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As a family, we love to hike. It’s probably at the top of our list of favorite things to do together. Jaden’s only 4, so he gets tired, but he really does well, for as small as he is right now. We’re actually hoping to get into backpacking as the boys get a little older, which means backcountry camping. I think the thing we most love about hiking is the sense of anticipation…. the feeling that we’re headed toward something beautiful, and the hike is going to be so worth the end result. Of course, it might also be the peaceful spots we find along the trail…. those quiet, peaceful moments encountered along the way.
On this last camping trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we decided to hike up to Laurel Falls. Dan really enjoys waterfalls, and there are a lot of them in this particular park.Roundtrip, it’s a 2.6 mile, “moderate” hike. When we arrived, we had to park quite a ways down the road, along the edge of the road; the parking areas were pretty full. The trail is paved, which makes it nice for those who might be disabled. After reading more about it, I learned that the trail was initially paved in the 1960’s to help stop erosion. The trail has a lot of uphill stretches, and it seemed like we wound up and around, up and around…. There were markers along the way, motivating us further along the trail. The views at certain vantage spots were beautiful. The kids enjoyed stopping and climbing around on the rocks, exploring just a bit. Jaden had to climb up on a rock and make sure I took a photo of him with his muscles. There were areas of the trail where we really hung on extra tight to Jaden; steep dropoffs and signs warning us to hang onto children were enough to make us just a bit nervous. For the most part, the trail seemed quite safe, though; there were people all along the trail coming and going, so we were never really alone.At one point, about 3/4 of the way to the falls, we came upon a little spring in the side of the mountain…. it was almost like a small cave opening that didn’t lead anywhere.
Upon arrival at Laurel Falls, we realized it was much more popular than we’d thought. There were a LOT of people, making it more difficult to take a good photo with the waterfall. However, it was so worth the hike. Looking up, we could see light shining through the trees from the sky up above and the water just pouring over the side of the mountain. It was stunning. There were two levels to the falls, with a walkway between the top and the bottom. Laurel Falls is 80 feet in height and absolutely beautiful. What I believe were rhododendron shrubs lined the cliffs along the edge of the falls. We hiked down to the bottom of the falls, as well. It was a steep hike down to the bottom of the falls but again so worth it.(Disclaimer: Be warned that climbing around on rocks near the waterfall is dangerous and prohibited, and many people have been injured, some even killed; it’s important to be cautious and sensible. There was really no guard rail between the top and the bottom, so hang onto those little ones, and pay attention to signs.)
If you’re visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I highly encourage you to hike the Laurel Falls Trail. The trail is so peaceful as it winds through the forest…. it’s definitely a piece of heaven on earth.