Hike Laurel Falls Trail

This spectacular trail literally attracts thousands of hikers a day. But it’s for good reason, says park volunteer Mike Baker.
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Laurel Falls is probably the most popular waterfall trail in the park. During the summer and into the fall it is not unusual to have 1,500 to 2,000 hikers visit the falls per day. The current trail from parking lot to the waterfall is 1.3 miles, making it 2.6 miles round-trip.

Laurel Falls Trail was originally referred to as Laurel Branch Trail. The original trail was nearly 5 miles in length and traversed to the top of Cover Mountain. The purpose of the trail was not to access the waterfall as you might think but rather to guarantee fire crew access to the Cove Mountain area in the event of a fire. The planning for the trail began 1931 with actual construction beginning shortly thereafter. The initial appropriation for the trail was $240. A trail work foreman received a salary of $4.50 per day. Mid-way through the construction another $350 was appropriated in order to finish the trail. A letter written by assistant chief ranger John Needleham on July 9, 1932, reported the completion of the trail. 

Park Volunteer Mike Baker talks to a child playing at the base of Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Park Volunteer Mike Baker talks to a child playing at the base of Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls quickly became a favorite stop for visitors to the park. By the early 1960s the trail was receiving so many visitors that the trail was being eroded by the constant foot traffic. The solution was that the park service decided that the trail needed to be paved. In 1963 as part of the Accelerated Works Projects grant to the Department of Interior, Laurel Falls Trail was reconditioned and paved. The project started with grading in February 1963 and was completed with paving by July of 1963.

In 1995 a concrete bridge was constructed at the base of the upper falls to allow hikers easy access to the far side of the falls. Other than occasional filling or patching of the asphalt, there have been no other improvements made to the trail. With over 400,000 hikers a year and only occasional filling and patching, the trail is no longer wheel chair/stroller friendly.

One of the attractions of Laurel Falls trail is it is one of the places in the park where you might see a bear on or near the trail. That is one of the reasons there are volunteers on the trail most days.

Need a map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Great Smoky at REI.com. The map includes trails, trailheads, points of interest, campgrounds, geologic history and much more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.


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