My family and I recently spent a long weekend over Spring break to get away to the Great Smoky Mountains. We had decided to combine a couple of interesting short day hikes in the Smokys with some fun at an indoor water park in the town of Sevierville, TN.
We picked short day hikes that were "kid friendly" so that our two children, Jack and Maggie, would be able to complete them without being exhausted and have enough energy to have some fun and observe interesting things along the way. I had a simple criteria for picking hikes: Keep the entire loop under three miles, make them medium to moderate effort/elevation, and must include interesting scenic or historical features along the trail route.
Grotto Falls | Trillium Gap Trail
The hike up to Grotto Falls is one of the nicest little trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not much more than a mile in each direction. As the trail sign (above) indicates, it’s a part of the longer Trillium Gap Trail which continues on up to Mt. LeConte the park's third highest peak.
We entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, via traffic light #8 (yes they're numbered!) and took Airport Road just under a mile to the park gate. After about another 2 miles we turned on to the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop which connected us to the parking lot and trail head to Grotto Falls.
As I had mentioned, we picked the Grotto Falls trail because of its moderate to mild elevation and that's exactly what we found when we go there. For the most part, the trail was a gentle climb up to Grotto Falls along a wide, well-traveled path.
As we continued along the trail we encountered several small creeks that we had to cross without the aid of any bridges. This turned out to be a perfect opportunity to show Jack and Maggie how well my Inov-8 Roclite 320s expel water after getting soaked, but I had to make sure thy didn't try to do the same thing and end up with soggy little feet. That would be miserable, for everyone.
At about 1.2 miles we started to hear the sounds of roaring water and as we turned the corner the beautiful cascade of Grotto Falls came into view. Both Jack and Maggie thought it was pretty cool and well worth the "agonizing" hike to the top - their words not mine.
The distinctive feature of Grotto Falls is that it's the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that a you can actually walk behind. The 25-foot high waterfall provided us with a cool, shady, and rather moist retreat from the day's heat. The Smoky Mountains guide book had told us to be on the look out for salamanders near the falls, as it is the perfect environment for them, but we never saw any.
Despite a small creek crossing accident on the way up and some bumps and bruises, the Grotto Falls hike was a beautiful and fun hike with my family. My kids both had a blast and were full of question on the way up to the falls and also on the way back. It never fails to amaze me at how inquisitive children's minds are - I love it!
I've learned that small, frequent hiking activities that my kids are able to complete are the perfect way to encourage them to do more and actually want to be outside more often. I'm very fortunate that both my kids prefer to be out on the trail than indoors, but I also do my best to encourage them to get outside and join in with my passion for the outdoors.
Brian is a Charlotte based backpacker, gear junkie, runner, and CrossFit(er). Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 20 years, finally settling in North Carolina. He spends as much time backpacking as his busy work schedule and family life will allow.