The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way scenic road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 10 mph loop allows you to “hike” from your car while still taking in some amazing views. Whether you are going there to hike to Grotto Falls, see the historic lob cabins, or fall in love with the Smoky Mountains’ biodiversity, this drive is sure to satisfy! Keep reading to see for yourself and explore the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail with me!
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Details & Location
Driving Time: About 30 min one-way (depending upon traffic) | Distance: 5.5 miles one-way
Directions: The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is part of a one-way driving loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. About 1 mile from Gatlinburg, TN, the entrance to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is located just past the parking area for the Rainbow Falls hike off of Cherokee Orchard Road. As this is a popular location, I suggest leaving early to avoid long lines of cars. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is typically closed from November – May, so if you want to drive it, plan accordingly.
Hiking Opportunities on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
In addition to simply driving the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, there are several hiking opportunities.
Here is a list of the trailheads located along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail:
- Baskins Creek Trail Trailhead (This leads to Baskins Creek Falls and the Trillium Gap Trail)
- Trillium Gap Trail Trailhead (This leads to Grotto Falls, Mt. Le Conte Summit, Rainbow Falls Trail, and Bushy Mtn. Trail)
- Grapeyard Ridge Trail Trailhead (This leads to Grapeyard Ridge and Greenbriar Cove Road)
One reason to drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is to hike to Grotto Falls
The hiking entrance to Grotto Falls is located on the right shortly after entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. My all time favorite hike at Great Smoky Mountains National Park was my hike to Grotto Falls.
Located on the Trillium Gap Trail, I fell in love with Grotto Falls the moment I stepped foot onto the trail.
By leaving at sunrise, my sister and I were able to park, hike to Grotto Falls, photograph it, and return before the traffic was too heavy.
One of the main attractions of Grotto Falls is that you can actually WALK BEHIND IT, which is kind of cool!
Because we left at sunrise, we beat the main traffic and were able to fully enjoy the rest of our drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Another draw to driving the Roaring Creek Motor Nature Trail is to see the old historic log cabins
After we finished hiking to Grotto Falls, we enjoyed seeing the beautiful historic log cabins along the road. We saw the Alex Cole Cabin, the Ephraim Bales Cabin as well as the Reagan Tub Mill. All from our car!
That said, if you can find parking, you can also get out and explore some of these cabins. These early settlers were the heart and soul of the Great Smoky Mountains in the early 1900’s.
In addition to waterfalls and historic cabins, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is home to amazing biodiversity and cascading streams
Every turn on this one-way road felt magical. It was like hiking from our car. The main source of water came from the Roaring Fork stream. We also crossed over the Indian Camp Branch Stream.
At every turn we saw dense forests, cascading streams, and little waterfalls flowing out of rock walls.
The Motor Trail Ends With The Place of a Thousand Drips
If that wasn’t enough, at the end of the loop, we looked to our left, and from our car saw The Place of a Thousand Drips. This cascading waterfall is fed by the Cliff Branch stream which flows out of a hole in the rock and cascades down 20-30 ft.
We took the above shot from my cell phone out the car window. It was that close to our car!!! This beautiful waterfall was the perfect end to our drive down the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
When the nature trail ended, we continued our drive onto Roaring Fork Road and got to pass by Ely’s Mill
To end our loop, we passed by Ely’s Mill. It felt like taking a step back into time. There are lots of things to do at Ely’s Mill. According to the Ely’s Mill Website, “the mill features local crafts, antiques, and honey (seasonally) as well as two over-night rental cabins and is now accommodating small party weddings and group/individual photo shoots.” What a hidden gem and what a beautiful way to end your drive on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
I hope you get the opportunity to drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and see 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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