Hi there!

 

So you want to hike to see waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

And you’ve narrowed it down to…

 

Grotto Falls…

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better? best waterfalls near gatlinburg TN. smokies travel blog

Share the Smoky Mountains waterfalls video with the people you’ll be traveling to the Smoky Mountains with!

 

 

And…

 

Laurel Falls!

Laurel Falls or Grotto Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better? best waterfalls near gatlinburg TN. smokies travel blog

Share the Smoky Mountains waterfalls video!

 

 

If you only want to make time for ONE of these waterfalls… which is better?!

 

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better? best waterfalls in gatlinburg tn. smokies travel blog

 

Now, when it comes to this or that, in this case one waterfall hike (Grotto Falls) or another waterfall hike (Laurel Falls)… as always… it depends!

Lame…

But, it really does depend on what you want out of your Smoky Mountains waterfall hike and what you’re looking for. In terms of location (both are relatively near Gatlinburg), length/difficulty of trail (they are both similar enough), and crowds (they are both popular so will likely have many people), there’s not really one that would stand out too much over the other.

Both of the waterfalls also have large rocks in the area so you can bring a light picnic lunch and enjoy some snacks with views of the waterfalls as you sit on the rocks as your “seating area.”

 

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better for less crowds and people? both are popular waterfalls near gatlinburg tn. smokies travel blog
👆 A little bit easier access to the rocks at Grotto Falls

 

Laurel Falls or Grotto Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better for less crowds and people? both are popular waterfalls near gatlinburg tn. smokies travel blog
👆 Climb down to rocks at Laurel Falls

 

 

Other than this, there are other things that might make you want to choose one over the other. And so, there is a list of some of those things to consider below.

 

First, the general quick info about each of these waterfalls.

And then the list of more things to consider for making the most of your Smoky Mountains vacation.

 

 

Trail to Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better? grotto falls trail info. smokies travel blog

  • You’ll hike the Trillium Gap Trail
  • 2.6 miles round trip hike
  • Allow around 2-3 hours
  • Gatlinburg to Grotto Falls trailhead is around a 20 minute drive
  • Getting back to Gatlinburg might be around 40 minutes since you will be on a one way slow going Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail road
  • Official info from Great Smoky Mountains National Park
See pictures from the trail to Grotto Falls

 

 

Trail to Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls or Grotto Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better? laurel falls trail info. smokies travel blog

  • You’ll hike the Laurel Falls Trail
  • 2.6 miles round trip hike
  • Allow around 2 hours
  • Gatlinburg to Laurel Falls trailhead is around a 20 minute drive
  • Official info from Great Smoky Mountains National Park
See pictures from the trail to Laurel Falls

 

More comparisons of these waterfalls below!

 

 

🐻

 

 

 

Is it free to hike to Grotto Falls and Laurel Falls?!

In 2021, there is a “trial” for a reservation system for parking at the Laurel Falls trailhead.

This means that it costs money to hike Laurel Falls. (Unless of course you have a mix of hikers and non-hikers in your group and have a driver who is willing to be a shuttle of sorts! It seems like this reservation system is just for parking… but confirm that if you want to do it that way!)

Starting in September, and through October 3, you need to buy a ticket ahead of time for parking at the Laurel Falls trailhead.

This costs $14 for the Laurel Falls parking ticket and reservation fee. See more about that.

Initial reviews from people who paid the Laurel Falls fee are very good. They all seemed to like hiking without crowds and found the hike to be very peaceful. This means Laurel Falls might be a good hike if you’re looking for a hike near Gatlinburg without the crowds.

As of 2021, Laurel Falls is the only waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains that is not free, and the only hike in the Smoky Mountains that is not free.

So hiking to Grotto Falls in 2021 is free.

If your trip to the Smoky Mountains is in 2022, then keep your eye out for any hikes that newly require reservations. Your best resource for that is the alerts section of the National Park Service for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

 

 

Now…

Will you like hiking to Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls better?!

 

1. Are you driving the Cades Cove scenic road?

You might like Laurel Falls better

Laurel Falls or Grotto Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better for the scenic drive to get to? smokies travel blog

 

If you have plans to go to Cades Cove (one of the most popular scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains), then it can be easy to tack on Laurel Falls to your day. If you don’t want to spend all day in Cades Cove, that is. Which, it is possible to spend all day in Cades Cove, particularly if you like exploring history. There are many historic cabins in Cades Cove

But if your plans for the day are mostly to drive the Cades Cove loop road without spending much time outside of your car, then it can be quite reasonable to go to Laurel Falls before or after Cades Cove.

See more about driving the scenic slow route from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove.

 

 

2. Are you driving the Roaring Fork scenic road?

You might like Grotto Falls better

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better for scenic drive to get to? smokies travel blog

 

If you have been doing your research and like what the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offers, then Grotto Falls can naturally be a part of your day. You will drive right by the start of the trail to Grotto Falls as you are driving on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. There are also historic cabins to explore along this road.

