Grotto Falls Trail

#8 in Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Grotto Falls Trail  picture
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Key Info

No. 5 stop on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Price & Hours

Free

Details

Hiking, Recreation, Free Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
4.0

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 2.0Facilities
  • 4.5Atmosphere

Located along the Trillium Gap Trail – off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail – Grotto Falls is a nearly 3-mile-long, round-trip hike that actually runs behind a 25-foot waterfall. Summer hikers love the cool environment through the old-growth hemlock forest and by the falls, although park officials caution that swimming or climbing on rocks near the falls is prohibited. 

Although some recent visitors said Grotto Falls was doable for amateur hikers, most cautioned that the rough and slippery trail – and its exposed tree roots – is not recommended for novices or children. Many also commented on the uphill climb and the stream crossings, which can be very slippery, but all visitors were impressed with the amazing waterfall. Reviewers recommended wearing sturdy hiking shoes with good traction and carrying both bear and bug spray. 

The Trillium Trail to Grotto Falls can be accessed from the No. 5 stop on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Access to the falls is free. For more information, visit the NPS website.

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#1 Newfound Gap

Also known as notches or passes, gaps are the low points in a mountain ridge. Newfound Gap, which sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet, is the lowest drivable pass in the park. Scenic, 31-mile Newfound Gap – U.S. Route 441 – runs through the center of the park from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, over the mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina. Mile markers denote several interesting attractions along the way, including Newfound Gap, Mingus Mill, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum, and the Smokemont Campground and Nature Trail. 

Recent travelers who drove along this route raved about the mountain views and photo ops, although some called the twisting mountain road "an automotive roller coaster." Many recommended the Newfound Gap visitor area for its quality facilities and access to trailheads, noting that the Appalachian Trail also crosses here. If you're visiting on a holiday weekend, prepare for crowds: some travelers said they were unable to find parking at many of the stops. 

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