Rainbow Falls, Rainbow Falls Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Rainbow Falls - 4.6 miles

Rainbow Falls Trailhead

Round-Trip Length: 4.6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,645' - 4,195' (4,195' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,550' net elevation gain (+1,608' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Rainbow Falls - 4.6 Miles Round-Trip

Rainbow Falls drop 80' down a vertical rock face along Le Conte Creek. This tall, light flow cascade earns its names from rainbows that form at its misty base when lit just right. The hike to Rainbow Falls is relatively short but demanding, a rocky trail that gains 1550' in just 2.3 miles.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Visitors will enjoy multiple access points to Le Conte Creek, wildlife viewing on its wide lower banks, and lush hardwoods forests en route to Rainbow Falls.

The Rainbow Falls Trail begins on a moderate grade beside Le Conte Creek. Look for deer and bear along wide, thinly treed banks over the first half mile.

At .5 miles (2,923') the trail bends away from the creek and steepens into a Northern Hardwood Forest. Hemlock are notably large is this arboreal transition zone.

The trail crosses a rail-aided bridge (1.5 miles : 3,720') and passes a cascading tributary that's an ideal turnaround point if time runs short (1.95 miles : 4,015').

It grows increasingly rocky to a second bridge (2.25 miles : 4,130'), and switchbacks to a third bridge spanning Le Conte Creek at the base of Rainbow Falls (2.3 miles : 4,195').

The falls are set back from the trail, so hikers must negotiate tree roots and boulders for up close views of its drop pool and secondary falls. The Rainbow Falls drop pool is shallow and unsuitable for swimming, but the spacious rock amphitheater between the bridge and falls provides ample room to play and explore.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N35 40.539 W83 29.142 — 0.0 miles : Rainbow Falls Trailhead
  • N35 40.238 W83 28.965 — .5 miles : Trail bends up and away from creek
  • N35 40.035 W83 28.708 — 1.0 miles : Steep, steady, rocky climb
  • N35 39.788 W83 28.263 — 1.5 miles : Cross bridge over Le Conte Creek
  • N35 39.739 W83 27.852 — 2.3 miles : Rainbow Falls

Worth Noting

  • Northern Hardwood Forests range from 3,500'- 5,000' in the Smokies. These are the highest elevation deciduous forests in the eastern United States with over two dozen tree species including American beech, yellow birch, and maple. Northern Hardwood Forests produce brilliant autumn colors - consider the Rainbow Falls Trail in mid-late October for peak foliage.
  • Look for salamanders along rock ledges and side pools near Rainbow Falls.
  • Be mindful of social trails that split off the main trail; while easy to decipher on the way up, the correct path can be less obvious on the descent.
  • Enjoy waterfalls from a safe distance, and be mindful of slippery surfaces in the vicinity. Do not attempt to climb the falls. Deaths have occurred at numerous falls throughout the Park.

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

  • Horses and stock are not permitted on the Rainbow Falls Trail to Rainbow Falls and Mount Le Conte.

  • 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 Rainbow Falls Trailhead is located 3.5 miles from Gatlinburg TN in the north central quadrant of the Park.

From downtown Gatlinburg, turn south onto Airport Blvd from light #8. Airport Blvd turns into Cherokee Orchard Road as it enters GSMNP. Follow Cherokee Orchard Road to the Rainbow Falls Trailhead and parking lot on the right hand side of the road.

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.


"This is,more than a moderate hike. Average condition will take 1.5 hours to get to the first bridge with no stops. Figure 4+ hours to do the whole thing round trip. Bring plenty of fluids. Not for small children or if you are in a hurry. We did see deer on the way up and back (11am and 3pm)."
r green  -  bristol  -  Date Posted: August 25, 2012


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