If you hate crowds, don't plan on going to Grotto Falls on a nice day during tourist season. Or if it is tourist season, go early before they get up :) The falls itself isn't very spectacular, but the trail goes behind the 15' drop which makes it interesting and a thrill for the kids. The hike is about 2.5 miles round trip and is moderate in difficulty. Did I mention that you should go early??
Directions: From Hwy 441 in downtown Gatlinburg, go to stop light #8, reset your odometer, and turn on to Airport Rd. Online maps now show this as Historic Nature Trail. In about 0.6 miles, bear right on to Cherokee Orchard Rd. Pass the old Bud Ogle homestead which is a great stop for historic buildings in the Smokies. At 2.8 miles from the stop light, the road forks and becomes one way. You have to bear right. The parking area for Grotto Falls is 5.5 miles from the stop light and is stop #5 on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Parking is limited which keeps the crowds down somewhat. If the parking spaces are full, keep pulling past the trail head and try to find a spot to pull off safely without blocking the road.
Look for and take the Trillium Gap Trail at the east end of the parking area. It's well signed and the trail to the waterfall is easy to follow. There's an elevation gain of about 600' and parts of the trail are rocky and rooty which can be hard on your ankles and knees. If you do this hike in the spring, you'll see a wide variety of wildflowers as you pass through the coves on your way up to the falls. At just over a mile, the trail levels out as it enters the cove on Roaring Fork down creek from the waterfall. You'll notice a lower cascade, then the trail becomes very rocky before reaching Grotto Falls. The trail continues under the waterfall, then continues on up another 5.5 miles to Mount Le Conte. If the falls is crowded, be prepared to wait in line for your picture of the family behind the waterfall.
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