Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: Can you drive the trail? Is it worth it?

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a drivable loop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ripe with landmarks, trailheads and waterfalls (photos by Jerry & ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

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It’s one of the flashier names in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail can be one of the more relaxing experiences in the Smokies. 

The trail is named for one of the larger, faster and louder streams in the park. And it is both a perfect spot for a relaxing drive and the launching point for hundreds of potential adventures. 

Roaring Fork
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5.5-mile narrow, one-way, drivable trail in the Smokies (Adam Jones, Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com)

Can you drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail?

Yes, you can drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

The trail is a narrow, winding, one-way road that is open in the spring, summer and fall.

The 5.5-mile loop road is a favorite side trip that offers a glimpse of what life was like in the Smokies before the park. It also offers pathways to ancient grottos, waterfalls and more. 

“It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills and other historic buildings”  

The National Park Service website

Though the trail is 5.5 miles long, it’s meant to be taken at a leisurely pace. Spotting some wildlife can bring the proceedings to a halt. 

Thousand drips waterfall
The “Place of a Thousand Drips” waterfall can be found along the trail (photo by Brad/stock.adobe.com)

How long does it take to do the Roaring Fork Motor Trail?

Much like the Cades Cove Loop Road, it’s difficult to assess how long it takes to drive the trail. It depends on how quickly you want to go and more importantly, how quickly others want to go.

I wouldn’t think of trying to drive the trail with less than an hour of free time. 

The Roaring Fork stream, from which the trail is named, starts up on Mt. LeConte at nearly 5,000 feet, dropping half its elevation in about two miles.

The mouth of Roaring Fork is at the northern end of Gatlinburg where it empties into the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River. 

Read Also: Grotto Falls hiking guide: How long is it? How do you get there?

Where is the entrance of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail?

The entrance to the Motor Trail is a short distance from the parking areas for Rainbow Falls.

What waterfalls are on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail?

Also located along the route is a wet-weather waterfall called Place of a Thousand Drips.

If you want to know how the Roaring Fork got its name, visit when the water is high. 

Trillium Gap trail
Trillium Gap Trail is well worn and considered to be moderate in difficulty (photo by Vezzani Photography/shutterstock.com)

Hiking trails near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Nearby trails are access points to see ancient hardwood forests.

The Trillium Gap Trailhead to Grotto Falls can be found along the route.

Trillium Gap can even lead an experienced hiker to the summit of Mt. LeConte. 

You can also hike deeper to see homesteads and view relics of the past. 

The first settlers arrived in what is now Gatlinburg more than 100 years before the National Park in the early 1800s.

Over the decades, their descendants spread out into the hollers and the coves of the surrounding mountains. 

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

Bud Ogle cabin
The Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin (photo by Michele Burgess/stock.adobe.com)

Landmarks and walking tours near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

When entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, you can stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail. The trail offers a walking tour of a mountain farmstead and the surrounding hardwood forest.

Just beyond the Ogle farmstead is the trailhead for Rainbow Falls, another popular waterfall in the park.

Another settler, Richard Reagan, lived south of Gatlinburg on LeConte Creek. His children subsequently spread across the area as well.

By 1900, three of his grandchildren had settled into the hollow along Roaring Fork, known as Spruce Flats, where they farmed the land.

The Bales family followed a similar path. And over the years, the families – which lived on adjoining pieces of land – intermingled. 

The legacy of those lives lived on the mountain remains along the trail.

One of the stops on the Motor Trail is the Jim Bales Place, which features the original corn crib, barn, working tub mills, and the Alex Cole Cabin moved from the Sugarlands.

From Jim Bales’s Place is the home of his older brother Ephraim. 

Ephraim cabin in the Smokies
The Ephraim Bales Place (photo by Michele Burgess/stock.adobe.com)

The Ephraim Bales Place is a double cabin with a passage known as a dog-trot which essentially connects the two cabins under one roof. With the exception of the back porch, the cabin remains chiefly as it was when the Bales lived there.

Also still remaining on the property are a corn crib, hog pen and a barn.  

Below the Ephraim Bales Place is the Alfred Reagan Place.

Alfred was a blacksmith who ran a general store and grist mill. He was also a part-time preacher.

Only his cabin and the mill remain today. Reagan’s saddlebag cabin, with its saw board paneling and paint, features two cabins around a single chimney. A kitchen was added later.

Thanks to the paneling and paint, it seems from a completely different era than the two other cabins. 

The corn crib and barn at Jim Bales Place
The corn crib and barn at Jim Bales Place (photo by Jamie & Judy Wild, Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com)

Is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail open in the winter?

For the 2021-2022 season, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will be closed during the winter from Nov. 29-April 8.

Is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail worth it?

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offers a little something for everyone while enjoying a trip to the Smokies.

It provides access to popular trails for hikers, historical landmarks, waterfalls and a relaxing drive to those who prefer to enjoy nature from their climate-controlled vehicles.

In our opinion – yes, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is absolutely worth it.

How do you find the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail?

To access Roaring Fork, turn off the main Parkway in Gatlinburg at traffic light #8.

Follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the National Park. Just beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead, you have the option of taking the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in the winter).

Please note that buses, trailers and motor homes are not permitted on the Motor Nature Trail.

Have you traveled the Roaring Fork Motor Trail? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

View the web story version of this article here.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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6 thoughts on “Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: Can you drive the trail? Is it worth it?”

  1. We always make at least 2 trips on roaring fork motor nature trail. Beautiful and peaceful. Usually see bears

  2. For sure worth it. My first trip, we seen 4 bears and there are lots little creeks. You can’t see far off the road, it’s nothing like Cades Cove loop, where there’s big open fields that border big forest. This loop is going up the side of a mountain, surrounded by huge forest. There are places you can see 30 yards or so and a couple little fields where the homesteads are, which are very cool, but you can still see bears crossing the the road or eating on the side of the road. When you get up top where you start your way back down the mountain, they’re are open areas with amazing views. This place is right in town and you can make 2 loops in a little over an hour and you exit on 321 close to an ice cream shop and restaurants.. So this Motor Trail is a must.

  3. We are visitors from Wisconsin,and love the GSMNP and all it has to offer.We drive Roaring Forks and Cades Cove every time we visit.A beautiful and interesting historical place

  4. We drove the Motor Trail late in 2021. We had driven it many times before but this time found it to be poorly maintained and not worth the trip. It was overgrown and very disappointing.

  5. Definitely worth it! We have traversed it many times, finding something new to be discovered on every trip! However, we were very saddened on our last trip in 2021when the path was so incredibly crowded by vehicles that did not respect the beauty of Roaring Fork Road sadly. Many large four wheel drive pick up trucks had driven off the paved roadway over rocks, trees and fauna. Such disrespectful visitors should not be allowed! At one point they large vehicles were parked so haphazardly and damaging to the park fauna that we had to stop our vehicle to wait for people to get back to their vehicle to move to even allow us passage. We moved our outside mirrors in on our vehicle and only had an inch clearance. We are both firefighters and know that should a fire start or a visitor fall on a park trail, there would be NO clear way for an ambulance or fire vehicle to get to rescue someone. It was quite disgusting and heartbreaking to see humans disrespectful of this beautiful earth and pathway that is such a honor for humans to visit. The roadway is a treasure we have enjoyed many times, respectfully and honorably as we love America’s National Parks. The best time to visit is the off season so you can be witness to God’s beauty and not disrespectful humans. Prafor Smoky Mountains to be protected.

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