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10Explores: Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls Trail is one of the most popular in the Great Smoky Mountains at roughly 2.5 miles round trip on a well-marked trail with an easy difficulty rating.

Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — From peaks to valleys, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has dozens of waterfalls and cascades flowing through its foggy trails.

Some visitors flock to popular vistas like Grotto Falls while others seek out lesser-known treks like Spruce Flats Falls.

Among all of these, Laurel Falls stands as one of the most popular waterfall hikes in the park.

At roughly 2.5 miles round trip on a well-marked trail, Laurel Falls Trail is rated as an easy difficulty.

Though the hike is on the shorter side without much elevation gain, it is not fully paved, and there are some short, steep sections with some drop-offs along the way. Watch your footing and wear sturdy shoes.

The national park asks people not to climb on the rocks around the falls or along riverbanks as they are slippery from mist and algae. According to its website, people have fallen to their deaths or suffered serious injuries from climbing on these rocks.

Parking around this trail is limited. As one of the most popular destinations in the park, in 2021, the Great Smoky Mountains introduced efforts to eliminate roadside parking at the trailhead by putting up temporary barriers along the road and restricting parking to the designated lots to make the roadway safer and protect nearby habitats from damage. 

These continued into 2022 for the summer season and will run through Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. More information about its Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan is available online.

In short, this is a very popular area so it's recommended to get there early or have a backup plan. 

What to expect on the trail:

Some tips before you visit:

  • Let someone know where you plan to hike, when you plan to be back, what clothes you are wearing and what your car looks like.
  • Wear sunscreen and bug spray.
  • Pack plenty of water and snacks.
  • Take a light source with you (preferably not your phone). The park said the number one reason people have to get rescued in the park is not bringing a light.
  • Keep an eye on the weather.
  • Pets are not allowed on the trail.
  • Be courteous to other park visitors.
  • Leave the plants and wildlife alone.
  • Have a backup plan if the trail is closed or too busy.
  • Check on road closures at twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps.
  • Make sure to have a parking tag.

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