Trail: Laurel Falls Trail
Type: Out & Back
Distance: 2.6 miles
Time: 2 hours
Foot Traffic: Crowded
Restrooms: Sugarlands Visitor Center (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: 80’ Waterfall, Wildflowers, Streams
Laurel Falls Trailhead
From Sugarlands Visitor Center: Drive towards Cades Cove on Fighting Creek Gap Road for 3.8 miles. The trailhead is on the right.
From Townsend: At the “Y” intersection turn left onto Little River Road and drive 13.6 miles to the parking area. The trailhead is on the left.
IMPORTANT: Parking for about forty-five vehicles is at the trailhead. Please park only in the designated areas. Park Rangers can and will ticket vehicles parked outside the parking zone. Several “No Parking” signs mark areas where parking is prohibited.
Best Time to Hike Laurel Falls Trail
The hike to the waterfall is 1.3 miles in each direction. An 80’ tall waterfall with opportunities for taking great selfies with your companions is the payoff.
Laurel Falls Trail Markers | Photo: Marc Bowman
Laurel Falls Trail is quite possibly the most popular trail in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since parking is limited, plan your hike around less crowded times.
Weekends are very crowded, so if you are going to hike on the weekend, arrive early in the morning or late afternoon. Even then, parking spots are at a premium.
During the high season, a large number of people vie to get on the trail. Weekdays are pretty much the same as the weekends. The bottom line: expect crowds. Alternatively, you can visit this trail in the off-season (winter).
Laurel Falls Trail Description
Out of 800 miles of maintained trails in the park, only three miles are paved. Laurel Falls Trail is one of the trails with a paved surface. In the 1930’s, authorities built a fire tower at the top of Cove Mountain and paved the trail to give fire crews access.
In the 1960’s, the National Park Service reconditioned the trail to stop erosion.
Laurel Falls Trail Surface | Photo: Ann Bowman
IMPORTANT: Although the trail is paved, it is not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers. The surface is rough and uneven, and several steep drop-offs are slippery when they are wet. Be sure to wear proper hiking shoes on this trail, and please do not wear sandals or flip-flops.
Laurel Falls Trail Warning Signs | Photo: Marc Bowman
The 1.3 miles to Laurel Falls is beautiful. In the winter, you can see for miles due to the lack of leaves on the trees. The mountains on the opposite side of the road are amazing to look at from the trail. In the spring and summer, the vegetation is lush and colorful, providing a completely different experience.
Most hiking guides rate the difficulty level of Laurel Falls Trail “easy.” However, the National Park Service rates the trail “moderate.” Take into consideration your own level of fitness and plan accordingly. We decided to rate it “easy”, even though we agree that it is borderline “moderate”.
The good news is that you can sit down along the way on large boulders or even a log bench. The bench in the picture is about halfway up the trail and gets plenty of use.
Log Bench | Laurel Falls Trail | Photo: Marc Bowman
After church a couple of weeks ago we hiked to Laurel Falls to take a few photos. As usual, the trail was crowded, even for a Sunday in February.
Although warning signs advise people not to climb on the falls, they do it anyway. This is very dangerous. I took both of these photos during our hike.
People Climbing on Laurel Falls | Photo: Marc Bowman
Two footbridges cross over two separate streams on the trail to Laurel Falls. Wildflowers are in abundance during the growing season and are beautiful. In fact, the falls are named after the mountain laurel growing throughout the area in early spring.
Laurel Falls Footbridge | Laurel Falls Trail
Black bears are a favorite sight throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, Laurel Falls is a favorite haunt for the bears. Black bear sightings in the park are amazing, but you need to be safe. After all, black bears are wild animals and can be deadly.
RELATED: Black Bears
Nearby Points of Interest
Sugarland Mountain Trail is across the street from the Laurel Falls Trail trailhead. Sugarland Mountain Trail is 11.8 miles in length and terminates at the junction with the Appalachian Trail, near Clingman’s Dome Road. This trail is not on our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful trail with spectacular views and solitude.
In addition, Elkmont is just a short drive from the Laurel Falls trailhead and is a very popular place with significant historical value.