We decided to try the Laurel Falls hike today, after seeing that so many people do it and that the trail is paved, we figured it would be a good one to check out with the age of our kids. We packed sandwiches, water and snacks and drove to Laurel Falls first thing (which for us is about 11 -- can't seem to get out earlier with the kids). We really enjoyed the hike up to the falls, although our Florida legs aren't used to any incline, so we stopped a few times to give everyone rests and water breaks. My son loved looking in the nooks and crannies of the rocks and trees for critters, lichen and moss, and my daughter loved hearing the birds. We even spotted a few in the trees on the way up. My little guy found a skink or salamander in a tree trunk crevice. It was dark but had a bright blue tail. He thought that was pretty cool, but kept calling it a snake, telling everyone we passed....I think he made a few of them a little nervous! lol
My son complained a few times on the way up that his legs were tired, but he made it ok with the breaks. My daughter was another story, however. She kept wanting to be carried....and she weighs almost 30 lbs. Suffice it to say that mom and dad both got more than a workout hiking to the falls and back alternating carrying her for 1/2 to 3/4 of the trip....whew! It was so worth it when we arrived at the falls, though. I told my son as we were getting closer to keep his ears open because he'd be able to tell when we were really close by the sound of the falls.
He was so excited when he finally heard it. We arrived and he wanted so badly to take rocks, but we convinced him that the rocks belonged to the falls and he had to leave them. He instead opted to toss leaves into the pool and watch where the rushing water carried them. Anyone who is willing and able, I can't encourage you enough to make the hike....it is a beautiful setting with big wide rocks that were dry and we could sit right there beneath the upper part of the falls and watch. You can look below and see the forested area and you are up pretty high. Some of the views along the hike were breathtaking and, like most of our trip here, I again was in awe.
We took in the falls and then headed back. I took comfort in knowing that the trip back was mostly downhill...lol!
As we walked back, we passed a few people who mentioned that there was a rattlesnake in the road up ahead. Let me just say that I was more than a little nervous about this....we have our share of snakes, including pygmy rattlers in Florida, and I've seen many. I am scared to death of them, though....but I didn't want to get the kids upset so I just kept on, hoping that it would pass, but my eyes were scanning every inch of our walk. Then another couple passed us and again mentioned the rattlesnake and said it was in the rocks on the left side of the path, and not to worry because there were a bunch of people there and we'd know when we came to it (which is the biggest thing I was worried about.) We saw the gathering of people, with their cameras poised on a rock outcropping on the inside of the path. They told us where it was, and that it was about 3' long (a big one someone said) but that it was heading up away from us...just to keep to the right edge as we passed, which I did quickly with my little one in my arms. I was pretty scared, but we made it and I turned around to look at a safe distance and it indeed was a big one, diamond back rattle snake, I only saw the tail end but that was plenty for me. We all made it by safe and sound, but I was shaking for a while after that and didn't particularly want to sit on any rocks lol!
We were going to head out to find the Townsend Wye after a picnic lunch at a gorgeous overlook (lunch tastes so good after a hike like that!) and when we got there, we found out it was indeed the spot we swam (er...waded...too cold) yesterday. By then, both kiddos were asleep in the back, so we opted to head to Pigeon Forge to see what was there and to find a WalMart and get some last minute groceries for the road. Glad we did that, because it was A LOT cheaper than Food City. For anyone on a budget, I would highly recommend this approach. I just felt like FC was kind of pricey even with their discounts. I'm usually not a WM fan, but today I was thankful to see one! Also, we found that gas was a lot cheaper there as well. It was $2.99 for regular unleaded at the Pilot, whereas it was $3.38 at the Texaco in Gatlinburg (ugh). We came home to get packed and chill for the rest of the day, and get a load of laundry done before leaving. We've really enjoyed our stay here, and I'm sure we'll be back again. We had a marvelous time with so many memories for us and the kids, and the money we spent was basically our cabin rental, the groceries for the week, and gas. Thanks everyone for the tips, ideas, and recommendations. It made our trip so much more enjoyable knowing what we "must" see, and what we could skip. I wish we didn't have to leave, but I look forward to hearing future trip reports and living vicariously through other TripAdvisor members....Thanks again!