I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
November 16, 2015
Here’s all you need to know about hiking the Laurel Falls Trail, just outside Gatlinburg at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
We took a weekend trip to Gatlinburg recently, and were fortunate to stay in a hotel right in the center of town. Most of what we wanted to do was in easy walking distance and my kids would have been perfectly happy to have explored the downtown area all weekend long. If you’ve ever been there, you can understand why- It is a whirling carnival for the senses, with each storefront promising a different kind of magic- from blacklight mini golf to shrunken heads and actual hair from George Washington’s head at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium to an earthquake ride, a space needle, two haunted houses, and a wonderful aquarium. And don’t even get me started on the shopping and the restaurants.
I’ll write more about Gatlinburg proper in an upcoming post, but for now, let’s focus on what’s right at Gatlinburg’s doorstep: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’ve been there, you know that the beauty of this nationally protected land is unparalleled, particularly in the fall– and despite the lures of downtown, my husband and I realized we’d be crazy not to spend at least a few hours exploring it.
We first stopped on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the bustling Sugarlands Visitor Center, which is a great place to get hiking advice from park rangers and watch a short film that tells the history of the Smoky Mountains, from the dawn of time all the way to the present. That’s a lot to cover in a half-hour, but somehow they managed– it held the attention of both my kids.
Oh. And bears.
Clearly, the park service pulls no punches when it comes to issuing warnings about this trail. In addition to these signs, there were also several warning signs posted along the first few hundred feet of the trail that expressly banned strollers, for obvious reasons. I mean, one false step and it’s Bye bye baby.
That’s why I was surprised to see not one, but FOUR families with strollers at various points along the trail.
“Be careful,” one stroller-pushing father told me who was on his way back as we neared the end of the trail, “It gets pretty treacherous up ahead.” He paused. “If you have a stroller, anyway,” he said sheepishly.
Riiiiight. These are the same people, I’m guessing, who take the escalator with their stroller. But that’s another post for another time. The use of strollers should require a safety class and a license, is all I’m saying. ANYWAY.
Stroller-free (and thank God THOSE days are over. Okay, I’m done with the stroller conversation. Seriously.), we started off on the trail. We had spent the morning running around Ober Gatlinburg, so my 11-year-old daughter in particular was less than enthusiastic. “I always said I would never do one thing,” she grumbled as we walked, “and that’s hike a trail where there are bears. AND HERE I AM.” Yup. Pretty much.
After a few minutes, though, even the kids couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty of our surroundings.
Just as my daughter was ready to drop from exhaustion, “This is basically child abuse, you know,” were her exact words, if I recall correctly, we reached the summit of our hike– and Laurel falls itself.
Suddenly, the child abuse allegations were forgotten as we enjoyed Mother Nature in all her splendor.
We stopped at the waterfall for only a few minutes, since the sun was setting and we had plans to do more in Gatlinburg that evening, but the trail provided us with a lovely hike and a perfect way to get outdoors and get some exercise.
The Laurel Falls Trail is often somewhat crowded with sightseers, but while that generally irritates me on trails, in this case, I enjoyed it because there was such a rich diversity of people. I heard several different languages spoken as we passed groups on the path, and saw people of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes. I was moved by a man with a cane who hobbled at a snail’s pace on the trail with dogged tenacity, as well as an older man and woman who were carefully leading their disabled adult son up the path to the waterfall.
Although we came from all walks of life, we were all united in our pursuit to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Ultimately, these are the kinds of experiences I hope my kids will remember when they’re adults– the times we spent together exploring new places and doing new things and enjoying all this big earth has to offer.
And kids, if you’re reading this some day when you’re older, I hope you’ll take note of the fact that although I made plenty of mistakes as your mother, I NEVER TOOK YOU ON THE LAUREL FALLS TRAIL IN A STROLLER. Consider that before you put me in the nursing home, please.
For more information on the Laurel Falls Trail and the park itself, check out these links:
Here’s a very informative (and unintentionally hilarious) video from the park on what to do if you see a bear. I learned some new information!
Warning sign image via Joel Kramer/Flickr