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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 Little River 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 more than 375,000 visitors in 2020. 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:

• Protect the park resources and improve the visitor experience;
• Rehabilitate the deteriorated trail surface;
• Improve pedestrian flow and reduce safety risks;
• Enhance opportunities for visitors to view and enjoy the falls;
• Address crowding and congestion concerns; and
• Reduce resource impacts associated with visitor-created trails.

The park is consistently the most visited national park in the country. It is situated within a day's drive of one-half the population of the United States and was visited more than 14.1 million times in 2021. Since 2011, annual visitation to the Smokies has increased by 57%, resulting in congested roadways, overflowing parking lots, unsafe parking along roads, roadside soil erosion, vegetation trampling, crowded destinations, and long lines at visitor facilities.

Laurel Falls Trail was originally built to allow fire crews access to the Cove Mountain area. Planning for the trail and a fire tower to be built at the top of Cove Mountain began in early 1930s and the trail was completed in 1932. 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 were reconditioned, graded, and paved to halt the erosion. Laurel Falls Trail is the longest of four paved trails in the park. While the trail corridor beyond the falls area is managed as wilderness, the project area is not managed as wilderness due to the paved trail surface. The trail is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district.

Contact Information

Emily Davis 865-436-1207