Attractions, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, History, Parks

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

An exuberant mountain stream gave this area its unusual name. Roaring Fork is one of the larger and faster flowing mountain streams in the park. Drive this road after a hard rain and the inspiration behind the name will be apparent.

The 5.5-mile-long, one-way, loop road offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. Please note that the road is closed in winter.

Roaring Fork Motor Trail Stream

Before entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail offers a walking tour of an authentic mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest. Highlights include a streamside tubmill and the Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system.

Just beyond the Ogle farmstead is the trailhead for Rainbow Falls, one of the park’s most popular waterfalls. The hike to the falls is 5.4 miles roundtrip and is considered moderately strenuous. If you plan to attempt this hike, be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots and carry plenty of water and snacks. We went in January and as we got closer to the top, it was apparent we were in the snow capped mountains. We never made it to the top because the children wanted to turn back. We intended to hike Grotto Falls but that trail was closed so we were not prepared.

Grotto falls is a fairly easy hike. You can actually walk behind the falls. But, you don’t have to take a hike to experience a waterfall. The Place of a Thousand Drips is a seasonal waterfall that you can see from your car! However, to get a better view, park at the small pull off and walk back to see it. Wet periods are the best time to see a Place of a Thousand Drips. The flow of the water splits into numerous small channels around the rocks, creating “a thousand drips.”

There are also overlooks along the road and streams that you cross over. There are also many structures you can walk through and read about along the way.

Jim Bales Place

Jim Bales Place

The Jim Bales Place is a small home and a barn sitting in a large, open field. Jim Bales and his older brother, Ephraim, spent most of their lives on the Roaring Fork. Jim married Emma Ogle, a young woman from a neighboring homestead. In this spot, you’ll be able to see Jim Bales’ corn crib and barn, but the cabin that sits in this area is the Alex Cole Cabin. The cabin was relocated here from the Sugarland area so the original location could be returned to nature.

Ephraim Bales Cabin

Ephraim was Jim Bales’ brother. This cabin is easy to miss, so be sure to keep an eye out for it! It’s on the left beyond a small parking area. Ephraim lived here with his wife and 9 children. The homestead is actually two cabins placed side by side, with a common roof connecting them together. The larger cabin served as the living area, while the other was the kitchen.

Alfred Reagan Place & Tub Mill

Alfred Reagan Place along Roaring Fork

On the right side of the road, you’ll see a long wooden aqueduct that leads to the small Tub Mill beside the creek. There’s parking on the side of the road. Straight ahead from the parking area is the white Alfred Reagan Place. This is the only historic home on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail that’s been painted! My husband loves the foundation. Which is just a bunch of rocks piled on each other.

Ely’s Mill

Shortly after you pass The Place of a Thousand Drips, two-way traffic will resume, and you’ve officially reached the end of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. However, there’s one more spot you have to stop at! Ely’s Mill is a locally owned attraction that includes a small shop with arts and crafts from local artisans. After your journey along the nature trail, you’ll love stopping here for a cold drink and to stretch your legs!

To access Roaring Fork, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg, TN at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park.

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