The Magical Walk Behind Waterfall You Have to See in the Smoky Mountains

grotto falls in the smoky mountains

Grotto Falls is the only walk behind waterfall in the Smoky Mountains (photos by Francisco Blanco/ and Billy McDonald/

There’s a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains you can walk behind and it looks like something straight out of a fairy tale

Having lived in and around the Smoky Mountains for three decades, I understand there is beauty in the park just about anywhere you look. But I also understand some places transcend beauty. For instance, there are places infused with a certain kind of magic. An ethereal connection to something greater, the possibilities beyond the known world. The kind of places that also caused our ancestors to believe in fairies and gnomes and magic. In this article, we will discuss just such a place. 

Grotto Falls is a uniquely beautiful place in a national park filled with beauty. Accessible by a relatively easy hike, The Grotto is the kind of place where one can imagine mythical creatures gathering. It’s the only waterfall in the Smoky Mountains you can walk behind.

Grotto Falls is a 25 foot waterfall into a shallow pool surrounded by rocks in the Smokies (photo by GoodFocused/

About Grotto Falls 

Grotto Falls is unique in the entirety of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Water from the Roaring Fork plunges 25 feet into a shallow pool, surrounded by rocks. The Trillium Gap Trail goes into The Grotto which cuts behind the falls and also under the Roaring Fork.

The Grotto provides shelter and a unique view of the backside of falling water. When the water is up, the falls provide a gushing wall of impenetrable water. When the rain has been less frequent, it is still impressive. The Grotto provides a cool, refreshing spot on a hot summer day. It is also beloved by the park’s massive salamander population. 

behind grotto falls
Grottos Falls is the only waterfall in the Smokies you can hike behind (James Kirkikis/

How difficult is the hike?

If you are an experienced hiker, you should be able to handle it. It is generally considered moderately difficult. The round-trip hike is 2.6 miles, and you should allow two to three hours. There is a 544 ft elevation gain as you work your way through a forest of old hemlock growth. Be sure to bring drinking water and also wear hiking-appropriate shoes.

A couple of warnings, however. The rocks can be covered with moss and may be slippery. The Park Service recommends that people stay off them, especially near the waterfall itself. People have fallen to their death or to severe injury messing around on the rocks near the falls.

Trillium Gap Trail
Hike to Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo By Vezzani Photography/

Where to find it and parking info

The Trillium Gap Trailhead is located off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Motor Nature Trail is a seasonally open, drivable 5.5-mile one-way loop through the mountains above Gatlinburg.

Also, the trailhead does offer parking and a bathroom. The Grotto Falls parking area can fill quickly. And, in the summer, the bathroom can get pretty rank. So, it’s an emergency-only situation. If the parking lot is full, there are a couple of pull-offs and more parking spaces as you move down the road. You will have to hike back up to the trailhead. Also, remember you now must pay to park in the mountains, and you can’t do it on site. Be sure to purchase and print your parking pass before getting into the park. 

In 2024, the Motor Nature Trail is scheduled to be open from March 29 – December 1. Motorhomes, buses and vehicles towing trailers are banned. Grotto Falls is truly one of the wonders of the Smoky Mountains. It’s beautiful and remote and feels like something from a bygone time. It’s the kind of place that can make you believe in magic. And the salamanders love it, too. 

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