Riding the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Take a trip back to nature and back in time along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This 5.5 mile drive around a one-way loop lets you take in some of the best scenery and history the Smoky Mountains has to offer. You'll most certainly enjoy the drive along the trail, but there's more to do here than just take in scenery from the car.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Experience the splendor of the Smokies along this incredible scenic drive. You'll see roaring streams, old mills, mountains, old-growth forest, historic buildings and more along the nearly 6-mile drive. You'll also find the only two waterfalls accessible by car in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park along the trail. Buckle up and get ready to enjoy the ride along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Accessing Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The trail might be off the beaten path, but it's easy to find. You'll find the nature trail just outside of Gatlinburg. To get to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail scenic drive, turn off the Parkway in Gatlinburg at light #8. From there, follow Historic Nature Trail Road all the way down to the Cherokee Orchard national park entry point. Here you'll see the Rainbow Falls trailhead, and the nature trail lies just beyond.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Driving On Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Before you set out on the beautiful drive, you need to be prepared. It's important to know the nature trail's roadway is narrow and winding; only cars can pass. Buses, big trucks, trailers and motorhomes are too big for the limited driving trail. You'll also want to be prepared for an easy ride. There's so much to see around the 5.5 mile loop that you won't want to step on the gas. Plan on going slow and taking in the surroundings.

It's also important to time your visit just right. The motor trail is closed during the winter months. If you're lucky enough to be in the Smokies in springtime, consider checking out the nature trail after a heavy rain. The saturated streams and waterfalls will show you and let you hear how this part of the park got its name.

Noah "Bud" Ogle Homestead

On the way to Roaring Fork via Cherokee Orchard Road, you'll find Noah "Bud" Ogle homestead. This site dates all the way back to the late 19th century. The homestead is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and is maintained by the National Parks Service. It is a classic example of a Southern Appalachian farm.

Bud Ogle Cabin

Today you'll find an original weathered cabin, barn and tub mill on the site. One thing that makes the homestead site unique is the barn. Though once common in the region, it is the only remaining four-pen barn in the park. Other historic sites in the Roaring Fork District include the Alfred Reagan Place, Ephraim Bales place and Jim Bales place.

Hiking and Waterfalls

You'll see two waterfalls along the historic nature trail, but if you want to get up close and personal with these wet natural wonders, you'll need to walk. You'll need to lace up your hiking shoes or boots, but will definitely be rewarded by the scenery around you. Check out our list of waterfall hikes

Waterfall Hikes

Grotto Falls

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail provides easy access to the Trillium Gap Trail, a moderate 2.8 mile roundtrip hike that takes you right to Grotto Falls. It runs behind a 25 foot waterfall and is the only place in the park where you can get a backside view of the falls. You might plan on spending 2-3 hours hiking to the falls and back.

Grotto Falls

Rainbow Falls

You'll find the Rainbow Falls trailhead just before the start of the nature trail in the Cherokee Orchard loop. Rainbow Falls Trail is a 6.5 mile trail, but the waterfall is only 2.7 miles from the parking lot at the trailhead. The trail features rocky terrain and elevation gain, and might be difficult for novice hikers.

Rainbow Falls

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offers some of the best scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains. From views of rocky mountains and historic buildings to waterfalls and old-growth forest splendor, experience it all in the motor trail's 5.5 mile loop. Be sure to make this breathtaking drive part of your mountain adventure. Explore more of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and get back to nature.

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