laurel falls trail

Hiking the Laurel Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains

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I recently visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for my birthday this fall and finally got the chance to hike the Laurel Falls trail!

This is one of the easiest waterfall hikes in the park & I definitely consider it a “must-do” when visiting the Smokies, especially in the fall.

In this post, I will tell you about the trail, share some pics, and give you a few tips for hiking this beautiful trail to this 80-foot waterfall!

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Hiking to Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

All About Hiking to Laurel Falls in the Smoky Mountains

Laurel Falls FAQs

How long is the hike to Laurel Falls?

The Laurel Falls trail is 2.6 miles roundtrip.

How long does it take to hike Laurel Falls?

On average, it will take you about 1.5 – 2 hours to hike to Laurel Falls and back. However, if you like to stop & take lots of photos like I do, it may take you longer.

Is Laurel Falls paved?

Yes! The trail to Laurel Falls is paved. However, it is steep in some areas so wheelchairs, etc are not recommended.

paved laurel falls trail
The trail to Laurel Falls is paved but is narrow & steep with drop-offs. Wheelchairs and strollers are not recommended!

Laurel Falls Directions

Directions to Laurel Falls Trailhead From Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The easiest way to access the Laurel Falls trail is to enter the park from Gatlinburg, TN, and head towards the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

At the Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn towards Cade’s Cove, and the trailhead is 3.5 miles down on the right.

Directions to Laurel Falls Trailhead From Cherokee, North Carolina

If coming to the Smokys from North Carolina, enter the park from Highway 441. In 28.5 miles, turn left at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trailhead will be 3.5 miles down on the right. (See map below)

Trail Stats

  • Trail Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 2.6 miles RT
  • Difficulty: moderately easy
  • Elevation Gain: 400 feet
  • Waterfall drop: 80 feet
  • Trailhead: 3.9 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center
laurel falls trailhead sign

Laurel Falls Trail

Originally constructed in 1932 as a fire crew access, the Laurel Falls Trail is a family favorite in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The trail became so popular in the 1960s that the high amount of foot traffic led to massive erosion, forcing the trail to become paved.

view of mountains from the Laurel Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
With views like this almost the entire trail, you can understand why this trail is one of the most popular trails in the Smokys!

No matter what time of year you are hiking, the trailhead fills up quickly, as this is the most popular paved trail in the entire park. Over 400,000 people hike this trail every year. That’s over 1000 people a day.

But don’t let that deter you from hiking this trail!

It is one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever hiked. This hike is a photographer’s dream, as there are photo opportunities every step of the trail. I was constantly stopping to snap a pic.

view of smoky mountains through fall leaves
Visiting in the fall provides beautiful leaves to frame your shot of the Smoky Mountains!

In the spring you will see lush plants such as the mountain laurel. And visiting in the fall will provide you with a rainbow of colors as the leaves are changing.

fall leaves in the smoky mountains

Almost a mile into the trail I could tell we were getting close from the sound of the waterfall in the distance.

Before long we rounded the corner and finally saw Laurel Falls!

laurel falls waterfall

A paved walkway runs right in front of the falls, allowing for you to get right up close with the waterfall!

laurel falls waterfall, tn

Want to read about another waterfall hike? Check out this post on hiking Yosemite Falls!

You will notice that some hikers climb down the huge rocks for a lower perspective of the falls.

I was one of those hikers.

It’s the perfect place a get a pic! See below.

climbing down rocks
Climbing down the rocks at Laurel Falls.
sitting log in front of waterfall
It’s like nature strategically placed this log here for picture-taking.

Climbing down below Laurel Falls gave me the chance to photograph some of the smaller waterfalls that run off of it. It was also much less crowded down here.

small waterfalls
Capturing some of the smaller falls coming off of Laurel Falls.

From Laurel Falls, you have the option to continue another 2.7 miles to Cove Mountain, where an old fire tower is located. Most hikers just turn around at Laurel Falls and come back.

I could’ve spent much more time at Laurel Falls.

The sound of the waterfall lets you relax and just take in the views.

The colors and scenery were just too good not to keep photographing. I think I took about 75 pictures of the trail, falls, leaves, logs, everything.

fall leaves on a log

Tips for the Laurel Falls Hike

  • Bring layers! The temperature at the falls can be cooler than you think!
  • Bear spray is a must. Many bears have been seen on this trail, and in this park in general. In 2010, a visitor got bit and the park was forced to euthanize the bear. Click here to read more about this & learn more trail info.
  • Bug spray is also a must in spring & summer!
  • Be responsible: Don’t litter, feed the wildlife, or approach a bear.
  • As far as water goes… while this is a shorter trail, you probably won’t need a hydration backpack unless you want to bring one. I was fine with my 1L Nalgene bottle.
  • Since the trail is paved, tennis shoes are fine to hike in. However, if you want to climb down the rocks, it is wet & slick down there. So you may want hiking boots if you plan to do that.
  • And of course, bring a camera! You will want to capture the beauty of this 80-foot waterfall!
melissa of dogwoods & driftwood travel blog

Like reading about hikes? Check out these hikes below:

Hikes Similar to Laurel Falls

Hiking to Alum Cave Bluffs in the Great Smoky Mountains

Hiking the Trail to Delicate Arch

Hiking to Emerald Lake

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Hiking to laurel falls in the great smoky mountains national park, tennessee and north carolina
hiking to laurel falls waterfall

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  1. Are there places throughout the hike at Laurel Falls where people can stop to rest? (I.e. places to sit or to have lunch, etc)

    1. Hi Wendi! Great question! There aren’t any benches along the trail. When I was there last year, there were a few down trees/logs you could stop & sit on to rest along the way. You may be able to find a place at the top near the waterfall to stop and snack if it’s not too crowded. I managed to find a wet log to sit on, ha! But unfortunately there are no designated resting or eating areas on this trail.

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