 

 

3. Do you want to make it a 2x waterfall hike day?

You might like Grotto Falls better

Now, if you want to make it a waterfalls hiking day, it wouldn’t be difficult to make a plan for it whether you choose Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls. It could even be reasonable to do both Grotto Falls AND Laurel Falls on the same day if you plan for it. One in the morning, the other in the afternoon!

But Grotto Falls makes it even easier, because there are 3 waterfall hikes you can do in the Roaring Fork area. It wouldn’t be reasonable to do ALL 3 in one day, unless you start your day early and you’re ambitious. (And have the stamina.) But if you’re generally fit, it can be easy to also add Rainbow Falls or Baskins Creek Falls to the same day you do Grotto Falls.

 

 

4. Do you want views of the mountains on your hike?

You might like Laurel Falls better

Laurel Falls or Grotto Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better for scenic views? smokies travel blog

 

You are quite literally IN the mountains for both the Grotto Falls waterfall hike and the Laurel Falls waterfall hike. 

But it’s only on the hike to Laurel Falls that there’s a small opening where you can see mountain views off in the distance.

 

Laurel Falls or Grotto Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better for scenic views? smokies travel blog

 

With Grotto Falls, you’re basically hiking through a forest the whole time, with no openings to see mountain views. 

 

 

5. Do you want a paved trail that may feel a little bit more easy?

You might like Laurel Falls better

Laurel Falls or Grotto Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is easier? smokies travel blog

 

Laurel Falls is one of the very few hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that is paved. (The trail to the Clingmans Dome summit is another.)

It is a rough pavement (meaning broken up a bit), but other than that it’s pretty even surface that you’ll be walking on, generally speaking.

That said, don’t mistake “paved” for “easy”! The even surface may feel easier COMPARED TO the non-paved trail of Grotto Falls. You are still hiking UP to get to Laurel Falls. (A reason you might like to have hiking poles!)

 

 

6. Do you want a trail that feels more like a “real” hike with a dirt trail?

You might like Grotto Falls better

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is easier? smokies travel blog

 

By comparison, Grotto Falls is on a dirt path, so it gives off more the feeling like you’re doing a “real” hike through a forest. 

You are also hiking UP to get to Grotto Falls.

 

 

7. Do you want to walk behind waterfalls?

You might like Grotto Falls better

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better for getting close to? walk behind grotto falls. smokies travel blog

 

You get a pretty unique experience at Grotto Falls as you walk into the half cave (grotto) which takes you behind the waterfalls!

 

 

And finally…

What are the hiking trails to Grotto Falls and Laurel Falls like?

If you want to see specifically what the trails of each of these waterfall hikes is like in pictures, be sure to scroll to the bottom of these posts:

 

Also note that how much water is flowing can make a difference in what the waterfalls look like.

I went to Laurel Falls when it seems like there was not so much water flowing. I think if I would have gone just a few days later, it may have been better, because that would have been after rainfall!

The pictures you see here of Grotto Falls are also pre-rainfall, just for comparison.

I went to Cataract Falls (also near Gatlinburg, a quick waterfall hike) before and after somewhat heavy rain, and there really was a difference!

If you want a guarantee of tons of water flowing, Abrams Falls seems to be a good choice!

 

Also be sure to see hiking trails near Gatlinburg.

Plus the list of more waterfall hikes in the Smoky Mountains!

And then the list of the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains for VIEWS! If you’re looking for a LONG day hike, then continuing on the Trillium Gap Trail past Grotto Falls will take you to the Mount LeConte summit, the 3rd highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. (Although the more popular way to get there is by taking the Alum Cave Trail.) The highest peak in the Smoky Mountains is a short hike on the Clingmans Dome Trail.

And finally, there’s also the big list of things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

 

HAPPY VISITING GROTTO FALLS OR LAUREL FALLS… OR BOTH!

 

Grotto Falls or Laurel Falls: which smoky mountains waterfalls is better? best waterfalls in gatlinburg tn. smokies travel blog

 

 

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Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains

You will want good shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

In general, the best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains will be hiking boots (more ideal) or trail running shoes (more versatile for everyday activities compared to hiking boots but still will give you advantages compared to regular shoes).

I liked wearing my hiking boots for the thicker soles (good on rocky trails) and the waterproof (water resistant) nature of them.

They were especially helpful on rainy day hikes to keep my shoes (and socks!) dry! They are also better to be walking on mud compared to regular shoes.

On rougher terrain (like the trails that are a bit rougher with more rocks), hiking boots are more ideal so you won't feel it on the bottoms of your feet as much.

If you want shoes that can work out better as everyday "out and about" kind of shoes, then you might like trail running shoes better! Trail running shoes are a little more durable than regular shoes, so they can also work out as good hiking shoes. Trail running shoes are a bit lighter weight and less bulky compared to hiking boots.

Shoe fit is very important for your feet! Be sure to break in your new shoes by walking around the neighborhood and/or at the grocery store before you go on your "big hike" in the Smoky Mountains!

Shop for hiking boots: Merrell is popular and known as a good quality outdoor shoe brand for hiking

Shop for trail running shoes: Salomon is popular and known as a good quality outdoor shoe brand for trail running