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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. After driving 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 Road. Drive another 0.9 miles on the loop before turning right onto the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The parking area for the trail that leads to Grotto Falls will be on the left side of the road after driving roughly 1.6 miles along this one-way road. The trailhead is located just beyond the parking area on the opposite side of the road. Due to the popularity of this trail, there are additional parking spaces further up the road. Your best bet is to arrive early during the peak visitor season.

Trail Description:

The hike to Grotto Falls begins from the Trillium Gap Trailhead. Hikers will be following the Trillium Gap Trail for most of the way as it meanders through a beautiful old-growth forest, which includes many large eastern hemlocks.

The first section of trail is technically an access trail. At 0.15 miles you'll link up with the Trillium Gap Trail. Hikers should proceed straight ahead at this junction.

canadian-violet trillium

If you have the opportunity to hike this trail during the spring 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 to Grotto Falls travels a gentle grade along a wide and well-worn path. As you proceed to the falls you'll cross over four small streams without the benefit of a footbridge.

grotto-fallsAt 1.2 miles hikers will reach a tumbling cascade. Just beyond this point, looking upstream, Grotto Falls will come 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 ideal habitat for salamanders as well.

As you walk behind the falls you'll not only hear, but also feel the thunderous power of the water plunging into the pool in front of you. Watch your step here - especially in the winter - as the area surrounding the falls is perpetually wet and slick.

If you still have the energy you can continue for another two miles to visit 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.

Hikers should note that the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed during the winter (from December through mid-March). However, you can still reach Grotto Falls by starting your hike from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, located off Cherokee Orchard Loop Road. This will add another 3.4 miles to your roundtrip hike.