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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.