What to Know About the Laurel Falls Trail Improvements Starting in 2024

March 28, 2024

One of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Laurel Falls Trail. In 2020, more than 375,000 visitors hiked this 1.3-mile trail. Because the trail is visited by so many people each year, the National Park Service has proposed a plan to make some changes to help improve the visitor experience. These proposed improvements also address safety, parking, and more. Here’s what you need to know about the Laurel Falls Trail improvements that will be starting in 2024.

What Improvements Are Planned?

laurel FallsThe National Park Service has completed an Environmental Assessment and approved the Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan to address visitor experience, safety, parking, and trail rehabilitation. The plan is based on information from the assessment and input from community members. The National Park Service will begin construction on improvements to the trail and trailhead this year. The approved proposal includes the following improvements:

  • Widen and resurface the trail
  • Build a new viewing platform
  • Install new signs along the trail and at the trailhead
  • Construct a wider bridge at the upper falls
  • Expand and improve available parking spaces
  • Implement a shuttle service and timed-entry parking reservation system for the trailhead

When Will These Changes Take Place?

The National Park Service will be making these improvements and changes starting this year. The park expects the Laurel Falls Trail to be closed to the public for at least 18 months while these improvements are being implemented. The National Park Service does not yet have a timeline for the implementation of the Laurel Falls Trailhead timed-entry parking reservation system, but they will provide more information at a later date.

What Trails Should I Hike While the Laurel Falls Trail Is Closed?

Toms Branch FallsWhile the Laurel Falls Trail is closed to hikers, there are a number of other great trails you can explore instead. If you’re looking for other short hikes that lead to waterfalls, you should try hiking to Toms Branch Falls or Juney Whank Falls. Other short but beautiful hikes include Spruce-Fir Trail and Baskins Creek Trail. There are a number of other unique waterfalls along trails that make great hiking destinations, such as Grotto Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Mingo Falls. There’s no shortage of amazing hiking trails to explore while the Laurel Falls Trail is under construction.

History of the Laurel Falls Trail

The Laurel Falls Trail was originally built to give fire crews access to the Cove Mountain area. Planning began in the early 1930s to build a trail and fire tower at the top of Cove Mountain. The trail was then completed in 1932. Over the next 30 years, Laurel Falls became a popular hiking destination for visitors to the Smoky Mountains. By the early 1960s, erosion from hikers and nature was taking a toll on the trail. As part of the 1963 Accelerated Works Projects, the first 1.3 miles of the trail were graded and paved to stop the erosion. The Laurel Falls Trail is currently the longest of the paved hiking trails in the national park.

Safety Tips for Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

If you’re planning on going hiking in the Smoky Mountains, you want to make sure you’re prepared! There’s certain equipment and information you might need while you’re out in the woods. Take a look at these 9 safety tips for when you go hiking in the Smoky Mountains so you can have a safe and fun hike in the Smokies!