There are many waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but one in particular stands out above all the rest. Nestled in scenic Cades Cove, Abrams Falls offers visitors a wonderful vista along with a refreshing chance to cool off in the hot summer months. Out of all of the picturesque locations in the park, Abrams Falls is not the easiest to access, nor is it the most difficult. People with an average hiking ability can access it without too much difficulty. You should be sure to bring your swimming gear and a towel if you wish to swim.
The five mile round trip hike begins in the parking lot for Abrams Falls in Cades Cove. The trail winds gently along the side of one of the tributaries for the falls. A slow uphill grade takes you a little bit above the stream, then winds you back down again. It crosses several smaller streams, using bridges made from a variety of materials, such as a large flattened log with log hand rails. The trail then descends back to stream level, where you get a little bit of a rest as you traverse through magnolia trees and various other local foliage. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife. It is not at all unusual to spot deer or a bear ambling through the brush just off the trail.
The second hill that you encounter is a bit steeper, yet still not overwhelming for even the moderate hiker. The third and final hill, however, is the steepest yet, and you will have to stop and catch your breath a time or two unless you are in the best shape. At the third hill’s summit, a sound can be heard. It will be faint at first, distant and barely audible. Stop for a moment to listen. You know that your destination is not very far away when your ears pick up the unmistakable sound of water rushing over the side of a cliff.
While the final hill is the steepest, you can still navigate the trail safely down the other side. Once you reach the bottom, the falls, which grow increasingly louder, are finally in sight. The trail takes you to the base of the falls, where you can see the water cascading into the pool. At this point, you understand why you brought your swimming gear. At the base of the falls is an irresistible pool that begs you to go for a swim.
For those of you who find that hiking for a considerable distance to be uncomfortable in your swimming attire, there is no public changing facilities there. You do, however, have options. The trail that you just hiked to Abrams Falls continues on. I do not know where it leads, and neither do most people. Almost everybody who hikes the trail does so to go to Abrams Falls. The continuation is rarely used. Therefore, if you are a little daring, you can venture farther along the trail around the nearest bend. Have someone stand watch between you and the falls as a lookout, and you will be generally safe to change your clothes. While there is always the chance that someone could come the other way, it is unlikely. If you still have reservations about changing your clothes on a public trail, it will be much easier to have someone in your group double dog dare you to do it. Unless you are used to public nudity, those brief seconds between clothes can feel like anything from exhilaratingly free to oppressively vulnerable.
Before venturing into the water, it is wise to observe a few words of caution. First and foremost, do not go in if you cannot swim. This is not the neighborhood pool, where lifeguards are standing by should you run into trouble, and it is very deep. Be careful of underwater rocks. They are slippery. Never, ever go under water feet first to see how deep it is. Many people have drowned because their feet slip easily between slimy rocks and get stuck. Also, avoid swimming directly at the base of the falls. You are comprised of 97% water. The churning water at the base of the falls is about 75% water, 25% air. You are heavier than the bubbly water and you will sink. Finally, although I have seen people jump or even dive from the top of the falls, I would not recommend it. There could be unseen obstacles under the water that, due to the nature of the area, change daily.
As long as you observe cautionary common sense, a hike to Abrams Falls will be a rewarding experience. Hopefully, you brought your towel and perhaps even a tube for floating. Whether you are floating or swimming, a natural swimming pool such as this is always better than a manmade “concrete pond”. While some people describe the water as “cold”, I would say it is perfectly refreshing after the hike. Don’t be intimidated by the cool temperature of the water. Once you are in, you easily get accustomed to the water, and you will be amazed at how it invigorates you and leaves you feeling refreshed once you get out.
As you float or swim about the natural pool, take a moment to look about and appreciate your surroundings. On one side, the magnificent falls cascades over the cliff to the pool where you are relaxing. On the other side, a gentle stream meanders its way around a bend until it is out of sight. On either side of the valley, various pine trees, nestled within a picturesque gorge, rise majestically against a backdrop of blue sky. At such a place, it is easy to imagine that you are somewhere in the mountains of Colorado or California or anywhere else in the world.
You will not want to leave this place any time soon, and when you do, you will always want to return. While Abrams Falls is by no means off the beaten path, its semi-remote location makes it pleasantly visited, neither over crowded, nor desolate. You may have to work a bit to get there, but the beauty and relaxation of the falls makes it worthwhile.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Sooner or later, it will be time to return to your car. After a refreshing swim, the trek back to the parking lot will not be all that bad. Do you remember the three hills? On the way to the falls, each one became a bit steeper than the last. Now, after relaxing, you will be ready to take on the trail. The first hill is now the steepest, and you will climb that one right away. After that, it gets progressively easier until you are back in the comfort of your vehicle. You will probably not look forward to the motel swimming pool any more, though. It just will not be the same.