Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: What You Need to Know
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is one of the most popular scenic drives in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This road is a 5.5-mile loop that offers some of the best views in the Smoky Mountains. You’ll get glimpses of an old-growth forest, historic structures and more. We’ve put together a guide for everything you need to know about Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail:
Highlights of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork area is a popular place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! When you’re driving along the trail, you’ll come across historic structures, rushing streams, hiking trails and more. Here are some highlights of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail:
Scenic Overlooks – The first things you’ll see along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are two scenic overlooks. The first one faces northwest back toward Gatlinburg. The second overlook appears shortly after the first around a curve. It’s a great spot to take pictures!
Trillium Gap Trailhead – After you continue along the trail, you’ll see a parking area for the Trillium Gap Trailhead. If you want to get out and stretch your legs, take the trail to Grotto Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in the national park! The hike is 2.6 miles to the 25-foot waterfall and back.
Cascades – Although Grotto Falls is the only major waterfall located along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, you’ll have the chance to see a few small cascades along your drive. We recommend rolling your windows down so you can hear the trickling water. There are several paved parking areas where you can pull off and take photos of the water dripping over the rocks.
Jim Bales Place – Next along the drive you’ll see log structures, including a home and a barn, that are sitting in an open field. Jim Bales and his brother spent most of their lives in Roaring Fork. You can see Jim Bales’ corn crib and barn; however, the cabin that sits here is actually the Alex Cole Cabin, which was relocated from the Sugarland area.
Ephraim Bales Cabin – Ephraim is Jim Bales’ brother, and his cabin is on the left beyond a small parking area. He lived there with his wife and their 9 children. What’s unique about this homestead is that it’s actually two cabins side by side, connected by a common roof. The larger cabin was the living area, while the smaller cabin was the kitchen.
Alfred Reagan Place & Tub Mill – When you continue along the motor nature trail, you’ll see a long wooden aqueduct on the right side of the road. This leads to a small tub mill beside the creek. Straight ahead from the parking area here is the Alfred Reagan Place. This white home is the only historic structure along the trail that’s been painted.
Place of a Thousand Drips – The Place of a Thousand Drips is a waterfall that can be seen from your car! This seasonal waterfall can best be seen during wet periods and after a heavy rainfall. To get a better view, you can park at the small pull off and walk back to see it. The flow of the water splits into small channels around the rocks, creating “a thousand drips.”
After the waterfall, two-way traffic will resume, which means you officially reached the end of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail!
How to Get to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is easy to find! Coming from Gatlinburg, you’ll turn off the main Parkway at Traffic Light #8, where you’ll follow the Historic Nature Trail to the Cherokee Orchard entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Follow this road until it splits, where you’ll enter the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Hikes in the Roaring Fork Area
Want to go for a hike when you’re exploring the Roaring Fork area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Here are a few trails you can access in that area:
Noah “Bud” Ogle Self-Guiding Nature Trail – This trail is located just before you reach the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Noah “Bud” Ogle Place is a historic site that has a short nature trail. The trail leads you through an authentic farmstead. You’ll see a streamside tub mill and the Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumping system. The trail itself is .8 miles long.
Rainbow Falls – Rainbow Falls is also located just before you enter the one-way loop. This is one of the most popular waterfall hikes. It’s 5.4 miles round trip to get to the 80-foot waterfall. Along the way, the trail gains 1,500 feet in elevation. On sunny afternoons, you can see a rainbow that’s formed from the mist of the falls!
Bullhead Trail – You can also access the Bullhead Trail from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead. This trail can be used to get to Mount LeConte, the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. This loop is about a 15 mile hike to Mount LeConte and back, but you’ll have incredible views along the way.
Grotto Falls – We mentioned before that you’ll see the Trillium Gap Trailhead along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This trail will take you to Grotto Falls! Hike for 1.3 miles through an old-growth hemlock forest to get to the 25-foot waterfall. What’s unique about this trail is that it actually runs behind the waterfall! The moist environment around the falls is great for summer hikers and salamanders.
Roaring Fork Closures
If you’re hoping to drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail during your visit to the Smoky Mountains, keep in mind that the road is closed during the winter. It’s open from early April through November.
More Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains
Love the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and want to try more scenic drives in the Smokies? Check out these 5 scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains.