Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: A Waterfall Wonderland

Its name derived from a “roaring” mountain stream, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail twists and turns for six-miles, forming a one-way looping scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains. The narrow roadway only allows cars—trucks, trailers and RVs cannot fit on this road.

The drive along Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail begins at the Noah “Bud” Ogle farmstead, where you can take a walking tour of the historic buildings and pick up a tour map of the roadway sights. The trailhead for Rainbow Falls can be found just beyond the farmstead, a moderate hike to a stunning waterfall. It’s a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike to Rainbow Falls (it’s less than 3 miles one way!) and your reward is the 80-foot high waterfall, the tallest single-drop waterfall in the national park.

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail also provides access to the Trillium Gap Trail. Hike the Trillium Gap Trail to reach Grotto Falls, the only place in the Smoky Mountains where you can stand behind the falls as the water cascades to the pool. If hiking to a waterfall is not your thing, the Place of a Thousand Drips can be reached by car. It’s one of two waterfalls in the park accessible by car—find it at stop 15, near the end of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Insider Tip:
Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the scenic turnouts or to eat it at the waterfall after hiking the Trillium Gap Trail. There are no Visitor Centers along the motor trail and no-turning back once you start, so packing a cooler with water and snacks is advisable.

Directions:
At Traffic Light #8 in Gatlinburg, TN turn off the Parkway onto Historic Nature Trail Road. Follow this road to the Orchard entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park. The entrance to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail loop is immediately following the Rainbow Falls Trailhead.

The Bottom Line

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way, scenic loop that is 6 miles long. The quick trip will provide plenty of views of mountains, streams, mills, and other historic buildings.