Hike to Rainbow Falls

Tennessee Rainbow Lake Trail

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    5.7 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1500 Feet

Easy Parking
Swimming Hole

Explore this 80-foot high, hidden waterfall that produces a mist rainbow visible on sunny afternoons. This hike is located less than 10 miles from downtown Chattanooga and can provide easy access to Signal Point for sweeping views of the Tennessee River gorge.

Most Rainbow Lake Trail hikers have seen or heard the majestic Rainbow Falls, but fewer have ventured down the treacherous path to the falls themselves. Albeit a bit daunting, especially if there has been recent rain, the path from Rainbow Lake Trail down to Rainbow Falls is a rewarding trek for those capable.

The hike from the Rainbow Lake Trailhead to Rainbow Lake is casual and great for first time hikers. When arriving at the lake, you'll find an area to rest, eat lunch, take pictures, or explore the dam. In the summer, you'll find that many hikers swim in this area. If you decide to continue on your way to Rainbow Falls or Signal Point, you'll head down creek until you hit the Signal Mountain swinging bridge. Jump onto the bridge and grab those Instagram-worthy shots, but do not cross it! You are going to stay on the current side of the creek to follow the white trail blazes towards Signal Point for a little less than a mile.

Once you get to another small, rustic bridge (this time, you WILL cross it), you are just a few minutes walk away from the path to the falls. As of October 2015, the trail to the falls was marked by a green rope wrapped around a tree (but do not rely solely on this marker). There are multiple ways down to the falls, but the western-most path, or the one furthest from the trailhead, is the easiest of the bunch. But don't be mislead. Just because this is the easiest way down does not mean it is an easy trek, especially if the trail is muddy. It is a steep cliff and the trail is unmaintained, so each step must be taken with caution. Ropes have been set up between trees which are very helpful getting down to the falls.

Upon arriving at the falls, hang that hammock, bask in the refreshing mist coming off the falls, shoot some photos or enjoy a snack before heading back up to the trail.

Once back onto the main trail, you can continue west to Signal Point for beautiful views of the TN River or head back to Rainbow Lake trailhead. Whatever you do, be sure to grab some tasty BBQ from Shuford's Smokehouse on your way back!

Pack List

  • Camera
  • Water
  • Hiking boots (especially if hiking during the wet season)
  • Snack
  • Bathing suit (summer)
  • Hammock
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Overall rating: 

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Went during the summer and loved the quiet spot with only a handful of other people there swimming and sun bathing on the large flat rocks. It was a little tricky getting down the rock scramble, but worth it.

about 1 month ago
about 1 month ago

Gorgeous hike and falls. As of May 2017, the green rope marker mentioned in the article has been removed, though Rainbow Falls is still accessible. If you're up for a little bushwhacking, upstream of Rainbow Falls there's another cool little waterfall to see. I found it by leaving the main trail shortly after the second bridge and following the stream downstream to Rainbow Falls. If you go this way, be very careful making your way down the cliff at Rainbow Falls when you reach it, or head back to the main trail and take the usual way down to the falls.

4 months ago
4 months ago

Cozy and beautiful. Swim in the blue holes, hang out on the bridge or hammock near the water. Love this spot

4 months ago
4 months ago

We weren't able to go the full length this weekend but will be back! Like others mentioned the parking lot only has enough spaces for a few cars... we ended up parking along the road as several others had done also. It was an easy trek down to the dam with only a small section somewhat steep with gravel. Be sure your shoes have traction and you'll be fine. We were a little disappointed when we ran into some people with their dogs unleashed. I really wish people would use leashes - hence why we'll be back without our dogs. Our dogs are VERY freindly but two too many times we've had other dogs run up to ours that created a very scary situation. I'd rather just avoid it so we can enjoy our hike and the beauty many of these trail offer!

8 months ago
8 months ago

This is very close to my house like a 3 min drive to get to the trail very fun don't miss doing it

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Not gonna lie, you definitely have to work for this one! But it is totally worth it. People with children probably shouldn't attempt to reach the falls, as the hike down is extremely tricky. I did this hike in summer, so it was very muggy and hot. As the author suggested, I bet fall would be a wonderful time to visit!

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

This is a beautiful hike! If you find yourself near Chattanooga-don't miss this hike, especially in the fall!

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Clare HealyExplorer

Adventure storyteller, outdoor explorer, and taco eater from the west. If you're in the California area, let's go on an adventure.

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