Grotto Falls at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Written by Jason Barnette
Posted on September 7, 2016

Standing behind the crashing water of Grotto Falls I smiled for a quick selfie. It’s not every day you come across a waterfall you can stand behind so I was going to take full advantage of this adventure. Kids splashed around in the shallow water of the grotto and I strung up my hammock between two trees. I was settled in for the evening and couldn’t be happier I found this trail.

at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The water was a little light when I visited Grotto Falls for the first time in mid-August. Waterfalls are always fuller during the Spring months.

Grotto Falls is one of the best introductory hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s one of the shorter trails to a waterfall, one of the easiest, and has one of the better payoffs (especially for families with young children). The trail head is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail about a thirty minute drive from downtown Gatlinburg (depending on traffic).

Travel Tip: Arrive early to beat the heavy foot traffic. This is one of the most popular trails in the park, and by 10AM on most days (even weekdays) you will have difficulty finding parking or enjoying the peace and solitude on the trail. I recommend getting a start before 7AM.

The hike to Grotto Falls isn’t really bad, at least compared to many of the other trails in the park. The 1.3-mile hike to the waterfall is almost continuously uphill for a 526′ change in elevation; this doesn’t make the trail steep, but it is a constant climb. The trail is rocky and covered with roots at several places, and a few times you’ll cross over small spring water streams but nothing you really need to worry about walking across with regular hiking shoes. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes, though; the day I went I saw people in flip flops, heels, and platform shoes. Your feet will hate you by the time you get back to your car.

There is plenty to do once you arrive at the waterfall. You will see the falls just before you turn the last corner on the trail and see it for the first time. The waterfall pictured here is the “main” fall, but there is another just below that falls into a 50′ deep ravine. People climb down into the ravine all the time to sit on the massive boulders, hunt for salamanders, or just chill while reading a book. Children love to play in the shallow waters of the grotto, which is only about 3′ at the deepest point. Grotto Falls is also popular for an iconic selfie opportunity: the cliff directly behind the falls has been carved out over time, allowing people to walk behind the waterfall for a photo “beneath” or behind the falls.

at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I got in on the selfie game as well, taking my GoPro on a too-short selfie stick to snap a photo while standing behind the waterfall.

If you would like to view more photos from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please visit my website at

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