Laurel Falls#9 in Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Named for the mountain laurel (an evergreen shrub) that blooms throughout the park, Laurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park. The path has an upper and a lower section, divided by a walkway that crosses a stream at the base of the upper falls (which measure 80 feet in height). Although the round-trip hike is only 2.6 miles, it takes about 2 hours, due to the rough and uneven pavement and steep incline. Because of its popularity, the trail is busy year-round, especially on weekends and during the peak summer season.
Some recent hikers thought the trail was difficult and somewhat dangerous, mentioning steep drop-offs with no handrails and the rocky nature of the trail itself, while other more experienced hikers found it easy. All agreed that it was incredibly scenic and a great location for photos, especially in May and June, when the laurel is in bloom. Many advised that the lack of ample parking required some extra walking to reach the trailhead and noted that the area is known for its bear population, cautioning visitors to carry bear spray and refrain from discarding food along the trail.
The Laurel Falls Trail is a 3½-mile drive from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, off Little River Road. There are parking areas on both sides of the road, but these fill up quickly during peak visitor season and on weekends year-round. Pets and bicycles are not allowed on the trail. Access to Laurel Falls is free. For more information about the trail, visit the NPS website.
More Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
#1 Roaring Fork Motor Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a nearly 6-mile-long, one-way loop road, offers spectacular mountain scenery and access to two of the region's most popular waterfalls: Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls. You can actually walk behind the 25-foot high falls at the Grotto via the Trillium Gap Trail. You'll also see historic log cabins and the remains of a mountain village, the Roaring Fork Cemetery and an array of wildlife from birds and deer to black bears.
Recent visitors who raved about the beautiful waterfalls and mountain scenery on this motor trail said this is a must-see and a great place to spot bears in the wild. However, some summer tourists bemoaned the fact that the trail was crowded and offered limited parking areas. To avoid the midday rush of visitors, plan your drive in the morning to beat the crowds.
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