See the Best Waterfalls in the Smokies on the Roaring Forks Motor Trail

We are waterfall lovers. The number of hiking books we have in our house about waterfalls is too many to actually give a number here, but trust me it is a lot. During our surprise visit to Gatlinburg, Tennessee I heard about the Roaring Forks Motor Trail and the number of waterfalls you can see, so we definitely made it a priority add to our agenda.

The Roaring Forks Motor Trail is about 15 minute drive from downtown Gatlinburg and is a trail you drive through by car. They only allow cars and small trucks, so large trucks, RVs, or vehicles with trailers are not allowed since the roads are very narrow and winding. It is a one-way and a 5.5 mile (8.85 km) loop that has numbered stops and various pull-overs along the way to get out of your car and hike a trail or see an overlook.

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The Myths of the Roaring Forks Motor Trail

Most of the construction of the road happened during the 1850s, and the Civilian Conservation Corps did a lot of conservation efforts and some reconstruction in the 1930s. There are a lot of original buildings along the trail that give some of the histories of the people that called this area home.

The Ghost of Lucy

One of the most fascinating stories on the motor trail was the ghost of Lucy. Lucy is a story of a ghost that wanders around the Roaring Forks Motor Trail. She was a young woman that died in a fire in the 1900s. The story is that after she died and a man was walking in the forest in winter and found her standing barefoot. He gave her a ride home on his horse and later came by to check on her and visit her. The family told him that she had died years before.

Since then people have been seeing her on the motor trail or nearby.

Roaring Forks Motor Trail

The start of the motor trail is a couple miles past Bud Ogle Cabin, which is. It is open during early April toward the end of November. All along this trail and the foot hiking trails is the rushing waters of the Roaring Forks.

Treelined road with two cars in front in the Roaring Forks Motor Trail
Start of the Roaring Forks Motor Trail

One of the first stops we made was at an overlook. This spot on the trail had a small parking area that we could pull over and then has some incredible views of the trees and mountains of the Smoky Mountains.

Overlook view on the Roaring Forks Motor Trail with trees close up and blue mountains in the background.
Stunning view at an overlook stop

Grotto Falls Trail

Since we love waterfalls and saw that this was a shorter one that Rainbow Falls, we decided to stop and hike to Grotto Falls. It is a fairly moderate hike on a well-maintained trail and about 3 miles roundtrip. It can be navigated without hiking boots, but it does have some slippery parts, so boots or at least shoes with a sturdy base are recommended.

There is a parking area around the trailhead, but those were full when we went and found more parking just past the trailhead.

Trailhead of the Trillium Gap Trail on the Roaring Forks Motor Trail with signs about renovations and closures. There is also a sign saying that Grotto Falls is 1.4 miles away.
Trailhead of Trillium Gap Trail

The trail is wide and on a slight incline so it is traversable by a lot of different fitness levels.

Dirt path with visible tree roots and rocks going straight ahead with green plants all around off of the Roaring Forks Motor Trail
Trillium Gap Trail

When we hiked on the trail, we did see evidence of bear activity. While we didn’t see any bears ourselves, we saw their deposits on the trail.

Bear scat in the middle of the dirt Trillium Gap Trail off of the Roaring Forks Motor Trail
Bear scat on the trail

Small Waterfalls Along the Way

As we were going up the trail to Grotto Falls, we crossed some streams. These were beautiful little waterfalls that were worth taking a breath and listening for a few minutes.

Grotto Falls

We got to the final destination of the trail and saw the stunning Grotto Falls. The special feature of this waterfall is that the trail actually goes behind it and the water falls into a gorgeous round pool. This would be a great spot to sit down and eat a snack or picnic lunch.

Roaring Forks Bridges

Along the motor trail, we found a lot of wooden bridges that crossed over the Roaring Forks. The view on these bridges were incredible and most had a small parking area near them. We saw many people just slowing down and taking photos right from their car, which can be down since the water is so close.

Rocks and swirling water
View of the Roaring Forks from one of the bridges

The Ephraim Bales Place

Further down the road from the Grotto Falls trailhead is the Ephraim Bales Place. This little two room cabin housed Ephraim, his wife Minerva and their nine children. They lived here from about 1890 to 1930.

We walked inside the cabin and just tried to imagine 11 people living in this little cabin. There are several out-buildings – barn, corn crib, and hog pen, and the view of the Roaring Forks is incredible. I can see why they settled the house in this spot, but not sure I could live in such cramped quarters.

The Ephraim Bales Place

Alfred Reagan Tub Mill

A very short drive from the Ephrain Bales Place is the Alfred Reagan Tub Mill. This was constructed in the early 1900s, and a flume used the water from the Roaring Fork to turn a tub-wheel turbine which then turned a grindstone in the mill house. This mill was used to breakdown corn and wheat and is actually still can be used.

Waterfalls Accessible by Car

There were a couple of waterfalls that we didn’t even have to get out of the car to see. One was a very tall cliff that had water falling from many different levels called the Place of a Thousand Drips.

This was an incredible tour, and we are planning on going back to see the Rainbow Falls (a six mile round trip hike) and the Baskins Creek Trail. It would be impossible to do everything in one trip, so we will be back.

References

4 Responses

  1. Katherine says:

    This place looks beautiful and the waterfalls are magnificent! I will put this on my list of places to travel to someday. Thanks for the post!

  2. Britt says:

    Oh wow, your photos are gorgeous. What an incredible sight!
    I will definitely have to check them out if I am ever in the area.

  3. There is something special about a waterfall that seems to draw us.

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