Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Laurel Falls and Beyond

Tuesday July 10, 2018                                                                                 Most Recent Posts
Great Smoky Mountains National Park                                                        
To Jump Off for Glorious Views 
Three Falls in One Morning

IMG_7012Laurel Falls is one of the most popular hikes on this side of the park.  Not sure I’d call it a “hike” actually since it is a paved trail although the pavement is quite rough and rather difficult for strollers.  Probably evenmore difficult for wheel chairs though I’m sure access was the intention.

If you drive by Laurel Falls after noon on any day during the summer the parking lot will be over full.  Cars everywhere.  There will also be cars all along the road on both sides for at least a quarter mile.  That’s why I pull in as the first car at 6:40am.


They say the falls is 1.3 miles one way average walking time 40 minutes.  At the entrance to the trail is a warning sign. Not sure why any self respecting bear would want to deal with the number of people who daily hike this trail, but I take note, though in attempting to research injuries and or death in this area, I could find nothing.  I did find a couple of attacks on the AT one in 2016 and earlier.

Along the trail, amazing roots.


Early morning views along the way.



The sun is just beginning to hit the mountains.

I arrive at the falls and cross the footbridge which divides the cascades.  It’s really a wonderfully lovely spot especially with no one else here.




I take a few more pictures of the falls and the rhododendron that frames them.



I take some shots of the lower cascades from above and consider climbing down there for better shots but I want some time here to just sit and reflect.  I fear people will be hot on my heels so I skip the climbing.  Remember these pictures for when I come back.




I have the falls to myself for about 20 minutes before another couple comes and joins me in just soaking in the beauty.  About an hour after I had pulled into the parking lot, there are too many people for me so I head on up the trail.  Seems like a lot of people got out earlier than usual so you can just imagine what will happen by 10am or later.


Time to goIMG_7054

I take one look back up at the falls before heading on up the trail.  Pretty much no one goes on beyond the falls but there are supposed to be old growth trees there.  It turns out that the couple who were the first ones to join me also continue on the trail, perhaps because they saw me go.  But I’m such a dawdler that they pass me by and I am again alone.



Not very far along I spy the Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpiller.  I don’t know who he is at the time, I just find him very interesting.  But later when I look him up, I find he is the caterpiller for the butterflies I have been seeing at the VC and all over.  Only his orange spots give him away



It’s not very long before I am seeing some big trees.  Of course with no one to stand next to them, it’s very hard to show just how big they are.


So I fiddle around and manage to get a timed picture for some perspective. 


There are only a few blooms remaining in these Rhododendron tunnels.


Can’t find a way for a perspective  picture of these trees as I continue to climb.  But they are bigger than they look in this shot.


This is the best I could do here.  I set the camera up but couldn’t scamper fast enough to hug the upper tree.  There are some pretty funny attempts.  This is the only one fit for “publication”.


Morning sunlight streams in through the trees.  I like the effect on this big guy.


Even in death, this stump is home to club fungi also known as coral fungi.  I’ve read that they are edible but I think I’ll pass though I find them interesting and enjoy seeing them




Another funny hug attempt.


Along the trail I see group of what I think is Fly Poison from my time in Shenandoah.


But when I get closer I see that the shape is wrong and I recognize the leaves of Black Cohosh.  It’s a big patch but not many blooms yet.


On the other side of the trail amid broken tree debris is a group of nearly finished Wild Bergamot or Monarda.



Nearby is a really lovely delicate fringy flower that I cannot find.  I love the light blue color.  If you recognize it, please let me know.  I think it is beautiful


I’m not sure if this is a jack o’ lantern mushroom since I think they usually come in clusters and this one is very large and all alone.


He’s as big as a dinner plate.


At nearly 4 miles up from the car, I see the sign for the Little Greenbrier Trail.  I stop and sit on a log while I eat a snack and enjoy the birds singing.  From here I could go on up to the top of Cove Mountain in another mile but since I know there are no views there I decide it’s time to head back.  Time to go down for a change.



In addition to what I think may be a Jack O’ Lantern, here are some of the other mushrooms on the trail today.  So many kinds, so many colors, so many shapes.  I really wish someone would do a Great Smoky Mountains Mushrooms book as they have for wildflowers.  It’s impossible to use a general mushroom guide to find anything.



On the trail is evidence of the bears I was warned about.  Looks pretty fresh but I haven’t seen or heard a thing.


How does the hiking stick do for persepctive?


The trail narrows in the sunlight and widens in the shade.



One lone fire pink amid all the leaves.



On this big tree I find what is the discovery of my day.


It’s a Sphinx Moth caterpiller and I think he is just magnificent.  Look at that fake eye on his tail end.


I found a picture of him on line.  Specifically he’s the Abbott’s Sphinx Moth and he’s much more attractive as a caterpiller I think.  I know I’ve seen the moth.

