With so many hiking trails and gorgeous natural landscapes present throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, it was natural that we wanted to explore as much as possible during our short weekend visit to Gatlinburg, TN.
Sat on the doorstep to the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is a great location to be based if you want to take day hikes into the Smokies and this is exactly what we did as soon as we arrived there. This national park is famous for having a variety of waterfalls including Laurel Falls which we hiked to, Abrams Falls, Grotto Falls and Rainbow Falls among many others.
I am a huge fan of waterfalls, regardless of their size. Whether we have the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls or simply hike to a small waterfall that is gurgling over the edge, I am always up for the challenge.
Hiking the Trail
Day 1 saw us venture not too far into the Great Smoky Mountains after a brief visit to the Visitor Center for guidance on where we should explore. A short drive from Gatlinburg lead us to the foot of the Laurel Falls Trail. From Sugarlands Visitor Center you follow directions for Cades Cove and it is only 3.5 miles to the trailhead. Be cautious of your speed limit if driving as throughout the park it is 35mph!
We decided to explore Laurel Falls Trail primarily to see the waterfall at the head of the trail but also in the slight hope we may see a bear or two along the way.
According to the park rangers, this hike is one of the simpler hikes available in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is a great option for beginners. Arriving late in the day, Laurel Falls was a great option for us as it is just under 3 miles round trip, so nothing too strenuous at all.
The trail to Laurel Falls is all uphill around the side of the mountain, but the trail is kept in great condition through the wooded environment. The trail is paved for the most part though there are a few spots that are uneven so just be aware of your surroundings as you make your way to the summit.
Black Bear Sightings
Rumor has it that this is a popular spot for black bears to be active but unfortunately we left disappointed on this front as we saw very little in terms of wildlife. Whether it was the time of the day or even the time of the year, it was a definite negative on bear sightings. But we didn’t let this deter us from enjoying the experience as hiking to the waterfall itself was worth the time we spent.
There are advertisements throughout the trail advising visitors to ensure they take all of their belongings with them, especially litter. A story of a black bear biting a hiker in 2010 along the Laurel Falls Trail is detailed, simply because the bears are so attracted to the smells of food combined with the scent of humans. Fortunately for that hiker, their injuries were minor but the bear was forced to be euthanized due to fears that attacks may reoccur.
Warnings are there not only to protect visitors but also to protect the bears. Ultimately we are all entering the bears home and not vice-versa. We should all respect the landscape and reading these stories really touched a nerve and made me realize that we all need to do a much better job when it comes to helping the environment.
I probably get way too excited by the sight of waterfalls but they are just so relaxing and tranquil to see the water flowing over the edge and down the side of a mountain. Laurel Falls is never going to break any records in terms of height, but standing at 80ft it is still a really impressive drop. You know you are getting close to the waterfall from a fair distance away along the trail as you can hear the water flowing, but nothing beats the moment you walk around the corner and see the falls.
This is certainly a popular spot for people to have a picnic or just sit and relax with the sound of the water in the background. It creates a perfect atmosphere especially for the nomadic traveler in me who likes to take a break and contemplate my next journey.
A bridge crosses about half way down the falls and then there is a further drop to the rockpool where the water collects before moving further downstream. Despite warnings to not climb on the rocks, there are always the adventurous or perhaps rebellious type that clamber to the top which I am sure provides an even better view down the falls. We opted to stay at the bottom, the good samaritans that we are, and take a variety of selfies with Laurel Falls behind us.
Laurel Falls is a great way to open your account in the Great Smoky Mountains. Short, not particularly demanding and a gorgeous waterfall awaits at the end of the trail! The hike back down is easy as the majority is downhill and of course it takes much less time that the hike up. We really enjoyed our time here though of course we were slightly disappointed at the lack of bear sightings…or perhaps this was a good thing!
If you are planning on taking a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, I would highly encourage you to visit Sugarlands Visitor Center as there is a plethora of information available on the various hikes available.
To view more of our pictures of our experiences on Laurel Falls Trail and throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, check out our photo gallery here: Smoky Mountains 2014