We started early on Saturday and went up to Clingman’s dome for a chilly (as expected) sunrise.
After that, we headed over to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail to the Grotto Falls trail head. It’s a moderate hike and climb at 2.6 miles round trip with 585 ft of elevation. We had been there once before on the first trip to the Smokies and were not able to visit on the second due to the Motor Trail being closed that time. Grotto falls is a neat one in that you can walk behind the falls. With a little bit of scrambling into the river below, you can also get a pretty well aligned shot of the falls.
The second stop was at Laurel Falls en route to Cades Cove. Laurel is an easy hike, 1.15 miles, all paved (somewhat poorly in places) to a more pour-over type falls. There’s also the option to scramble around a bit at the falls to get down to the second level and again out into the river a bit.
This trip up was special – we found a black bear cub just before the top of the trail. It was down over the steep edge of the trail, so it was hard to see and hard to get pictures of.
Third visit, as it was getting toward evening, was to Cades Cove – the area that holds most of the historic buildings of the park and some trails of it’s own. The Cades Cove loop is a one lane, one way road with two cut-across routes, so it’s easy to get backed up in traffic. On this visit, we came across two such stops, but for good reason – two bears were spotted in the fields and we pulled over to watch and take pictures. We eventually made our way to the mill area, poked around there for a bit and then headed back out of the park, but not in time to avoid the backup of traffic on the road (mostly due to people wanting to drive 5mph, but not wanting to actually pull off the road).