Laurel Falls, Laurel Falls Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Laurel Falls - 2.5 miles
Laurel Falls Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||2.5 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||2,245' - 2,595' (2,615' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+350' net elevation gain (+407' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Laurel Falls - 2.5 Miles Round-Trip
Laurel Falls is located 3.8 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This multi-tier fall tumbles 80' down Laurel Branch, a heavily forested drainage on the south slope of Cove Mountain. The fall is named for mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub with prolific blooms.
A short, paved trail follows the contours of deep coves and steep ravines between Chinquapin Knob (3,773) and Cove Mountain to a bridge spanning the falls. Visitors will enjoy varied forests explained by interpretive brochures and a good chance to see wildlife en route to Laurel Falls:
The trail begins on a south-facing slope in a Pine-Oak forest, a mix of red, scarlet, black and chestnut oak, table mountain pitch, and white pine. This community prefers dry, warm, and well-drained slopes. Look for deer and bear through viewing lanes in a thin understory.
The trail gradually wraps into a Cove Hardwood forest on a northwest-facing slope.
Cove Hardwood Forests are typically found in wet valleys with nutrient-rich soil beds fed by debris from higher slopes.
Cove Hardwood Forests support up to 30 canopy trees and dozens of flowering shrubs and perennials. Primary constituents include silver bell, yellow poplar, tulip, basswood, sugar maple, buckeye, beech and hemlock. Magnolia, dogwood, holly, laurel and rhododendron fill out the understory.
Note changing arboreal compositions as you move from south to north facing slopes, dry ridges, and wet ravines. The trail crests after a moderate climb and levels on a high, west-facing ledge with views across the Little River basin (1.15 miles : 2,616').
It drops gently to a wide bridge across the middle of Laurel Falls (1.25 miles : 2,595').
Laurel Falls are draped in laurel and rhododendron and lined by towering hardwoods and hemlock. A number of social trails - many which are deceptively hazardous - lead to more secluded viewing areas. Rugged terrain and jagged rocks covered in slick algae will limit exploration for some visitors, though all should honor Park instructions and remain on designated trails near the falls at all times.
- N35 40.319 W83 34.833 — 0.0 miles : Laurel Falls Trailhead
- N35 40.395 W83 35.209 — .5 miles : Steady climb into Cove Hardwood Forest
- N35 40.459 W83 35.547 — 1.0 miles : Approach crest on high, west-facing ledge
- N35 40.649 W83 35.587 — 1.25 miles : Laurel Falls
- Laurel Falls are one of the most popular and busiest destinations in the Park. Get an early start to secure parking and avoid crowds.
- Bears are frequently seen on the Laurel Falls Trail. Do not approach or feed a bear. Never disturb bears while they're feeding, and allow extra space between a bear with cubs. Follow proper protocols if encountered.
- Heavy crowds have created litter problems on the Laurel Falls Trail. Always pack out what you take in, leave no trace, and help the Park Service by collecting trash left by others.
- Enjoy waterfalls from a safe distance, and be mindful of crowds, slippery surfaces, and drop offs at Laurel Falls. Never attempt to climb the falls.
Camping and Backpacking Information
BACKPACKING IN THE SMOKIES
Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.
Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/
Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.
Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.
General Backcountry Regulations
1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.
2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.
3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.
4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.
5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.
6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.
7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.
8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.
9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.
10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.
11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.
12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.
13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.
14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.
15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.
16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.
17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park
18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.
- Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.
- The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
- A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.
- Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
- Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.
- Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.
Rules and Regulations
- There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.
- Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but are not allowed on park trails.
Directions to Trailhead
The Laurel Falls Trailhead is located 3.8 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Little River Road. The trailhead is located on the north side of the road. Parking is limited and fills quickly. Additional roadside parking is permitted in designated areas.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Visitor Information - Recorded Message
Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)
Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)
Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)
Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)