Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

TO THE TRAILHEAD:  Take a right onto Littler River after leaving Gatlinburg.  The trail head is 3.8 miles from the Sugarland Visitors Center on your right (look for the hoards of cars).  From Townsend, take a left onto Little River Road.  The trail head is 9 miles on your left.

THE HIKE:  Laurel falls is an easy 1.3 mile hike to a cascading waterfall.  The trail is paved, making travel that much easier for the novice hiker or family.  However, though it is often said that you can bring strollers on this path, the paving is very uneven and can be difficult to maneuver in some places.  In addition, there are places along the trail with large drop-offs, so you will want to monitor children very closely along this hike.  This has been an issue for as long as I can remember.

The hike itself is pretty easy with only about 300 feet of elevation change.  Though there are great sights and sounds to be seen and heard along the way, most of the time you will not get the feel of being disconnected and out in the woods.  The reason is that this hike is packed with people at all times of day.  It is likely the most popular hike in the Smoky Mountains due to the waterfall destination, ease of access via Little River Road (less than 4 miles from Sugarland Visitor Center), and ease of the hike itself.  If you are trying to get a taste of what the Smoky Mountains have to offer, this is a great starter hike for you.  If not, I would advise skipping this one all together with the exception of the caveat listed below.  People will show up for this hike in large groups and families.  The hike itself can be loud from yelling children, teenagers, and even adults.  You will see people in everything from appropriate hiking gear to ladies in heels (yes, I have seen this many times), and people with so much perfume and cologne that they are certain to attract every living creature in the area.  If you decide to do this one, so early in the morning (before 9am) or during non peak times for the park.  Generally this is the winter months in January, February, and early March.

The one caveat that I mentioned above deals with the section AFTER you get to the falls.  If you continue to follow the trail after the falls, the pavement and people go away.  You have a wonderful hike with solitude that will take you a total of 4 miles to an old firetower.  There is still an access road to the top that the park service uses, but you will likely not hear or see any of that traffic.  The section of trail after the falls is full of old growth forest with trees as tall and wide as you can imagine.  You have the serenity there to connect with nature and yourself.  This is an often overlooked hike with much to offer.  My suggestion?  Power-walk the first 1.3 miles and then slow down to enjoy the rest of the hike.

 

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