Roaring Fork is a bit of a misleading title for this amazing destination just minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. That is until you pass the Grotto Falls parking area where the road meets the creek and suddenly the roaring sound of dozens of cascades echoes through the forest. Welcome to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-lane, one-way route through the national park people can enjoy from the comfort of their vehicle. It’s also known as the “land of waterfalls” because of the number of falls along trails and cascades right beside the motor route. Historical homes and barns are scattered across the trail, a pair of scenic overlooks show off the mountainous landscape, and peaceful nature surrounds visitors. It’s my favorite place to visit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Keep reading to discover why.
The journey to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail begins with a trek through the heart of the bustling mountain getaway of Gatlinburg on Parkway, the main road through the middle of town. Turning off Parkway at Traffic Light #8, visitors quickly leave the crowded streets and bumper to bumper traffic behind as they drive away from the city center. The businesses, homes, crowds, and traffic quickly thin out and vanish along the short drive. Soon visitors are surrounded by towering trees, thick foliage, and the occasional wildlife. The first stop, however, is not officially part of the motor nature trail.
Special Note About Parking
Parking is a tricky business along the motor trail. This trail is incredibly popular because of its proximity to Gatlinburg, ease of access, and hiking trails. On most days visitors will find the parking lots full from early morning hikers who hit the trails just after sunrise. There are several large parking areas along the motor trail, along with a few overflow parking areas. These are found at the trailheads for popular trails like Rainbow Falls.
There are also several small pull off areas with room for a few vehicles to park at once. However, these are also frequently taken. If all else fails, parking is allowed along both sides of the motor trail. Park officials ask drivers to please be careful since this is a nature trail: just because you have four wheel drive doesn’t mean you should park ten feet into the middle of the forest. But you also need to ensure if you park along the side of the motor trail, get your vehicle far enough off the road so other vehicles can pass.
Frequently during the busy summer and fall months visitors will park too close to the motor nature trail. Eventually a large truck or full size van tries to pass and faces a difficult choice: get stuck and block traffic behind them, or take damage to their vehicle as they scrap past and break mirrors. Try to get all four tires off the motor nature trail and make sure the passage is clear for other vehicles.