The Sinks at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Sinks is more of a roaring cascade than a waterfall but there is a fascinating history behind this man-made feature in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
October 6th, 2016
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In the late 1800’s a massive flood created a log jam on the Little River, locking thousands of pounds of timber in a horrible mess. The timber company came up with a brilliant idea: blast it with dynamite. It freed the logs, but also punched a deep whole in the bedrock, changed the course of the Little River, and created what is today known as The Sinks.

The Sinks at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fascinating place to visit, but if you take a plunge off this cliff into the water you are swimming at your own risk!

The Sinks is one of the more hidden attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (read more of my stories on the national park here). It’s about 20 minutes from the Sugarland Visitor Center heading toward Cades Cove (which is a dead end loop). Thousands of visitors a year travel to Cades Cove to spot some local bears, enjoy the peaceful serenity, and explore some cabins, but while many of those visitors will drive past The Sinks on their way in and out they do not make a stop.

Those who do take the time for a stop are treated to some interesting history, a captivating view, and a thrilling swim if you dare. The paved parking lot is big enough for maybe twenty vehicles (but campers and trailers won’t fit so please don’t try). Once parked you can hear the roaring cascades before even leaving the confines of your car. A short walk along a flat concrete path takes you to an observation area about 20′ above the cascades. Information panels along the path tell the story about the creation of The Sinks.

The Sinks at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This fisherman spent about an hour hoping for a catch of the day.

There are also a few other ways to enjoy The Sinks. Just beneath the overlook you can climb out onto some exposed rocks for a closer view. Sometimes people interested in fishing will climb down the rocks to the water’s level and spend a few hours casting out their line hoping for a nibble. You can also just sit here on the rocks and enjoy the view during a picnic.

But one of the most thrilling and daring ways to enjoy The Sinks is to climb out onto a cliff about fifteen-twenty feet above the water…and take a jump right off the edge. An enthusiastic local who was there with his kids one day told me how he’d been taking that plunge most of his life. The Sinks are about thirty feet at the deepest, and during all his time jumping off that cliff he’d never felt the bottom. Kids and adults alike take that thrilling jump into the water, swim back to the edge, climb up the cliff, and do it all over again.

Rangers at the park say this activity isn’t forbidden, but they also don’t encourage it. The water currents at The Sinks are incredibly strong, especially after heavy rain storms that leave the water levels higher than usual. The currents can easily drag someone beneath an underwater ledge and trap them there. Rangers have been called in for emergency rescues, but sometimes it is too late by the time they arrive. If you plan to take this daring leap of faith, don’t do it alone.

Enjoy the scenic view. Sit down for a picnic. Do some fishing. Take some photos. Jump off that cliff. However you approach your time at The Sinks, it’ll be good and you won’t forget it. Build some time into your day to visit this hidden destination inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once you’re done, drive a little further down the road (toward Cades Cove) to enjoy the view of Meigs Falls, the only waterfall in the park you can literally see from your parked car.

Be sure to check out my Great Smoky Mountains National Park Travel Guide for more information, photos, and stories about this national park.

If you would like to see more photos from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please visit my website at

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