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Grotto Falls | Family Day Hike

Trail Marker

My family and I recently spent a long weekend over Spring break to get away to the Great Smoky Mountains. We had decided to combine a couple of interesting short day hikes in the Smokys with some fun at an indoor water park in the town of Sevierville, TN.

We picked short day hikes that were “kid friendly” so that our two children, Jack and Maggie, would be able to complete them without being exhausted and have enough energy to have some fun and observe interesting things along the way. I had a simple criteria for picking hikes: Keep the entire loop under three miles, make them medium to moderate effort/elevation, and must include interesting scenic or historical features along the trail route.

Maggie on the Grotto Falls Trail

Grotto Falls | Trillium Gap Trail
The hike up to Grotto Falls is one of the nicest little trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not much more than a mile in each direction. As the trail sign (above) indicates, it’s a part of the longer Trillium Gap Trail which continues on up to Mt. LeConte the park’s third highest peak.

Wild Flowers

We entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, via traffic light #8 (yes they’re numbered!) and took Airport Road just under a mile to the park gate. After about another 2 miles we turned on to the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop which connected us to the parking lot and trail head to Grotto Falls.

As I had mentioned, we picked the Grotto Falls trail because of its moderate to mild elevation and that’s exactly what we found when we go there. For the most part, the trail was a gentle climb up to Grotto Falls along a wide, well-traveled path.

Creek crossing

As we continued along the trail we encountered several small creeks that we had to cross without the aid of any bridges. This turned out to be a perfect opportunity to show Jack and Maggie how well my Inov-8 Roclite 320s expel water after getting soaked, but I had to make sure thy didn’t try to do the same thing and end up with soggy little feet. That would be miserable, for everyone.

At about 1.2 miles we started to hear the sounds of roaring water and as we turned the corner the beautiful cascade of Grotto Falls came into view. Both Jack and Maggie thought it was pretty cool and well worth the “agonizing” hike to the top – their words not mine.

The Falls
The distinctive feature of Grotto Falls is that it’s the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that a you can actually walk behind. The 25-foot high waterfall provided us with a cool, shady, and rather moist retreat from the day’s heat. The Smoky Mountains guide book had told us to be on the look out for salamanders near the falls, as it is the perfect environment for them, but we never saw any.

Grotto Falls - Scary or Loud and Wet?

Despite a small creek crossing accident on the way up and some bumps and bruises, the Grotto Falls hike was a beautiful and fun hike with my family. My kids both had a blast and were full of question on the way up to the falls and also on the way back. It never fails to amaze me at how inquisitive children’s minds are – I love it!

After Completing the Trail

I’ve learned that small, frequent hiking activities that my kids are able to complete are the perfect way to encourage them to do more and actually want to be outside more often. I’m very fortunate that both my kids prefer to be out on the trail than indoors, but I also do my best to encourage them to get outside and join in with my passion for the outdoors.

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  • Hikes like these are perfect first steps to get them into backpacking. They will already be familiar with hiking 3 miles, it is then just adding a pack and making it an overnight trip with them. My kids all began carrying their packs at about 6 years of age and it was no big deal. I credit day hikes like these to making it easy for them.

  • bfgreen

    Jeff, exactly! These short and interesting hikes are perfect for getting small kids used to being outside and familiar with the routine of a hike from start to finish. Maturing on to carrying their own packs and being more responsible for their gear is a logical progression and something Jack and Maggie have been bugging me about.

    Interestingly, I am collaborating on the design of some lightweight, serious backpacks specifically for small kids, which is something that I’m really excited about.

    I also find that these short hikes with my kids, who like to stop and take in all the scenery, remind me exactly why I like being outdoors – and to stop and enjoy the surroundings. Win-win!

  • I enjoyed your blog – consider me a fellow hiker – I enjoy hiking with my 11 year old Aaron – check out my blog: – I have a ways to go to catch up to your blogs but nonetheless stop by ~Mofongo

  • Looks like a great hike for kids. It’s important, I think, to interest them in nature while they are young.

  • That’s a great hike. It’s been just over 9 years since Robin and I done that trail, of course it was our honeymoon and we ended up making it a lot harder than what it should have been because we started at a different trail head and it ended up being an 8 mile hike instead of 3. Got to love the little hikes with the little tykes. We’ll be having a wee little one on the trails by next year. :P

  • trailguy2011

    That’s the way…get them into it when they’re young. I have kids myself and take every opportunity to get them out on the trails here in Washington. Great way to bond. Thanks for the post Brian!

  • bfgreen

    Yes I read about your news. Can wait for you both to experience the joy of sharing the outdoors with your little one. Good times ahead.

  • We were just up there a couple of weeks ago and chose this as one of our family hikes as well. It was very foggy the morning we went, which made for an awesome atmosphere and some great photos. Here’s the same small creek crossing as your picture above, but in the fog:

    That was a great hike for young kids. Highly recommended as a family outing.

  • I would be interested in knowing more about those lightweight packs for kids. I blog a lot about hiking and backpacking with kids, and frequently get questions from my readers regarding what gear they should get…

  • Damien, I don’t have details that I can share right now, but as soon as I can, I definitely will. Do you have any particular thoughts or requirements for a good lightweight backpack for kids?

  • Well, I used to think that a frameless pack was good, but these days I am not so sure. I got the women’s size XS GoLite Jam packs for two of my kids, but they never seem to sit quite right against their body, or they wind up with something lumpy poking them in the back. Having a little structure (not much is required) to keep the pack in a nice shape seems to be helpful.