Grotto Falls, Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Grotto Falls - 2.6 miles

Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead

The Trillium Gap Trail passes behind Grotto Falls

The Trillium Gap Trail passes behind Grotto Falls

Round-Trip Length: 2.6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 3,235' - 3,760' (3,760' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +525' net elevation gain (+548' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Grotto Falls - 2.6 Miles Round-Trip

Grotto Falls spill 25' over a cavernous rock overhang, or Grotto, into a large pool along Roaring Fork Creek. The Trillium Gap Trail passes through old growth hemlock and mixed hardwood to the fall, and continues behind it en route to Brushy Mountain and Mount Le Conte.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can walk right behind a waterfall on a designated trail. Visitors will enjoy a picturesque setting, swimming, and salamander viewing on the short hike to Grotto Falls.

The Trillium Gap Trail rises steadily on mild grades from the Grotto Falls parking area into a thick forest. Note large concentrations of eastern hemlock as you progress.

Hemlock are among the largest and most common trees in the Park. They can grow to 150', have trunks 6' in diameter, and live several hundred years.

Just before reaching the main fall you'll pass a lively cascade and pool suitable for wading (1.23 miles), a good alternative when the Grotto area is overrun with midday crowds.

The main trail continues beside the creek to Grotto Falls (1.3 miles 3,760'), and curls behind it under the protective grotto to the far side. This cool, moist environment is ideal habitat for salamanders, of which there are 30 species in the Park.

The Trillium Gap Trail continues 2.05 miles above the falls to Brushy Mountain, a worthwhile extension for those with time. Brushy Mountain, a heath bald, is celebrated for its spectacular views and rhododendron, laurel, and sand myrtle blooms.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N35 40.827 W83 27.755 — Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead
  • N35 40.677 W83 27.420 — .5 miles : Steady climb on wide, smooth path
  • N35 40.434 W83 26.965 — 1.3 miles : Grotto Falls

Worth Noting

  • Lungless salamanders breathe - or exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide - through blood vessels in their skin and linings of their mouths and throats. Salamanders are found in just about every ecosystem and micro-climate throughout the park, but are most commonly found in dark moist areas - like the base of Grotto Falls.

  • Great Smoky Mountain National Park estimates there are 800 acres of old-growth hemlock in the Park. Much of this population is threatened by the woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that feeds on sap at the base of hemlock needles, which ultimately disrupts nutrient flow and causes needles to drop. Without needles the tree starves to death, usually within three to five years of infestation. Hemlock forests along the Trillium Gap Trail and Grotto Falls area are currently intact.

  • Enjoy waterfalls from a safe distance, and be mindful of slippery surfaces in the vicinity. Do not attempt to climb the falls. Deaths have occurred at numerous falls throughout the Park.

Camping and Backpacking Information


Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.

Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here:

Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.

Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

General Backcountry Regulations

1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.

2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.

3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.

4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.

5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.

6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.

7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.

8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.

9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.

10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.

11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.

12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.

13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.

14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.

15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.

16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.

17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park

18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.

  • The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.

  • A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.

  • Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.

  • Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.

  • Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.

Rules and Regulations

  • There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  • Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.

  • Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but are not allowed on park trails.

Directions to Trailhead

The Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trailhead is located 5.3 miles from downtown Gatlinburg TN in the north central quadrant of the Park.

From downtown Gatlinburg, turn south onto Airport Blvd from light #8. Airport Blvd turns into Cherokee Orchard Road as it enters GSMNP. Just past the Rainbow Falls lot (3.3 miles from light #8), turn right at the sign for Grotto Falls (3.6 miles).

The Grotto Falls Trailhead is located 1.7 miles ahead on the right (5.3 miles from light #8). Drive safely on these narrow, winding roads. Note this is a one way road, and you'll be deposited onto Highway 321 on the return from the trailhead, several miles east of where you entered on Airport / Cherokee Orchard Road.

Contact Information

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Visitor Information - Recorded Message

Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)

Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)

Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)

Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


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