One of 2017’s finest hiking memories will be the early November morning hike to Grotto Falls. I had the wonderful opportunity to stay in Gatlinburg, TN for a week while my wife was there on business. While trying to come up with a plan to see as much as I could, Grotto Falls came up first. It was the closest to where I was staying, and had quite a storied history along with being one of the most popular Waterfalls in the Park. I had to schedule this one properly. This waterfall is a short ways up the Trillium Gap Trail. This trail is also used on a regular schedule to take supplies to the Lodge way atop Mount Leconte. If you can schedule your hike correctly, it is possible to see the llama powered train running supplies up the trail. My goal was to arrive before they did and be at the 25 ft Grotto Falls and capture photos as the llamas and supplies made their way under Grotto Falls. This meant venturing out before sunlight. As usual, things seldom go according to plans, and today was no exception. I only had a few miles to drive into the park, but the amazing scenery and wildlife slowed me down a bit.
It was peak autumn color season up here, and I could barely stay focused on well just about anything. I was now on this one-way road that was a long , scenic, slow-going tour through the park at 10 mph drive. As I entered a dark section down in a Valley, I came across a group of stopped cars. I was thinking that I did not have time for this and that these folks need to move on or out of the way. I stopped and asked what was going on. And then…… this old man became a kid again. There were 3 bears just off the road and down the hill a little bit. I have always heard about how many bears ther are in GSMNP, but had yet to really see them, or get any photo opportunities. Today my luck was about to change. I scrambled as fast as I could to get my camera and longest distance lens so I could remain a good distance away.
, because I simply had to get these photos.
I would definitely consider myself a kid in a candy store at this moment. The 3 bears, a mother and 2 cubs were just out doing some morning browsing. The two cubs put on a show and both climbed and came down a very tall tree. Eventually the mother must have decided it was time to move on and cross the highway. When she did, she stood up and let us know to stay back. It was so freaking cool.
While I am not sorry this happened in any way, shape or form, It did throw me off course. When I arrived at the trailhead, unfortunately the Llamas were already there, on the trail and had gone ahead of me. There would be no llama train Grotto Falls photo from this trip.
I was still one of the first groups there, but not early enough. I also had one of the most popular waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park all to myself. I would not actually see another hiker until i was well on my return hike back . This wasn’t to be a long hike, and you can see by the sign….it was roughly a mile and a half from the car to Grotto Falls. The hike was a very pleasant stroll through the Great Smoky Mountains on a wide very traveled and worn trail. I didn’t get to see my llamas, but there were plenty of signs that I had just missed them. The trails grade was fairly gentle but still climbing. Eventually I found remnants of an early season snow event from the previous weekend, even though the temperature was forecast to be in the low 60s on this day. Once I neared the waterfall, there was another waterfall of significance just downstream.
Grotto Falls was simply amazing for a 25 foot drop. The Trillium Gap Trail does snake in behind the waterfall and this is where I wanted to be set up when the llamas and supplies arrived. It’s all about timing I guess. I really did enjoy this one though and by the time I got back to the car the parking lot and road for the next 1/4 mile was jam packed as I passed hiker after hiker. The beautiful scenery continued as I worked my way back into Gatlinburg.