Grotto Falls provides refreshing destination for day hike in Smokies

August 6, 2014

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

by Julie Dodd

The hike to Grotto Falls is a scenic and moderately challenging hike – and a particularly good hike in the summer.

After hiking about 1.5 miles on Trillium Gap Trail to reach Grotto Falls, you can take off your shoes and soak your feet in the cool water below the waterfall and enjoy the view.

This is a good hike for those getting into hiking and for families. Trillium Gap is not a paved trail, so is not for hiking groups with children in strollers. Pets and bicycles are not allowed. The 3-mile roundtrip hike to Grotto Falls takes about 2 to 3 hours. (For a shorter hike with a paved trail, check Laurel Falls Trail.)

If you want a scenic destination and are up to hiking three miles, Grotto Falls is a good choice. You can eat a picnic on the rocks below the waterfall and watch all the activity of nature and people. If you have children in your group, be sure to keep an eye on them, as the rocks are slippery.

You can walk under the falls and get a spray or dousing from the falls. Going under the falls or walking carefully across the rocks in front of the falls is the way to continue on the trail that goes to Trillium Gap and then on to Mt. LeConte.

llama pack team on Trillium Gap Trail
The llama pack team makes the roundtrip to LeConte Lodge three times a week using the Trillium Gap Trail. Photos by Julie Dodd

If you hike to Grotto Falls on Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you may see the llama pack train on their way to or returning from LeConte Lodge atop Mt. LeConte. The Trillum Gap Trail is the trail the llamas take, making the 13-mile roundtrip three times a week to deliver fresh supplies for the lodge. Seeing the llamas is a treat for young and old alike.

The hike to Grotto Falls is considered moderate in difficulty, with a graduate incline most of the way from the parking area (Stop #5 on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail) to the falls. Much of the trail has exposed tree roots, so wear shoes versus flip flops or sandals.

Even though the water at Grotto Falls is clear and inviting, you shouldn’t drink it without treating it first. So everyone should have a bottle of water. If you plan to dip your feet in the water, take a small towel or bandana so you can dry your feet and not hike back with wet feet or socks, as that can lead to blisters.

If you aren’t planning to have a picnic lunch at the falls, be sure to have snacks for everyone.

  • Trail difficulty – Moderate
  • Getting to the trailhead – Driving from Gatlinburg to the trailhead takes about 20 minutes. Take traffic light #8, follow Historic Nature Trail into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Then take Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a narrow one-way road. RVs, buses and large trucks are not allowed on the road. The road is closed in the winter.
  • Parking – Parking lot at stop #5 and also restrooms. On a summer day, the parking lot can be filled, so you may be parking along the roadside. Be sure not to park in a way that would block traffic.

For more details about Grotto Falls and the Trillium Gap Trail, see Hiking Trails of the Smokies (The Little Brown Book). If you are planning on hiking in the Smokies, it’s always a good idea to check the GSMNP website, stop by one of the Visitor Centers or call the Backcountry Information Office (865-436-1297) to make sure the trail is open.