If I could only do one thing while visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this is it. I fell in love with the Grotto Falls hike the moment I stepped foot onto the hiking trail. This hike felt magical and left an indelible place in my heart forever. Keep reading to learn more about this amazing hike and to fall in love with Grotto Falls for yourself!
Grotto Falls Hike Trail Details & Location
Difficulty: Moderate | Round Trip Distance: 2.6 mi | Elevation Gain: 585 ft. | Time: 2-3 hrs
The best advice I can give you is to leave early in the morning to get parking and to beat the crowds. Otherwise you may have to park further down the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and hike back to the trailhead.
After you reach Grotto Falls, you can turn back around or continue on up the Trillium Gap Trail to hike to the top of Mt. Le Conte. Bears are active in this part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so be sure to bring bear spray or bear bells, and read up on bear safety.
Hiking the Trillium Gap Trail in the Fall
My sister and I began our hike to Grotto Falls early in the morning at sunrise. As it was the 2nd week of October 2018, I had hoped for some fall foliage. Sadly, it was a hot year and the leaves hadn’t fully turned yet. That said, the hike still took my breath away.
The usually crowded parking lot had plenty of spaces and the Trillium Gap Trailhead was well marked.
A smoky mist filled the air as we began our early morning hike.
As we ascended the dense forest path, we felt like we were in a movie set, transported to another world.
The stillness in the air was only broken by the sounds of trickling water, morning birds, and the rhythmic cracking of tree branches that could only be from a large animal hidden in the woods. Perhaps a bear?
Nervous, but determined, we continued on with our hike, talking a little bit louder to scare off any animals. As we hiked, gentle droplets of morning mist fell upon our faces.
The clean, moist mountain air provided the perfect environment for shelf fungus, moss, and lichen to grow. Natural beauty from this ancient hemlock forest surrounded us at every turn.
In fact, we were told by a passing hiker that this National Park has more variety of trees and plant life than anywhere else in the world.
That’s some amazing biodiversity!
Part of the Trillium Gap Trail Crosses Over Flowing Springs of Running Water
As we traversed the mountain trail, we ran across several sections of running water that we had to cross.
Though a small challenge, the crossings were uneventful and safe.
In addition to flowing springs, paths strewn with knotted tree roots and rocks also dotted the Trillium Trail.
These changes in the trail were a much appreciated distraction, making the uphill hike very pleasant and enjoyable.
Approaching Grotto Falls
We knew we were getting close to Grotto Falls when we could hear and see the cascading water from the Roaring Fork Spring.
As we turned the corner, Grotto Falls appeared far away in the distance.
We finished hiking the last section of our trail and then approached Grotto Falls.
The Romantic Beauty of Grotto Falls
When we arrived at Grotto Falls, we saw a young man propose to his girlfriend at the base of the falls. She quickly threw her arms around him, kissing him. I can’t imagine a more romantic setting for a wedding proposal. After giving a moment of privacy to the young couple, we quietly approached the falls.
Grotto Falls was even more spectacular than I had hoped for.
This 25′ waterfall flowed freely over a rock ledge, flowing into the spring below.
The mist surrounded us and made the entire experience surreal and beautiful. I loved how the soft early morning light allowed me to take these slow water photographs.
As promised, a narrow passageway crossed directly behind Grotto Falls. I covered my camera and proceeded to hike behind the falls.
The view was magical! There is nothing quite like looking out across the mist-strewn landscape through the cover of a waterfall.
While I felt the cool waterfall mist on my face and body, I wasn’t at all soaked. The rock ledge provided the perfect cover.
Once on the other side, we were able to see Grotto Falls from a different angle.
We hiked a little further down the path.
I stopped often to take slow water photographs.
Then we came upon this location.
Climbing down on a few large boulders, I was able to see the full path of the waterfall. This was, by far, my favorite vantage point to view and photograph Grotto Falls.
Since we left at sunrise, we had the falls almost all to ourselves. Only a few hikers disturbed the silence of this mystical morning.
It was everything I had hoped for, and more.
Like the old adage says, the early bird really does get the worm, or at least in this case, the waterfall.
When we hiked back down the Trillium Gap Trail, the Sun Finally Broke Through, Burning Off Some of the Mist
As we descended back down the mountain, the morning mist cleared, leaving behind a lush, vibrant green of ferns and mosses.
The hike down the Trillium Gap Trail was much easier than the hike up, since it was all downhill.
When we got closer to the parking lot, the crowds picked up significantly. Thankfully we had completed our hike and were on our way back to civilization for the day.
I will never forget my magical hike to Grotto Falls! I hope you get the opportunity to visit Grotto Falls and Great Smoky Mountains National Park for yourself. If not, at least you can see it through my photos! Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me!
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