Laurel Falls, which is located an easy 30 minute drive from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, is one of the most popular hikes and attractions in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking time to Laurel Falls is approximately 90 minutes (round-trip). The easy hike to the falls on a paved trail is 1.3 miles with a rise of just over 300’. Since the hike is paved, it is suitable for strollers (not wheelchairs) and is classified easy-to-moderate difficulty. The 80-foot high Laurel Falls are magnificent year-around, but are most spectacular following a recent rain.
Directions To Laurel Falls:
From Pigeon Forge, the drive to Laurel Falls bypasses Gatlinburg into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The picturesque drive takes approximately a half hour at a distance of 14.3 miles.
1 – Drive southwest on TN-71/South US-441 Bypass/South Parkway to the Sugarlands Visitor Center
2 – Turn right onto Little River Road and continue for 4.3 miles to the Laurel Falls and Sugarland Mountain Trails parking lot
The trailhead begins at the parking lot on the right-side of the road and is clearly marked.
Insider Tip: Parking at the trailhead is limited. Particularly during the summer, hikers should arrive early in the morning to avoid parking issues.
No facilities except for the paved, self-guided hiking path are available at Laurel Falls Trail. Wooden posts are located every 0.1 miles to give hikers an indication how far they have traveled. The nearest public restrooms, telephones, vending machines and backcountry permit station are located at Sugarlands Visitors Center.
Because it is one of the most popular destinations in Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Service maintains a paved trail on the first 1.3 miles of the route that ascends 314 feet to the 60-foot falls. Average walking time is about 40 minutes one way for the trail’s lower portion. Above that, the trail reverts to a traditional dirt path for an additional 2.7 miles to the fire tower atop Cove Mountain where the elevation gain is 1,200 feet. Round trip takes approximately five hours. Because of the paved path and the easy intensity of this trail, the path is frequented by families with small children and strollers, as well as handicapped individuals. Initially, the trail follows Little River Road and rises slowly until it begins to double back to the mountain ridge where it gives hikers some expansive mountain views. The final trail ascent has some steep drop-offs, requiring parents to closely mind children, before descending to the falls. The steeper portions of the trail can be slippery when wet.
Insiders Tip: Avoid the lower portion trail on weekends, particularly if you want to photograph the area. Hikers will find more solitude above the falls where the trail becomes more difficult.
The falls get their name from the mountain laurel, a small bush appearing in abundance on either side of the trail at its head, along with rhododendron. These bushes give way to a pine oak forest, then a cove hardwood forest with oaks, maples, tulip trees and dogwoods.
An interesting series of rocks comes next as hikers pass the mountain ridge along the trail. The boulders appear to be standing on edge due to internal earth pressure that jammed together the rocks and surrounding soil. Moisture-loving hemlock and beech live along the stream. The path is also rife with wildflowers in the spring. The higher up the trail, twisted trees, contorted into odd shapes by stiff winds begin to appear, some of which bear lightning bolt scars.
The scenic drive to the trail-head and the Laurel Falls hike, which is completed by tens of thousands of visitors each year, is sure to be one of the highlights of your Smoky Mountain vacation!