Grotto Falls, Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Grotto Falls - 2.6 Miles
Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||2.6 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||3,235' - 3,760' (3,760' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+525' net elevation gain (+548' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Grotto Falls spill 25' over a cavernous rock overhang, or Grotto, into a large pool along Roaring Fork Creek.
The Trillium Gap Trail passes through old growth hemlock and mixed hardwood to the fall, and continues behind it en route to Brushy Mountain and Mount Le Conte.
Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can walk right behind a waterfall on a designated trail. Visitors will enjoy a picturesque setting, swimming, and salamander viewing on the short hike to Grotto Falls.
The Trillium Gap Trail rises steadily on mild grades from the Grotto Falls parking area into a thick forest. Note large concentrations of eastern hemlock as you progress. Hemlock, sometimes referred to as the redwoods of the east, are among the largest and most common trees in the Park. They can grow to 150', have trunks 6' in diameter, and live several hundred years.
Just before reaching the main fall you'll pass a lively cascade and pool suitable for wading (1.23 miles), a good alternative when the Grotto area is overrun with midday crowds. The main trail continues beside the creek to Grotto Falls (1.3 miles 3,760'), and curls behind it under the protective grotto to the far side. This cool, moist environment is ideal habitat for salamanders, of which there are 30 species in the Park.
The Trillium Gap Trail continues 2.05 miles above the falls to Brushy Mountain, a worthwhile extension for those with time. Brushy Mountain, a heath bald, is celebrated for its spectacular views and rhododendron, laurel, and sand myrtle blooms.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N35 40.827 W83 27.755 — Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead
- N35 40.677 W83 27.420 — .5 miles : Steady climb on wide, smooth path
- N35 40.434 W83 26.965 — 1.3 miles : Grotto Falls
- Lungless salamanders breathe - or exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide - through blood vessels in their skin and linings of their mouths and throats. Salamanders are found in just about every ecosystem and micro-climate throughout the park, but are most commonly found in dark moist areas - like the base of Grotto Falls.
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park estimates there are 800 acres of old-growth hemlock in the Park. Much of this population is threatened by the woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that feeds on sap at the base of hemlock needles, which ultimately disrupts nutrient flow and causes needles to drop. Without needles the tree starves to death, usually within three to five years of infestation. Hemlock forests along the Trillium Gap Trail and Grotto Falls area are currently intact.
- Enjoy waterfalls from a safe distance, and be mindful of slippery surfaces in the vicinity. Do not attempt to climb the falls. Deaths have occurred at numerous falls throughout the Park.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- There are no designated backcountry campsites on the Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trail. The Mount Le Conte Shelter is available by reservation (see related notes).
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit for all backcountry camping in the park. Backcountry permits are free and available at 14 visitor centers, campgrounds, and park office locations.
- Permit registration facilities are open 24 hours a day. Permits must be picked up in the park at designated locations. They are not available on the internet or through email.
- Advance reservations are required to camp at all Shelters and Backcountry Campsites 9, 10, 13, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 36, 37, 38, 46, 47, 50, 55, 57, 60, 61, 71, 83, 86, 90, 113.
- Reservations for backcountry campsites may be obtained only by calling the Backcountry Office (865.436.1231). They are not available online or through email.
- If you do not plan to camp at a shelter or reserved campsite, then you only need to complete a permit.
- There is a 3 consecutive night stay maximum at any given campsite, and 1 night maximum at any shelter. The use of tents at shelters is prohibited. The maximum group size is 8 persons for sites and shelters.
- Open fires are prohibited except at designated sites and in established fire rings.
- All food and trash must be suspended at least 10' off the ground and 4' from the nearest limb or trunk, or stored as otherwise designated (e.g. bear box).
- The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily.
- 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.
The Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead is located 5.3 miles from downtown Gatlinburg TN in the north central quadrant of the Park.
From downtown Gatlinburg, turn south onto Airport Blvd from light #8. Airport Blvd turns into Cherokee Orchard Road as it enters GSMNP. Just past the Rainbow Falls lot (3.3 miles from light #8), turn right at the sign for Grotto Falls (3.6 miles).
The Grotto Falls Trailhead is located 1.7 miles ahead on the right (5.3 miles from light #8). Drive safely on these narrow, winding roads. Note this is a one way road, and you'll be deposited onto Highway 321 on the return from the trailhead, several miles east of where you entered on Airport / Cherokee Orchard Road.
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)
Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)
Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)