We have planned trips to Smoky Mountain National Park multiple times over the years, and each time something has caused us to cancel the trip – sick dog, bad weather, etc. This time we did finally make it, but in the end we left a little dispirited by the sheer number of visitors, even on a weekday.
Starting in NC we drove north on 441 toward Tennessee. The start was quite pretty with lots of cascades and the small roadside Cliff Branch Falls.
Most of the scenic pullouts were on the left (south side) so we left these for the return drive.
The Tennessee side seemed drier, as evidenced by Cataract Falls. Not only was the waterflow rather sad, but this was one of the only times I’ve experienced large numbers of people smoking by a waterfall… yuck.
We continued down Fighting Creek Gap Road which was nearly overwhelmed with people parking on the side of the road to hike to Laurel Falls and several of the other hiking spots. We decided not stop here and continued further.
Mannis Branch Falls is rather hidden across the Little Gorge River – there isn’t an easy to notice sign or trail, just a wide parking area, but simple enough with GPS and just a few feet from the road. It doesn’t have an easily available dry crossing, and I didn’t bring water shoes, so I don’t have a great shot of it. It was a pleasant picnic spot though.
The Sinks is a powerful cascade on Little River, but it was quite crowded, and we were done with people by this point so we photographed it and left quickly.
On the way back we stopped at several scenic lookouts.
We knew this was a popular park going into it, but we just couldn’t believe the numbers (and behavior) of people – we’ll have to try again in the future, perhaps post-covid. Thankfully we had plenty of non-crowded spots in NC left to explore, so we focused on that for the remainder of the trip.
For more waterfall photos, check out our waterfall photography page.