It really is a nice lovely stroll back down the mountain switching back and forth.

I know I’m nearing the falls when I approach the rhododendron thicket.


Even though I know what I’m going to find, I’m unprepared for what I see at the falls.


Compare this to the picture I took when I first got here showing the bridge and the bench.


Here they are all over the lower falls where I didn’t climb.


Remember these pictures?


It’s difficult to make my way across the bridge with the steady stream of people.  I take this picture from the other side looking back and then make a fast track back down the trail as the line continues climbing up.  It reminds me of the lines at popular attractions in Disney World.  Seems kind of demeaning for this gorgeous natural wonder.


I’m glad to be back at the car and pulling out before the parking lot gets even more crowded as it will in the afternoon.  There will be a row of cars parallel parked behind me on this side of the highway and on the other as well as down the road forever on both sides..  It’s not even 11:30 yet so they are just getting geared up. 

My total miles for the day  - 7.8 and I feel like I timed it just right to have a nice hike both to the falls and to the trees.  But I sure am glad to escape.



  1. Great falls and roots:) We were there quite some years ago, it still is amazing!

  2. Wow. That is an insanely popular waterfall. You did well to go early. I guess the fact that it's not a long walk brings the droves. Neat hike on passed it. Beautiful trees neat caterpillars and unique mushrooms!!

  3. The early bird catches the Sphinx Moth Caterpillar or something like that;o)) Great photos of the falls before the crowds!!! So sad to see so many people not respecting "the trail" and climbing all over the area:o(((

  4. The falls are gorgeous. You know how to pick your early arrival.

  5. We hiked to quite a few falls in the Smokies, but I don’t recall any having a paved path, so we must have skipped this one due to its popularity. Beautiful falls, though.

  6. I really need to take lessons from you and become an early bird. The light and quiet make that time of day special. Must be shallow soil for those roots to be exposed and the patterns look like boxwork lace. I love the way you are attracted to fascinating patterns and it seems rare that a caterpillar looks even remotely like the butterfly it turns into. I am always impressed by your timed selfies as I can't seem to move fast enough for anything publishable. Some of the coral fungis are edible, but the Black Cohosh would be a safer bet. I like the Audubon field guides best as they are easy to follow. I've heard AT hikers say they long for the sun yet the tunnels of trees and dappled light looks appealing. But the sight of the waterfall crowd would send me running.

  7. That has always been a very busy trail since it's paved and short but I can't ever remember that many people on it! Wish we could get ourselves up and going early like you do but it won't ever happen.

  8. What a nice hike until...that's why I love the west. All the National Parks are beautiful, but crowded in my opinion. As much as I like Yellowstone, I feel like I'm looking at wildlife in a zoo.

    My son was talking to someone in the insurance business the other day, and he said the RV industry is booming. That means fuller parks, fuller roads, and higher prices for sites. No wonder serious RVrs are so prepared to boondock. Thanks for posting, Sandie. I couldn't get over the delicate pink of the rhododendrons.

  9. The jack-o-lantern reminded me of a catcher's mitt at 1st glance. My eyes are still not back to normal!

  10. That tree with all the roots looks like something out of a Steven King movie. It almost made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. ;c)

  11. Your early morning start worked out perfectly. It's great that people are enough nature but that crowd was crazy! You found two beautiful caterpillars. Great eyes! Such cute flowers along the way. Of course, your mushroom photos are my favorite. I love those guys.

  12. You were wise to get out there early on!

  13. Another lovely hike with the falls. Darn tourists ruin it for everybody. That Sphinx moth is beautiful!

  14. It always pays to be early :) I dont recall visiting Laurel Falls, its beautiful and very accessible hence the crowd! But wow, you've got good eyes spotting that beautiful caterpillar! That butterfly is beautiful and I would like to remember as that rather than what I have observed on the trail lately.
    About the app you asked me, it is called "Pacer" and it allows me to take a picture and superimpose it on my stat hike for the day.

  15. Such gorgeous falls! No wonder so many people want to hike that trail—still, it's surprising how many would get up so early to hike it. Seems like you timed it right at just after 6:30 a.m.
    Love your photo of the beautiful Sphinx Moth caterpillar. The moth itself looks remarkably like a dried leaf, or a piece of bark. I'm curious about that pretty frilly blue wildflower—let us know if you discover the name!

  16. The coral fungi and Sphinx caterpillar are beautiful and unique - how fun to find them along the trail. How not fun to find all those people at the falls! I wouldn't be able to get out of there fast enough :-(

  17. Thanks for sharing those BIG trees and all the wonderful fungi. I don't think I have ever seen the light blue fringed flower. Sorry I missed this one, but hard for me to get going that early, though it is clearly necessary if you want to enjoy nature in the quiet it is best experienced in.


Your comments are the best part of this blog for me.
I LOVE hearing from you!