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Big changes coming to Laurel Falls Trail with approval of improvement plan

by: Hannah Moore

Posted: Oct 25, 2023 / 04:09 PM EDT

Updated: Oct 25, 2023 / 04:09 PM EDT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The National Park Service is moving ahead with a plan to improve the visitor experience at one of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is implementing a new plan for the Laurel Falls Trail to improve the visitor experience and safety, address parking issues, and rehabilitate the trail. The Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan was created after analyzing the Environmental Assessment (EA) and public comments.

  •  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 implementation of the plan is set to begin in 2024. The trail will be closed for a minimum of 18 months during construction. However, the timeline for the implementation of the timed-entry parking reservation system has not yet been set. Funding for the improvements near the trailhead and parking lots will be generated from parking tag revenue.

To learn more about the plan, click here.

The park has already been working hard to improve the trail and reduce crowding and litter as visitors increase. In 2022, parking barriers were placed along non-parking areas near the trailhead, following a successful pilot program in 2021.

The pilot program also tested parking reservations. Visitor feedback on the initiative was overwhelmingly positive, with 91% of people reporting a decrease in crowding and litter around the falls.

Laurel Falls Trail is one of the most popular destinations in the park, given its relatively short hike to the falls and the proximity to a major park entrance, GSMNP said. According to the park, the trail had more than 375,000 visitors in 2020.