After chasing bears and people alike on the trail for three consecutive summers, Laurel Falls is not my favorite hike. This trail is an easy, paved walk to an almost 80-foot waterfall and remains the most popular trail in the park.
Every trail I have written a column on so far has been well over two miles each way and decently uphill. For once, I will give everyone a break. And by everyone, I mean the people that really don't care about long walks, bugs and nature. So here's to the easiest trail in the Smokies, falling in at 2.6 miles of broken pavement.
I highly recommend this trail for people who don't consider themselves outdoorsy or are afraid of walking too deep into the woods. I have seen people wide, stumpy and everywhere between push strollers up the 1.3 miles to Laurel Falls.
Parking at the trailhead is limited, but that never stops the masses of visitors from overcrowding and parking alongside the road. This trail is busy year-round due to its easy to access trailhead and pavement, making it ideal for any winter hike.
The waterfall itself stands at almost 80-feet high with the trail intersecting the middle, creating an upper falls and a lower falls. For the sake of your hiking buddies as well as the rangers on staff, please do not climb the falls. Countless accidents resulting in injury or death have occurred off the upper and lower falls.
The total elevation gain from the parking lot to the waterfall is only about 300 feet. This gradual incline makes it possible for nearly every visitor to wander up without dying.
Another major safety concern on the Laurel Falls trail is bear activity. Due to its overwhelming popularity with your average Gatlinburg visitor, many problem-bears roam this trail searching for food. Every year several bears at Laurel Falls end up being relocated or even put down because of negative human-bear interactions.
Please carry any trash you bring or see along the trail to help prevent the growing number of problem-bears. Please also keep in mind that the closest you are legally allowed to be to a black bear in the national park is 150 feet. In order to move a bear off the trail, back up to give the bear plenty of room then shout, clap or throw rocks at its feet to startle the bear away for both your and its safety.
Laurel Falls has the potential to be a zoo, quite literally, between the thousands of visitors that trudge up the paved trail and the black bears. If you feel especially adventurous, unlike the rest of the Laurel Falls crowd, continue past the falls to reach old-growth forest which is few and far between in the Smokies.
To reach the old-growth, continue a half mile beyond Laurel Falls. The trail is considerably tougher, having more elevation gain and rockier terrain. These beautiful old trees that are over 300 years old in some spots stand taller and more magnificent than any other trees along the trail.
Keep in mind that even though this trail is incredibly easy for some, it may be viewed as challenging by others. Always bring water, a snack and a positive outlook so you can enjoy Laurel Falls.
— Emily DeLanzo is a senior in environmental studies and can be reached at email@example.com.