Laurel Falls Trail

Laurel Falls Trail is the most popular waterfall trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Laurel Falls Trail is considered to be easy to moderate.  The round trip is 2.6 miles with an elevation gain of 200 feet. Laurel Falls Trail is a paved road which is relatively flat and passes through a forest of pine and oak trees.


laurel falls trail

Laurel Falls

The 80-foot high Laurel Falls are named for mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub which blooms along the trail and near the falls in May. The waterfall consists of an upper and a lower section, divided by a walkway which crosses the stream at the base of the upper falls.

To access the trailhead from Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn toward Cades Cove on Little River Road.  Drive 3.5 miles to the trailhead where there are parking areas on both sides of the road. It takes about 2 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.

Important Tips

Take drinking water with you. Pets and bicycles are prohibited on the Laurel Falls Trail.  Closely supervise children at all times. Due to the steep grade and roughness of pavement, this trail is not suitable for strollers or wheelchairs.

Although the trail is paved, the pavement is rough and uneven. The trail has short, steep sections which can be slippery in wet weather. Portions of the trail have steep drop-offs.

Do not climb on rocks around the waterfall. Several people have fallen to their deaths and many others have suffered serious injuries from climbing on rocks near waterfalls or along the riverbanks. These rocks are slippery due to mist and algae.

Black bears are often active in this area

(Learn what to do if you encounter a bear

In 2010, a bear bit a visitor on Laurel Falls Trail. Fortunately, the visitor’s injuries were minor, but sadly the park was forced to euthanize the bear. The risk that she would attack another visitor was too great.

So what went wrong?

Hikers threw their litter by the side of the trail — apple cores, candy wrappers, soda bottles. The tantalizing smells of food enticed the bear to the area, where she found small bits of food mingled with the scent of humans. By leaving litter, visitors taught the bear that humans are a source of food.

Over time, the animal lost her fear of humans. Eventually, she began approaching people in search of food. Visitors allowed the bear to approach them too closely – to capture that perfect vacation photo  or to

black bear

Black bears are often seen on the Laurel Falls Trail. Image by Jeaneane Payne

just to see how close they could get to her. Some visitors may have even fed her.

Bears are wild animals, and their behavior is unpredictable. Now no longer fearful of humans an, in fact, associating them with food — she became more dangerous. Finally the day came when, in search of a handout, she bit a visitor and had to be euthanized.

If you are fortunate enough to see a bear while you are visiting the park, please remember that it’s up to you to protect them. They pay the price for visitors’ mistakes and carelessness. Please make sure that your actions don’t contribute to its death.

What can you do to protect bears?

• Dispose of all litter in bear proof garbage containers or take it home with you.
• Do not feed wildlife. Not only is it illegal, but feeding a bear guarantees its demise!
• Do not approach within 50 yards or any distance that disturbs a bear.
• Do not allow bears to approach you.
• If you see another visitor breaking these rules, or encounter a bear on a trail, please call (865) 436-1230 or stop at a Visitor Center to report it.

Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

hiking trails