Trail: Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Packed Dirt
Distance: 2.6 miles
Time: 2.5 hours
Foot Traffic: Crowded
Restrooms: Trillium Gap Trail Parking Area (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Waterfalls, Cascades, Streams, Wildflowers
Trillium Gap Trail Trailhead
From Gatlinburg: You will find Trillium Gap Trail on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Roaring Fork is a popular destination for auto tours near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. At traffic light #8, turn onto Historic Nature Trail – Airport Road. Drive 0.6-mile and the road merges with Cherokee Orchard Road. Stay to the right and proceed into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Turn right onto Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and go to stop #5. A parking area with enough parking for 18 vehicles is on the right. Walk to the far end of the parking area to find the Trillium Gap Trail trailhead. Restrooms are next to the parking area entrance.
IMPORTANT: Parking is often an issue along the road. Park regulations state that vehicles parked along a road must be completely off the road. All four tires must be off the pavement and no part of the vehicle may block the road.
NOTE: A branch of Trillium Gap Trail intersects with the road just before reaching Rainbow Falls Trail parking area. This is not the Trillium Gap trailhead. Starting here will add an additional 4.8 miles to your hike. We suggest continuing on to the trailhead described above.
IMPORTANT: Buses, RV’s, and vehicles with trailers are not allowed on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The road is narrow with tight turns. Please leave these vehicles behind at your hotel, cabin, or campground.
Trillium Gap Trail Description
Trillium Gap Trail and Rainbow Falls Trail are two of the most popular trails originating on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
In addition, the trailhead for Twin Creeks Trail, Bullhead Trail, Baskins Creek Trail, and Grapeyard Ridge Trail are all along Cherokee Orchard Road or Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. They are great trails, but none made our 38 Popular Day Hikes list.
The first 0.2 mile of Trillium Gap is a short path leading to the trail. Turn left at the junction and continue straight through the old-growth forest. The trail surface for Trillium Gap Trail is packed dirt due to the many hikers utilizing it every year.
As with every trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, some roots and small rocks are part of the program. However, they are not a major issue on this trail.
Grotto Falls | Trillium Gap Trail | Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Trillium Gap Trail is moderate in difficulty due to the several small streams you cross on the way to the waterfall. Footbridges do not exist, so you must traverse the water carefully.
Horseback riders share the trail, so be on the lookout for occasional piles of poop, and step wisely.
If you hike in the spring, you are in for a colorful treat. Wildflowers are in full bloom and the trail just comes alive.
Grotto Falls is 1.3 miles from the trailhead. It is famous for being the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can walk behind the falls. You will appreciate the cool, misty spot if you are hiking in the summer heat. Enjoy it, and be safe.
IMPORTANT: Do not climb on the rocks around the waterfalls. The National Park Service reports that several people died after falling from the rocks, others seriously injured.
Nearby Points of Interest
The Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail is located behind the house that bears his name. We already mentioned Rainbow Falls Trail, another popular trail leading to a waterfall. Gatlinburg is impossible to miss, so enjoy it as you exit the park.