I finished the Cades Cove loop around 3:30pm, and after a late packed picnic lunch, I drove over to the Laurel Falls trailhead. Laurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park, probably because it’s located close to Sugarlands Visitor’s Center as you first enter the park from the Gatlinburg side, and its on the way to several campsites, including Cades Cove and Elkmont. Also, the Laurel Falls trail is one of the few waterfall trails in the park that is relatively easy to navigate for all ages.
Thankfully, despite the hour, I managed to find a parking spot near the trailhead (*Side note: later the same week I drove past the Laurel Falls trailhead and there was such a massive crowd that people were having to park miles away and leg it.). Laurel Falls trail is 1.1 mile one-way, paved, and very steep. However, it’s the paved surface that makes the trail so accessible. I saw numerous parents with strollers moving along at a great pace, large families taking their time and walking the trail together, and single hikers, like myself, all having a good time.
Laurel Falls may be very reachable, but they’re also not as impressive size-wise as some of the other falls in the Smokies (i.e. Ramsay’s Cascades, Rainbow Falls, Abrams Falls, etc.). However, just because the falls are smaller, doesn’t make them less beautiful.
Random (I think funny) anecdote: On the way back down the trail to the trailhead, I passed a park ranger talking to a middle school aged boy. To the astonishment of the ranger, the boy asked if there were any bathrooms up at the top by the falls. All the ranger could manage to say was, “Well…we’re in the middle of the wilderness…”