ROARING FORK MOTOR NATURE TRAIL
A lot of visitors to the Smokies are familiar with the Cades Cove auto loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But perhaps not as many folks know that there’s another historic auto loop in the park that’s no farther away than many of our Gatlinburg Cabins.
Looking for a scenic adventure , a cool thing to do in Gatlinburg? The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a six-mile, self-guided auto loop that takes travelers on a journey through nature and history. The journey begins in downtown Gatlinburg by following Historic Nature Trail (formerly known as Airport Road) to a four-way intersection at the entrance to the Park Vista Hotel. Simply continue straight ahead on Cherokee Orchard Road (Mills Park is on the right), and within moments, you’re plunged into a serene environment where woods and vegetation dominate.
From a natural perspective, the tour offers everything from rocks and hills to forests and streams to animals and waterfalls. For example, there are several stops along the route where you’ll find trailheads to some of the area’s most popular hiking trails—some of which lead to the summit of Mt. LeConte.
You’ll find the parking area for the Rainbow Falls Trail about three miles from the start, and not far beyond that is a path that leads hikers on a moderately strenuous walk of 1.3 miles to Baskins Creek Falls.
Approximately halfway along the motor trail is one of several entrances to Trillium Gap Trail, which leads to Mt. LeConte. Only 1.5 miles along Trillium Gap Trail is Grotto Falls, which is a good hike in itself because it combines a relatively short, easy trail with an interesting destination. Before exiting the loop, when you’re back near downtown Gatlinburg, look for another trailhead to Baskins Creek Falls as well as Thousand Drips Falls.
Roaring Fork is also heavily steeped in history. One of the first sights you’ll see is the Noah “Bud” Ogle homestead, a 400-acre farm that was settled in 1879 by Ogle and his wife, Cindy. The simple log farmhouse and other remaining primitive structures can only reveal some facets of rural life, but the buildings’ stark simplicity is still a strong reminder of the way things used to be.
At different sites along the road are preserved homesteads similar to the Ogle farm, including the homes of Jim Bales, Ephraim Bales and Alfred Reagan. Old farmhouses, barns, corncribs and mills are the last vestiges of these frontiersmen and their rugged existence.
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