On October 27, 2022
If you’re looking for a colorful view of the Smokies without the climb, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a great option. The trail takes its name from the Roaring Fork stream that flows alongside it. The stream itself is named for the loud noise it produces due to its relatively fast flowing speed, particularly during times of heavy rain.
The 5.5-mile-long, one-way, loop road winds through the forest and is home to several historic cabins, gristmills and other buildings. Multiple hiking trails can be accessed from the motor nature trail and there are several scenic overlooks where you can pull over and take in the stunning fall colors without ever leaving your car.
At the entrance of the motor nature trail you can purchase a booklet with a map that details landmarks along the road.
Note: The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed during the winter months. Please check the National Park Service for closure dates.
The first stop, although not technically on the Motor Nature Trail, is the Ogle Place. This historic landmark is found on Cherokee Orchard Rd, just before turning onto the official trail. Noah “Bud” Ogle is a great grandson of the Ogles family, who were amongst the earliest settlers to the Great Smoky Mountains. The home was one of the first farmhouses built in the area, around the late 1880s. Here, you can stop and follow the Noah “Bud” Ogle Self-Guiding Nature Trail that leads through the farmstead and a streamside tub mill.
The trailhead for Rainbow Falls is just past the Ogle place on Cherokee Orchard Rd. Rainbow Falls is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s easy to see why once you reach the magnificent 80-foot waterfall. On a sunny day, you may catch a glimpse of a rainbow forming from the mist of the falls.
The hike to the waterfall and back is 5.4 miles roundtrip and can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, so keep that in mind if you get a sudden urge to see the beautiful falls.
The Bullhead Trail can also be accessed from this area.
Just past the Rainbow Falls trailhead is the entrance to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Hang to the right at the fork in the road to begin the one-way loop.
Shortly after turning onto the Motor Nature Trail, you’ll pass the Baskins Creek trailhead that leads to Baskins Creek Falls. The trail is a total of 3-miles roundtrip and easily accessible for families and hikers of all ages. The trip to see the 40-foot waterfall here is definitely worth it as the area offers some of the most scenic views in the park.
After passing the Baskins Creek trailhead, the next two stops are scenic overlooks where you can get out and take in the stunning views and snap a few pictures.
Numerous paved parking areas can also be found along the scenic drive, so feel free to stop, stretch your legs and take photos of the small cascades that trickle over the rocks.
The Trillium Gap Trail that leads to Grotto Falls can also be accessed from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Grotto Falls is one of the most unique waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as it is the only place where you can actually stand behind the falls. The falls are 25-feet high and a beautiful sight to see.
The hike to Grotto Falls is 2.6-miles roundtrip. During the late spring and early summer, the area is filled with an array of wildflowers.
The Grapeyard Ridge Trail is perfect for those history buffs in your group as numerous old homesteads and other historic sites can be found along the trail. The Grapeyard Ridge Trail’s western trailhead runs east for a total of 7.6-miles one-way until reaching the Greenbrier area.
The Roaring Fork Historic District is home to several historic homesteads and buildings that were part of the Roaring Fork Community. The first along the drive is the Jim Bales Place. Jim Bales and his family farmed the land until they were evicted in the 1930s when Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established. The Bales home was torn down, but in its place stands the Alex Cole Cabin, which was moved from the Sugarlands Community to preserve it.
Just a short drive up the road is the Ephraim Bales Cabin, the home of Jim’s older brother. Ephraim, his wife and nine children all lived in the small home, which is actually two cabins side by side with a rood connecting them together. The home remains as it did years ago, along with Bales’ hog pen, corn crib and barn.
The next stop you’ll come to is the Alfred Reagan Place with a long wooden aqueduct leading to a small Tub Mill that sits alongside the creek. Alfred Reagan was also part of the Roaring Fork Community. In addition to being a farmer, Reagan built a blacksmith shop, local store, mill and offered milling services along with carpentry services. The house and mill are all that remain. This is another great spot to get out and explore.
Towards the end of the motor nature trail (which concludes at US 321 just east of downtown Gatlinburg) you’ll pass the “Place of a Thousand Drips”- a unique waterfall which splits and cascades around piles of rocks stretching a considerable distance. It’s one of only two waterfalls in the park that can be viewed without ever leaving your car.
To get to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail turn off of U.S. Highway 441 in downtown Gatlinburg onto Cherokee Orchard Rd. After approximately 3.8 miles, turn right onto the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This one-way road winds 6 miles deep into the Smokies at the base of Mt. LeConte and offers some of the best sightseeing in the park.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is just one of many amazing scenic drives you can take through the Smoky Mountains. Discover even more scenic drives to try on your next visit.