Photograph of Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with more than 30 visitors taking in the view after a 1.3-mile hike on the Laurel Falls Trail.

Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan

Great Smoky Mountains National Park » Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan » Document List

The National Park Service (NPS) has initiated planning efforts for the Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the Park). The Laurel Falls trailhead is on Fighting Creek Gap Road about 5.5 miles from the Park's Gatlinburg, Tennessee entrance. The 4-mile trail leads to 80-foot high Laurel Falls at the 1.3-mile mark and then ascends to the Cove Mountain Fire Lookout. The trail is paved from the trailhead to the falls. The relatively short hike to the falls and proximity to a major park entrance makes Laurel Falls Trail one the most popular destinations in the Park with nearly 350,000 visitors per year. The Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan would focus on the 1.3-mile segment from the trailhead to the falls, and guide future trail management and visitor use. The plan is needed to:

• Rehabilitate trail surface and infrastructure
• Address crowding and congestion concerns at the falls and along Fighting Creek Gap Road.
• Improve pedestrian flow and reduce safety risks at the trailhead, along the trail, and at Laurel Falls.
• Enhance opportunities for visitors to view and enjoy the falls.
• Reduce resource impacts associated with visitor-created trails and informal roadside parking.
• Address safety and congestion concerns associated with informal roadside parking along Fighting Creek Gap Road.
• Protect park resources and improve the visitor experience.

Laurel Falls Trail was originally built to allow fire crews access to the Cove Mountain area. Planning for the trail and fire tower at the top of Cove Mountain began in early 1930s. The trail was completed in 1932 at a cost of approximately $590. The fire tower was completed three years later. By the early 1960s, Laurel Falls had become a popular hiking destination for visitors and erosion was taking a toll on the trail. As part of the 1963 Accelerated Works Projects grant to the Department of Interior, the first 1.3 miles of trail was reconditioned, graded, and paved to halt the erosion. Laurel Falls Trail is the longest of four paved trails in the park. Although the Laurel Falls Trail corridor from the trailhead to the falls is not managed as wilderness because the trail is paved, the corridor beyond the falls area is designated as Natural Environment Type I and is managed as wilderness.

Contact Information

Dana Soehn 865-436-1207