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.
To minimize the number of people on the trail, protect the park’s natural resources and reduce traffic congestion, officials are launching a pilot reservation system that includes a pay-to-park component. From Sept. 7 through Oct. 3, 2021, visitors will need to have a reservation that is for a two-hour block of time and costs $14. No parking will be allowed in undesignated areas along Little River Road. Make your parking reservations online at www.recreation.gov starting Aug. 24, 2021.
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.
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.
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