Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: the Smokies best kept secret

The Roaring Fork Nature Trail may be the Smokies best kept secret. When you ask someone what their favorite auto drive is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the answer is almost always the Cades Cove Loop Road. A few people will mention the Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) from Sugarlands to Oconoluftee. However; the Roaring Fork Nature Trail rarely comes up and that's a shame.

Roaring Fork reminds me of a forested, scaled down version of the Cades Cove loop road. The auto tour is scattered with very log cabins and grist mills.

The historic structures bring you back to the early days of Southern Appalachia and the route is home to, the swiftest stream in the Smokies. Hikes can lead you to some of the most stunning waterfalls in the park. There are always wildflowers in the spring, foliage in the fall and the chance to see wildlife.

One of my favorite places on the route is the "Place of 1,000 Drips". Tons of very tiny waterfalls cascade down the hillside and the road goes right up to it.

Make no mistake. This isn't Grotto Falls and
it isn't Rainbow Falls. The special charm of the "Place of 1,000 Drips" is a good spot to walk around or take photos.

The Roaring Fork Nature Trail is a six mile, one-way loop. If you leave Gatlinburg after lunch, then you will be back in time for dinner with time to spare. Of course, you may want to add extra time for hiking or taking photos.

If you are going to Gatlinburg, then driving it is a snap. Take the main parkway into Gatlinburg and turn at traffic light #8. From there, it's just a matter of following the signs. The trail entrance is just beyond the trailhead for Rainbow Falls. (Even I couldn't miss the entrance.)

Helpful hints
Maneuverability
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is very narrow in spots. If your vehicle is an RV, bus or motorhome, then don't even think about it. These are prohibited and you can plan on serious damage your vehicle. Renting a car or car pooling with friends is a better way to go.

Seasonal schedule
There may be some seasonal fluctuations but generally, the road is open from about mid-March to roughly mid-November.

Best time for visiting
My favorite time to drive the road is late spring or through June. The route can get crowded when once school is out of session and families begin vacations. Fall is splendid but crowded. Try going on a weekday morning and you won't have much traffic. A bonus is that the softer morning light can be great for taking photographs.

Wildlife
Small animals are the most common. You may also see deer, wild turkey or once in awhile a black bear. Approaching within 150 feet or disturbing a bear is illegal. Jail terms and fines are possible for feeding bears or for improperly stored food.