a first aid kit. Just a small, portable first aid kit comprised of essential items is fine. Some of the items to include – band aids, blister pads, anti itch cream, tweezers, and antibacterial cream. Some bug repellant might come in handy too. This will ward off those irritating mosquitoes that come alive during the summer months. Pack a pocket knife as well. A compass and a trail map might help you as well. During the hike, it is vital that you stay on the marked trails, but if you should happen to get lost, a compass will help you find your bearings and get you back to the trail. As for hiking trail maps for Gatlinburg, TN you can pick some up at the Sugarlands Visitors Center just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance.
  • Snacks. Be sure to bring some snacks and water for you and whoever else will be going on the hike. Keep yourself and remind others to hydrate whenever you get a chance. You might not feel like you are losing fluid, but you are, especially if you are hiking in the mountains! Bring a refillable water bottle that you can store in a side pocket of your backpack (one filled bottle per person). And pack lightweight snacks like granola bars or snack bags of GORP (raisins and peanuts), which will help you and your group refuel after a mile or two.
  • Fun stuff. The Smoky Mountains offer breathtaking vistas, so don’t forget your camera! You will want to photograph the views, flowers, wildlife, and document the fun times you are having on the trail! Another fun thing to take along is a small notebook and pen. Journaling can be a great way to remember your hike, the things you see, and even the conversations you have with your hiking party.

A day hike in the mountains and forests around Gatlinburg, TN is a fun and invigorating way to explore the area! You will see many beautiful and amazing sights! And if you plan ahead by packing your backpack with a few lightweight essentials, you can relax and enjoy your hike, no matter where the trail leads you!