Hike to Rainbow Falls, Cherokee National Forest

Clemmer Trail

Waterfalls are always amazing, and Rainbow Falls has three! A moderate 1.7 mile hike gets you to the first two falls but a little trail takes you up to the third one that boasts a swimming hole at it's base. There is even a large sloping rock next to the swimming hole that is great for relaxing.

Starting at the parking lot, head up the trail (Clemmer #302/Scenic Spur #78) and it should say "1.7 miles to waterfalls". At the top of the hill in approximately 0.1 miles, veer to the right on trail #78. Continue for another 0.6 miles trail - #86 cuts across but continue straight on #78. From there it is 0.6 miles to the first creek crossing (there are rocks to step on so you don't have to get wet) and 0.3 miles to the second.

After the second crossing it is only 0.1 miles to the bottom two falls. These are both nice but the true gem is just a little further. At the lower falls there is a 20-foot rock face along the left-hand side of the hill. There are no markings but follow the trail upwards and back to the left along the bottom of this rock wall. Once above the wall, the trail turns back to the right and continues up the valley through some rhododendron for 0.1 miles.

At this point you will be next to the stream again except above the lower falls. The largest waterfall and swimming hole should be in view. The trick is to get across the creek on the boulders. Don't forget to watch out for copper-head snakes, they are venomous but will always try to avoid people. For those wanting even more adventure, there are several smaller waterfalls up the valley past the largest one.

This link provides maps of the trails and GPS waypoints. Enjoy your trip!

Pack List

  • Sturdy Shoes
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Swimwear (optional)
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RT Distance 3.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 200 Feet
Activities Swimming, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Year Round
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
River
Waterfall
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Great Waterfall, Mediocre Rappel

These waterfalls are fantastic! I absolutely love the wide cascading falls at the top! The directions are spot on and the trail is well-maintained. The only disappointing thing about the waterfalls was the rappel. There are not many trees to anchor at the top waterfall. Next time I will be visiting solely to enjoy the falls!

Quick Fix for Waterfalls

Hiking Clemmer Trail to Rainbow Falls is easily the one hike I've completed the most in the last 10 years, and it's ranked amongst my top three hikes to take family and friends on when someone's itching for a quick and easy getaway into the Cherokee National Forest. Ivan says it best: the trail is mostly easy-going for the first .75 mile until the creek crossings and then it steadily becomes a more moderate climb to the upper falls. This hike is definitely worth it! (Definitely go the extra mile and trek beyond the swimming hole)


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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