There are two oddities about the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. First, although it’s in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll have to drive through the over-commercialized (and often traffic-jammed) town of Gatlinburg to reach it by car. Second, the term “Motor Nature Trail” is as much an oxymoron as “mute cry” or “living death.” That said, Roaring Fork is a great way to see more of the park if you have physical limitations or small children (which amounts to the same thing).
From the main street in Gatlinburg (US 441), take Airport Road at traffic light #8. (Yes, they’re numbered.). Airport turns into Cherokee Orchard Road, which in turn brings you to the Roaring Fork loop road, all of it narrow and one-way, roughly an eleven-mile round trip. Nevertheless, there are plenty of turnouts where you can turn off the engine and enjoy virgin stands of hemlock and tall yellow-poplars. Roaring Fork itself is a succession of cascades, and in the later stretches of the loop, the road follows the original roadbed with the stream on one side and historic cabins on the other.
A popular hike follows the Trillum Gap Trail for 1.5 miles through hemlock forest to Grotto Falls. The trail has a very modest grade and is suitable for all but the youngest children. Children will especially enjoy the possibility of walking behind the 25-foot falls and getting wet from the spray. On the other hand, those who enjoy wilderness solitude should probably pass on this hike because here, as the song says, “you’ll never walk alone.”