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Best Easy Day Hikes
covers 22 hikes in the Smokies, including "Quiet Walkways," self-guided nature trails, as well as recommendations based on best views, nature lovers, history hikes, waterfalls, etc.

Grotto Falls

Trail Features: Waterfalls, Old growth forest grotto falls
Trail Location: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roundtrip Length: 2.6 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 585 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 450 Feet
Highest Elevation: 3777 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 3.77 (easy)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.68037
Parking Lot Longitude -83.46243

Directions to Trailhead:

Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. At 0.7 miles, veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, upon which you'll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you'll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop. Drive 0.9 miles on the loop before turning right onto the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The parking lot for the trail to Grotto Falls will be on the left side of the road after driving roughly 1.6 miles on this one-way loop. The trailhead is just beyond the parking area on the opposite side of the road. Because of the extreme popularity of this trail, there are additional parking spaces beyond the trailhead. Your best bet is to arrive early during the peak visitor season.

Trail Description:

To reach Grotto Falls you'll follow the Trillium Gap Trail for most of the way as it meanders through a beautiful old-growth forest, including many large hemlocks trees.

The first section of trail is technically an access trail. At 0.15 mile you'll link up with the Trillium Gap Trail. Continue going straight at this junction.

canadian-violet trillium

If you're hiking the trail during May you'll likely witness a smorgasbord of wildflowers along the way. Look for white and yellow trillium, white violets, stitchwort, squawcorn and Dutchman's breeches that are common in this area.

For the most part the trail is a gentle climb to Grotto Falls along a wide, well-worn path. As you proceed to the waterfalls you'll cross over four small streams without the benefit of a bridge.

grotto-fallsAt 1.2 miles hikers will reach a nice tumbling cascade. Just beyond this point, looking upstream, Grotto Falls comes into view for the first time.

The most distinctive feature about Grotto Falls is that it's the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that a person can actually walk behind. The 25-foot high waterfall offers a cool, shady, and moist retreat for hikers in the summer. This same environment also provides an ideal habitat for salamanders as well.

As you walk behind the falls you can hear and feel the thunderous power of the water plunging into the pool in front of you. Watch your step here - especially in the winter - the area around the falls is always wet and slick.

If you still have the energy you can continue on for another two miles to the summit of Brushy Mountain, or, continue on for another 5.6 miles to reach the 6593-foot summit of Mt. LeConte. Both destinations offer outstanding views of the surrounding mountains.

Please note that the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed during the winter (from December through mid-March). However, you can still reach the waterfall by starting your hike from the parking area near the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. This will add another 3.4 miles to your total roundtrip hike.