Grotto Falls in the Smoky Mountains: Parking, Trailhead and Tips

grotto falls in tennessee

Grotto Falls is a unique walk-behind waterfall located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee (photo by Francisco Blanco/

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate and a partner of other affiliate programs including, CJ and Tripster, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases via links found in this article.

The Smoky Mountains are full of miracles large and small. From the overwhelming views atop mighty peaks to the smallest patches of wildflowers, the beauty of the Smokies rests in the majestic and the minuscule. 

One of my favorite places in the park is Grotto Falls. It is arguably one of the best waterfalls, an oasis built by the primal forces of nature.

Area Deals and Discounts

Subscribe to our newsletter and we will instantly deliver the best area discounts to your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Please wait...

Thank you for sign up!

How far is Grotto Falls from Gatlinburg?

Grotto Falls is located about 1.3 miles along the Trillium Gap Trail from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a winding, small one-way road.

Trillium Gap Trail is also known as the trek where llamas take supplies to Mt. LeConte Lodge.

The drive from Gatlinburg is just over 6 miles. It should be noted that buses, RVs and large trucks are prohibited on the Roaring Fork Trail. This road also closes in the winter.

Which hike is easier Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls?

They are both considered moderate in difficulty. Grotto Falls is about three miles and takes an estimated 2-3 hours to hike. Laurel Falls is 2.6 miles and takes an estimated 2 hours to hike.

Grotto Falls has an elevation gain of about 544 feet, while Laurel Falls has an elevation gain of 314 feet. So, you might be able to argue that Laurel Falls is slightly easier, but not by much.

Is Grotto Falls a difficult hike? 

The walk itself is moderately difficult, featuring a wide and well-worn path along a gentle upgrade, lifting you more than 500 feet in elevation gain along the way. 

It is not a paved trail.

Trillium Gap Trail in the Smoky Mountains
Trillium Gap Trail is wide but well worn and considered to be moderate in difficulty (photo by Vezzani Photography/

How busy is Grotto Falls?

It’s a popular waterfall in the area, but I would say not quite as busy as Laurel Falls. Still, it’s likely to be busy, especially depending on when you decide to go.

Can you walk behind Grotto Falls?

Yes. Once there you will be rewarded with a one-of-a-kind sight, a 25-foot-high waterfall that you can walk behind. It is the only one of its kind in the Smokies. 

Cool, refreshing and otherworldly, that little spot behind the water – when you have it to yourself – feels like a gateway to another place, another time.

You can picture generations of mountain people seeking shelter there during a sweltering summer.

You can also gain a real appreciation for the water’s power. When the water’s high, the roar behind the falls is like nothing else, and you can feel the power conveyed by even the relatively small stream. 

There are many places in the park that seem almost mythic, perfect spots for storybook creatures like fairies or gnomes. If fairies existed, you would find them at Grotto Falls. 

Tips for going to Grotto Falls in the Smoky Mountains

When planning your trip, remember that the trailhead is accessible via the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which is a one-way road that closes in the winter.

Also, be especially careful when walking behind the falls. It should be noted that the trail – while wide and well worn – is a wild mountain trail that can be rocky or wet and slick. Proper equipment is recommended.

The area is moist with mist and algae and is the ideal habitat for several species of the park’s salamanders. Bring good, rock-sturdy hiking shoes and some drinking water.

If you have the choice, try to go when there has been some rain in the area. When the weather has been dry, the falls are much reduced and not nearly as picturesque. When the water is up, the white cascade is much more impressive.

Also, it should be noted, the trail crosses several small streams. None are enough to cause any real concern, but you will not have the benefit of a footbridge to cross.

If the water is high enough, you might have to get your feet slightly wet. 

Flip flops or sandals are a bad idea.

Grotto Falls in the Smoky Mountains
The view from behind Grotto Falls, a 25-foot waterfall. The ability to walk behind the falls is a distinctive feature of this waterfall in the Smokies (photo by Billy McDonald/

How do I get to Grotto Falls?

Starting on the Parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8. From there, drive along the Historic Nature Trail to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Take the scenic Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to stop #5 where there is a large parking area. Again, remember that it’s closed in the winter.

Grotto Falls is just over a mile into the trail. Hikers and backpackers will see a tumbling cascade first, and just beyond that, upstream, is the waterfall.

Read Also: Easy hikes in the Smoky Mountains; Our top 6 ranked

Where do you park for Grotto Falls?

You can park at the Grotto Falls parking area between mile markers 1 and 2 on the Motor Trail, about 3 or 4 miles from Gatlinburg. Take a brief access path to reach the Trillium Gap Trail.

The falls are also accessible through a back trail, heading out from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, but the extra 3.4 miles will add significantly to the length and difficulty of your hike. 

The park has no entrance fee.

However, on March 1, 2023, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will launch the “Park it Forward” program, which requires visitors to buy and display a valid parking tag for any vehicle parking for more than 15 minutes.

And if you’re hiking to the falls, you’ll need more than 15 minutes, of course.

Grotto falls in the Smoky Mountains
The view from downstream at Grotto Falls inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by PT Hamilton/

How long does it take to hike Grotto Falls?

Depending on your speed and how long you linger at the falls, the hike to Grotto Falls and back should take between two and three hours. 

Along the way, you’ll pass through a forest of ancient giants, large eastern hemlocks that tower above the trail.

In the spring, the area around the trail is known for a smorgasbord of wildflowers such as yellow trillium, dutchman’s breeches, stitchwort and more. As a result, the walk along the sometimes rocky trail is all the more scenic. 

Are dogs allowed at the Grotto Falls trail?

Pets and bicycles are forbidden on the trail. Children should be closely supervised. 

For the record, dogs are only allowed on the Gatlinburg Trail near the Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Oconaluftee River Trail, near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

At the falls, you may be tempted to Indiana Jones it, climb around and explore. Don’t.

First of all, the falls are not a jungle gym.

Secondly, the rocks are wet and slippery and more than one person who thought he was more adept at climbing them has fallen.

Black Bear in the Wild
Bears have often been spotted along the trail (photo by Jillian/

Are there bears at Grotto Falls?

Finally, bears have been spotted along the trail and in the general area. Please follow park guidelines on what to do if you meet a bear along the path or at the falls.

More dedicated hikers have the option of continuing on past Grotto Falls. Another two miles will carry you to the summit of Brushy Mountain and another 5.6 miles will carry you to the 6,593-foot summit of Mt. LeConte.

Do not undertake either adventure lightly. 

If you see a bear, remember to keep a safe distance. It is illegal to willfully approach a bear within 150 feet or any distance that disturbs the bear.

Remain watchful and keep your distance. If a bear is following you or approaching you, the National Park Service says you can talk loudly or shout at it.

Never feed them or offer access to food.

Read Also: What to do if you see a black bear, 8 important safety tips

Do you think Grotto Falls is a good hike? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!

Things to do

Best theme parks in the Smokies
Best Shows and Theaters in the smokies
Best attractions in the Smokies
Best tours in the Smokies
Best mini golf in the Smokies
Best ATV and side by side rentals in the Smokies
Best go karts in the Smokies
Best ziplining in the Smokies
Best zoos and farms in the Smokies
Best rafting in the Smokies

What To Do if You See a Black Bear, 8 Important Safety Tips

Gatlinburg Hiking Trails: 17 Iconic Trails, Ranked

Photo of author


John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for LLC – the parent company of and

Leave a Comment