Review of Rainbow Falls Trail in Smokies

Early on in the hike, when she still had tons of energy!

So, here’s one thing we learned from this experiment: a moderate-to-rugged 5.4 mile hike in the Smokies is much, much different than a similarly rated hike in Indiana.

Our kids are pretty good hikers. Kinsen, the 7-year-old, especially. She can go as far as I can and is usually in great spirits the whole time. She LOVES to climb rocks and logs. Hiking is definitely her thing. Jaybin is good, too. We weren’t SURE he’d be up for this hike, but we thought he could do it. So we figured it would be a good experiment for our Kid Testers (Check out the complete Kid Testers’ profile.)

Rainbow Falls Trail is 5.4 miles round trip. It’s the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies. It’s breathtaking. And it’s really a fun, climbing type of hike. But it was more than we bargained for.

First, let me say this. Jason and I are “low-key” parenters. We are usually under-prepared and prefer it that way. We like to make quick decisions and go-with-the-flow. We are very laid back.

One of three log bridges you cross during the hike.

So we thought we were being really wise when we turned down the hotel’s carb-y continental breakfast and headed to McDonald’s instead to get the kids plenty of water and some fruit and protein. It was a cold morning (low 40s when we left), so we figured we’d be okay without extra water. I stuck in a few granola bars just in case. And off we set on our hike. My father, Paul Lightfoot, absolute nature lover, was along, too.

We left before 11, thinking we’d be back in 3 hours, worst case. The kids were so happy. They were loving the hike. The weather was perfect, the sky was clear. We were all in great moods.

At this point, they said they couldn't go any further. But they did.

We’d made it 20 minutes or so when Jaybin first said he was tired. We convinced him to keep going, told him the hike would give him bigger muscles like a football player, and kept hiking. Ten minutes later, Kinsen said she was tired, and I was shocked! Little by little, we convinced the kids to keep putting their feet in front of each other. Little by little we climbed Mount Le Conte. Little by little by little… It felt like a VERY long hike!

I’ll tell you, it’s only by the strength of my husband’s will that we got to Rainbow Falls! Jaybin hiked almost the whole way (all but the last 10 minutes). Kinsen made it, too. (Let’s be honest — on the last 20 minutes, which was straight uphill, I barely made it!) But when we looked at our watch, it was 3:30 p.m.! The hike up had taken four and a half hours! We were shocked. We, of course, had no picnic lunch and only one bottle of water that a merciful man had given us. Oh, and I was starting to have to go to the bathroom. (Of course, I couldn’t mention it or the kids would be dying to go, too. Jaybin did end up going behind a tree on the way down, but that’s another story.)

We made it! But now we have to go all the way back down!

So we did the only thing we could do — we started down, carrying Jaybin on shoulders or backs to get down the mountain faster. (Let’s be honest — my buff father carried him most of the way.) We were down by 4:30, for a total of a 5 and a half hour hike.

So, the question remains: Is a 5-year-old too little to hike up to Rainbow Falls? Well, not if you are prepared. If we had sat at the falls and ate a leisurely lunch before heading back down, Jaybin would have been fine. He would have been tired, but he would have made it. Lesson learned — we should actually take our own hiking advice. :)

Below are the kids’ thoughts on the experience. Again, let them tell you about the hike. Enjoy!

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