With the suffocating heat and humidity of summer, it is no wonder why many Gatlinburg visitors are choosing to do their sightseeing by automobile. While the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails, many visitors, due to health and age, are not able to take advantage of all that the Park has to offer. One of the most popular automobile sight-seeing routes is the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. This six mile paved road offers visitors a chance to glimpse into the primitive cabins, barns and homesteads that once ruled the Gatlinburg area.
The entrance to the nature trail is located at the Cherokee Orchard entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just past the parking area for Rainbow Falls. This one way, looping road is a favorite of many Gatlinburg visitors, who return year after year to enjoy the serenity and beauty of Old Gatlinburg. The cost to make the drive is free, and while the trip can be made in 20-30 minutes, many guests spend hours exploring the sights and sounds of the trail.
Recently repaved to make the drive smooth and comfortable, this nature trail offers sixteen beautiful points of interest, from old growth forests to Alfred Regan’s cabin and mill. One of the first stops takes you to a forest filled with giant hemlocks, sweet birch and tulip trees. The fallen trees provide excellent fertilizer for the wild grape vines and rhododendrons that cover the forest floor. This area (as well as the hemlock forest further down the trail) provides excellent habitats for wildlife, including chipmunks, raccoons and bears. Have your camera ready and watch the forest spring to life!
Further down the trail is Jim Bales Place, which is surrounded by a breathtaking mountain setting. Here, you can explore the cabin, corn crib and the barn. Once you’re finished, stick your feet in the stream that runs alongside the property for a refreshing break. Ephraim Bale’s place is the next stop, where you can enjoy walking around and into the cabin, barn, pig pen, and the spring that was the cabin’s source of water.
After you’ve seen all that there is to see on the trail, consider taking a walk and exploring the hiking trails that branch out from the motor trail. Close to waterfalls, beautiful views and ecologically diverse forests, many of these hiking trail are ideal for beginners. Explore hemlock forests, Mount Le Conte’s Summit and more – all trail heads are marked throughout the drive and offer advice on the length and difficulty of the hike.
Check out this YouTube video for beautiful images of the trail: