The National Park Service is taking steps to improve the visitor experience at Laurel Falls Trail—one of the most popular trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park has completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) and approved the proposed Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan, which addresses visitor experience and safety, parking, and trail rehabilitation.
Based on the analysis in the EA and after considering public comments, the NPS selected the proposed action which provides park managers with the option to:
- Resurface and widen the trail.
- Build a new viewing platform.
- Install new signs at the trailhead and along the trail.
- Build a wider bridge at the upper falls.
- Expand and improve the available designated parking spaces.
- Include a shuttle service and timed-entry parking reservation system for the trailhead.
The park intends to implement the plan and begin construction on improvements to the trail and trailhead starting in 2024. The NPS expects the trail to be closed for a minimum of 18 months. Parking tag revenue will fund some of the construction work near the trailhead and parking lots. The NPS does not currently have a timeline for implementation of a timed-entry parking reservation system.
In 2020, more than 375,000 visitors hiked the 1.3-mile trail, which leads to a scenic waterfall near the Gatlinburg entrance.
A signed Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the project, the EA and other documents are available on the Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/LaurelFalls.
The NPS will share updates on construction-related trail closures and project progress through future news releases.