Grotto Falls Highlights
- Trail Features
Waterfalls, Old growth forest
- Trail Location
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Roundtrip Length
- Elevation Gain (total)
- Elevation Gain (per mile)
- Trail Difficulty
This Easy hike is 2.6 miles roundtrip and includes 585 feet of elevation gain.
Grotto Falls Description
The hike to Grotto Falls begins from the Trillium Gap Trailhead. Hikers will be following the Trillium Gap Trail for most of the way as it meanders through a beautiful old-growth forest, which includes many large eastern hemlocks.
The first section of trail is technically an access trail. After hiking a very short distance, roughly 0.15 miles, you'll link up with the Trillium Gap Trail. Hikers should proceed straight ahead at this junction to continue towards the falls.
If you have the opportunity to hike this trail during the spring you'll likely witness a smorgasbord of wildflowers along the way. Look for white and yellow trillium, white violets, stitchwort, squawcorn and Dutchman's breeches that are common in this area.
For the most part the trail to the waterfall travels a gentle grade along a wide and well-worn path. As you proceed to the falls you'll cross over four small streams without the benefit of a footbridge.
At 1.2 miles hikers will reach a tumbling cascade. Just beyond this point, looking upstream, Grotto Falls will come into view for the first time.
The most distinctive feature about Grotto Falls is that it's the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that a person can actually walk behind. The 25-foot high waterfall offers a cool, shady, and moist retreat for hikers in the summer. This same environment also provides ideal habitat for salamanders as well.
As you walk behind the waterfall you'll not only hear, but also feel the thunderous power of the water plunging into the pool in front of you. Watch your step around here - especially in the winter - as the area surrounding the falls is perpetually wet and slick. Grotto Falls is widely considered to be one of the best waterfall hikes in the Smokies, and is therefore a very popular destination, especially in the summer.
If you still have the energy you can continue for another two miles to visit the summit of Brushy Mountain, or continue on for another 5.6 miles to reach the 6593-foot summit of Mt. LeConte. Both destinations offer outstanding views of the surrounding mountains.
Hikers should note that the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed during the winter (from December through mid-March). However, you can still reach Grotto Falls by starting your hike from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, located off Cherokee Orchard Loop Road. This will add another 3.4 miles to your roundtrip hike.
Grotto Falls Map
Grotto Falls Elevation Profile
Directions to Trailhead:
The hike to Grotto Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains begins from the Trillium Gap Trailhead, located just outside of Gatlinburg. Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. After driving 0.7 miles veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, upon which you'll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you'll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop Road. Drive another 0.9 miles on the loop before turning right onto the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The parking area for Grotto Falls will be on the left side of the road after driving roughly 1.6 miles along this one-way road. The trailhead is located just beyond the parking area on the opposite side of the road. Due to the popularity of this hiking trail, there are additional parking spaces further up the road. Your best bet is to arrive early during the peak visitor season.