With waterfalls, wooded hikes, historic sites, and a swimming hole, the Little River Road is an ideal road trip for the whole family. This trek packs plenty of beauty along just 18 miles of roadway.
Start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll take Fighting Gap Creek Road from the visitor center until it reaches the river. There, the roadway becomes Little River Road (or Little River Gorge Road) as it follows the water’s contours. Here are stops to enjoy along the route:
At 80 feet high, graceful Laurel Falls is one of the national park’s most popular sights. Expect to park and hike the 2.6-mile round trip to the falls. The view is worth the moderate-difficulty hike, but be sure to include enough time in your driving tour for this excursion if you plan to see the falls.
With picnic tables by the river, plus grills and restrooms, Metcalf Bottoms is a convenient lunch stop. History buffs can take the short trail from the picnic area to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse, a preserved 19th-century one-room school.
The Little River curves here, forming glistening pools and a waterfall. Though this waterfall isn’t tall, it’s powerful—it carries the whole flow of the Little River. The river bend is surrounded by dramatic boulders and lined with rounded river stones smoothed by the water’s flow. The river appears deceptively calm at The Sinks, but the park service advises against entering the water here.
Just past The Sinks, Meigs Falls is one of the park’s few waterfalls visible from the road. You also can park nearby and walk to the falls.
Keep your eyes peeled for small, easily missed roadside signs pointing you toward parking for “Quiet Walkways.” These are short, circular walks in the woods, close to the road so they’re convenient stops, but wooded and isolated so you feel you’ve escaped civilization for a while. Quiet Walkways are great leg-stretchers.
Little River Road meets Laurel Creek Road here, and the river broadens to create a swimming hole. Locals and visitors love splashing, wading, and tubing here, so bring your towels and join them.
Your Little River Road excursion is finished, but you can continue on Laurel Creek Road to the entrance of the Cades Cove Scenic Loop. Cades Cove includes cabins and churches of a historic Smokies settlement, plus wildlife and gorgeous scenery.