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Smoky Mountains Jeep Tours taking a group on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, starting from the picturesque town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, lies a journey of discovery that both nature lovers and history buffs will adore: the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

A Journey through Nature and Time

Stretching for about 5.5 miles, this one-way looped trail offers visitors a serene drive through some of the park’s most captivating landscapes. Along the route, you’ll encounter sparkling streams, cascading waterfalls, lush forests, and remnants of old Appalachian settlements. Indeed, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail serves as a living museum, showcasing the rich natural and cultural heritage of the Smokies.

Water stream flowing along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Natural Beauty at Every Turn

As you drive through the winding path, the chorus of the Roaring Fork stream will accompany you, a waterway named for its boisterous and loud nature, especially after heavy rains. Water is a defining feature of this trail, and along the way, you will encounter multiple waterfalls, including the popular Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls. These natural wonders, particularly in the spring and after rains, can be truly magical, drawing photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.

The dense forests that line the trail are a mix of old-growth hardwoods and evergreens. In the spring, you’ll be treated to a display of wildflowers, while in the fall, the trail becomes a canvas of vibrant colors, making it one of the best spots in the Smokies to witness the autumn foliage.

Water stream flowing along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Echoes of the Past

Amidst this natural beauty are poignant reminders of the people who once called these mountains home. Scattered along the trail are well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other structures. The most notable among these is the Ephraim Bales Place, a small, two-room cabin where Ephraim and his family once lived. Visiting these places feels like stepping back in time, providing a glimpse into the daily lives of the early settlers of the region.

Things to Remember

  1. Accessibility: The trail is typically open from early spring to late fall. However, due to its narrow and winding nature, RVs and trailers are not permitted.
  2. Hiking Opportunities: While the trail is primarily meant for driving, there are several spots where visitors can park and embark on short hikes to explore the attractions up close.
  3. Wildlife: This area is teeming with wildlife. While deer and turkey sightings are common, remember that the park is also home to black bears. Always keep a safe distance, and never feed or approach them.
  4. Preservation: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a protected area. Always ensure that you leave no trace, pack out all your trash, and respect the natural and historical sites.

a large waterfall over a rocky cliff


The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, starting from the enchanting town of Gatlinburg, offers a rich tapestry of natural wonders and historical intrigue. Whether you’re a seasoned visitor of the Great Smoky Mountains or a first-timer, this trail promises an experience that is both scenic and insightful. So, the next time you’re in the area, take a detour off the beaten path and immerse yourself in the tranquil beauty of the Roaring Fork.