It was a chilly October morning, but we were determined to get in a hike. So we set off for Grotto Falls. It turned out to be the perfect hike for our Kid Testers.
Here’s what we learned about the Grotto Falls trail:
- Grotto Falls is a 2.6-mile hike, and it’s classified as easy. I don’t always agree with the park’s classifications of hikes, but this one’s a classification I agree with. It’s a great hike for small kids. Kid Tester Kinsen, who is almost 9 and LOVES to hike, could have done more. But it was perfect for our 5-almost-6 Kid Tester, who had woken up on the tired side that morning (after dreams that the bears in the picture on the wall came alive and tried to get him).
Our littlest Kid Tester Parker was riding in a backpack on Dad. This is a great hike for taking really little guys, though I think it’s too probably too intense for 1-2-year-old walkers, unless you are planning to do some carrying.For an out-of-shape mom, it was enough to get my heart rate up at the beginning, but not enough to really exhaust me. Anyone in decent health can do this hike. Also good to know: the hardest part is at the beginning. And the way back is all down hill.
- Grotto Falls trail was beautiful in fall — the smorgasbord of colors was really fun — but it’s supposed to really shine in the spring, when wildflowers in a rainbow of colors sprout up. The trail meanders through an old growth forest, with lots of beautiful Hemlock trees. Take a small camera, and you’ll get some great shots.
Make sure kids have appropriate shoes. The path is easy, but there are some fun things, like roots to climb over, that could be hazardous in flip-flops or Crocs. Our rule is that kids always wear tight-fitting lace-up tennis shoes for hikes. There’s also a small stream to cross at one point, and rocks to hop on later, so the shoes should be something that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty.
- The best part of Grotto Falls is when you actually get there. The hike is really pretty, but when you reach Grotto Falls, that’s where the fun comes in. This isn’t a hike like Rainbow Falls, where the point is to get to the falls and ooh and ahh over the beauty, before heading back down. And it’s also not a hike like Baskins Creek, where you pass tons of neat things on the way and have to cross two small rivers. Oh no, on this hike, the waterfall is the destination.Do your kids love “rock hopping”? Boy, ours sure do. They love to jump from slippery rock to slippery rock, making their way up and down stream with the only goal being to see how far they can get. I have to admit, I love “rock hopping,” too. I’m right out there with them.
You know what the greatest thing is about Grotto Falls? It’s the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you can walk behind. That was really neat. And on a hot summer day, the fine mist would have been super refreshing.
- This is a WONDERFUL spot to “rock hop,” but please be careful. On this hike, we had a “rock hopping” close call. Kid Tester Kinsen was gleefully hopping along behind her Aunt Megan. Now, Kinsen is a climber. If there’s a tree nearby, she’ll ask if she can climb it. She can scurry up trees, over rocks, etc., at an alarming speed. She has great balance, though, so I don’t worry about her much. I keep a closer eye on her brother, who is much slower and more deliberate, but who lacks that natural balance. He’s the one I stay near. Kinsen has never fallen while “rock hopping.” So she was off, climbing over a big rock that a woman was resting on. For whatever reason, Kinsen lost her balance. I didn’t see it happen, because I was with my son, but my husband saw her fight for balance, lose, and start to fall backwards onto a precarious rock pile.
The woman caught her. Kinsen smiled, thanked the lady, and went on climbing. I saw that things were okay, and didn’t think much of it.But my husband was standing off to the side, taking pictures, when the lady went to talk to her husband. “Some parents,” she muttered under her breath. “They don’t realize how dangerous this can be.” I guess I don’t. But it made me think about it. Climbing on wet, slippery rocks over a rushing stream can be dangerous. We’ve been lucky enough to never have a “rock hopping” injury, but it’s probably coming. So please, please watch your kids and be careful! And again, make sure they have proper shoes for hopping. Bare feet are better than improper shoes.
- If you’re on a schedule, remember to plan time for playing at the falls, especially if it’s warm. We played for about 45 minutes before heading back down the trail. And we paused for a few sips of water, but since it was cool out and the trail wasn’t that intense, we didn’t need nearly as much water as we packed. Complete with our play time, this trail took about 2 and a half hours, but we were walking at 6-year-old pace.
It’s a great hike. And for preschool-aged kids, it would easily be my top pick.