The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth. You can see nature at its finest while touring the park by car, horseback, or on foot via countless hiking trails. Whether you are an avid, experienced hiker, or a novice, the park features hiking trails for everyone. If you are not an experienced hiker, the choices can be overwhelming. Two hikes in the Tennessee area of the park, Laurel Falls and Rainbow Falls, offer incredible scenery, and a moderately difficult hike. If you are looking for a half-day or less hike, without any true climbing, and a breathtaking waterfall view as your reward at the end, visit Laurel Falls or Rainbow Falls.
Named after the mountain laurel shrub, which is prominent in the Smokies, the Laurel Falls Trail is a fairly easy trail that can be hiked in a few hours. The trail, which is 2.6 miles round trip, is even paved for easier walking. Some guides claim that the trail is stroller friendly; however, after experiencing the hike, I would think getting a stroller to the falls would be extremely difficult. The hike is short, but rather steep as it climbs up the mountainside toward the falls. The trail is very narrow in places and drops off into oblivion along one side. If you want to take an infant, try using a baby backpack instead of a stroller. The trail is certainly not recommended for toddlers or preschoolers. School-aged children and up would likely be able to master this trail, with very careful adult supervision.
Once you arrive at the destination, the falls are absolutely beautiful. They cascade down the mountain size, and you can even cross over them on foot to view the falls from a different vantage point. The view is well worth the somewhat steep climb.
Laurel Falls is a very popular trail and because of that, it can sometimes be too crowded to really enjoy. Try visiting this trail in the off season (spring or winter) and on weekdays. The trail can be accessed by just a short drive from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, heading toward Cades Cove. There is plenty of parking at the base of the trail.
The Rainbow Falls trail is quite a bit more challenging than the Laurel Falls trail, however should still be considered moderate in difficulty. The trail is quite a bit longer, 5.4 miles round trip, but includes much less steep terrain. The trail is not paved, and in fact is not as well maintained as some other trails. It is not appropriate for young children, or anyone who isn’t in at least decently physically fit. If you visit during the off season, you may encounter downed trees or other obstacles. This trail is less traveled than many others, so you shouldn’t have to worry much about large crowds.
The Rainbow Falls trail follows along a lovely creek as you slowly climb toward the falls. Once at your destination, you can walk across a bridge, created from a downed tree, to walk over the falls. The falls actually rush beneath you into the river below which is a breathtaking feeling. If desired, you can continue on for another 4 miles to reach the summit of Mt. LeConte.
Turn at traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg and follow the Historic Nature Trail into the park for easy access to the Rainbow Falls trailhead. Be sure to leave your valuables at home, since thieves often scout out the cars of hikers, since they know the car owners will be gone for quite a while.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Tennessee is one of America’s greatest preservations. Try out these two trails to experience some of the true wonder of Mother Nature.