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The Essentials

Laurel Falls

G Rating 5.5 
WOW Factor 5

Plumb Rating 

Height: 55'


Distance: 2.6 mi (RT)



Video: Available

GPS and Map Details
Latitude:   35° 40.65' N
Longitude: 83° 35.581' W
Elevation:   ~2600 ft
Face:         ~190° (S)


TerraServer Topo

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Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Upper Laurel Falls


Part of Lower Laurel Falls


Laurel Falls from the bottom


Laurel Falls near Gatlinburg, TN


Closeup of lower falls



Photo Tips


Waterfall Posters



New Hampshire



Laurel Falls

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Visit my personal gallery at Gardner Photography for larger high resolution waterfall photos

Laurel Falls in Unicoi Co., TN

Laurel Falls (2/07/2009, 18 mm, f/22, 4 sec, ISO 100)


This waterfall is considered to be the most popular in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 


And it shows.


The parking area is large and well marked.  The hiking "trail" is actually paved, great for families with strollers or for the handicapped, not so great if you want to avoid crowds.


My last visit was in February.  The day was pleasant and I got there around 4 pm.  The parking area was nearly full.  In the summertime expect to have parking issues unless you arrive early in the day.  From a photography standpoint arriving early is best anyway ...


I have to say it is a nice waterfall.  Unfortunately you may not always have a good view.  The trail bisects the waterfall (see pic #4 on left) with the top 25 feet or so being above the trail and the last 30 feet below.  Rating-wise it's not the best but certainly not the worst in the GSMNP.


Getting There

To reach Laurel Falls take Little River Rd (TN-73) from the Sugarlands Visitor Center for about 3.6 miles.  I forgot to check mileage but that's what the great Google says.  If you get to the turnoff for Elkmont you've gone too far.  You shouldn't miss it unless you're sleeping or have warped to another universe.  The parking area is large


Use the following link to customize your own directions to Laurel Falls.


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Hike Details

Sign for Laurel Falls HikeThe hike is slightly uphill, starting around 2,200 feet and ending around 2,600 feet with the majority of the elevation gain being in the first half of the 1.3 mile hike.  Still, I consider this an easy hike and the number of "out of shape" people I saw on the hike certainly reinforce this opinion.









Photo Tips

Your main challenge will be working around all the people.  I setup my tripod and waited for the area to clear.  For me is was relatively quick but I wouldn't be surprised if it never happens some days.  Politely asking people to move is always an option.


Another challenge is location.  The upper portion of the falls is right next to the trail so there is little room for setup or for stepping back to change the framing of the waterfall.  Step back too far and you'll be sorry ...  It was all I could do to get the upper falls in the frame with my 18 mm lens.  Definitely bring a wide angle lens.


In the summer months the upper portion of Laurel Falls will make a beautiful photo - provided the lighting is right, no people are in the frame, you use a polarizer to slow down the shutter speed and reduce glare and provided the wind isn't blowing.  There you go, should be easy.


Water volume is such that longer shutter speeds are in order.  Anything above 2 seconds or so would be great.  Setting your ISO to 100 or as low as possible will help.


I scrambled down to the bottom of the falls to take some shots.  There's plenty of wide rocks to use and you can play some with composition down there.




Here you go.



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