Looking for Smoky Mountain cabins or other
I have selected a few tips and pointers to help you on your your next visit to the Park. Remember, the best way to experience the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is to get out of the car and walk. You'll cover less ground, but you'll see so much more!
This page is not very comprehensive and I'll add as much information as time allows.
If you are planning a visit to Cades Cove, please be aware that Fall is the busiest season of all, with Summer a close second. Since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the country, you should expect large numbers of visitors in certain areas, especially Cades Cove.
Cades Cove is the best place to observe wildlife, learn about history, see exhibits and structures, and enjoy wide open space in the Park. Unfortunately, this attracts many visitors and traffic is a serious problem. If you don't like traffic, avoid this area at all costs. Or, you may want to Park in the Cove entrance and walk or cycle around the Cove. Otherwise, it's an eleven mile trip around the loop with a speed limit of 10 mph. You won't even be able to average that rate. Try arriving very early, just at sunrise. However, don't attempt to arrive early on Saturdays, as the Cove Loop Road is closed to automobiles until 10 AM. This is the best time to cycle around without the prospect of being run over!
There are some bailouts available. If the traffic is so intense that you can't stand it, you can shortcut the loop on Sparks Lane or Hyatt Lane. Another secret is the Rich Mountain Road, which is long, winding, slow and gravelly but is relatively traffic free. You can enjoy the peaceful serenity of the forest as you make your way into the Tuckaleechee Cove. This is a one way road so once you make the decision to take it you're stuck, but I recommend that you try it at least once!
If you are heading South, you might want to try the Parson Branch Road as an alternative cove exit. More about this later!
If you have small children or cannot handle a strenuous hike, a trip to the Walker Sisters Cabin is the perfect way to spend a morning or late afternoon. The Walker sisters were five self-sufficient sisters who survived alone by faming and selling homemade items to early tourists of the park. The Park Service has elected to let the house and outbuildings remain as a reminder of earlier times.
There is a short and long walk to the cabin. For the longer hike, park in the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area located on the Little River Road, about halfway between the Sugarlands Visitors Center and the Townsend Wye. Walk over the bridge, turn right and follow the River for a hundred yards. Here the trail starts up the hill.
Look carefully as you walk. This was once a community, and you can still see evidence of stone walls and foundations. Walk over the crest, and down through the rhododendron into the bottoms. It's an easy walk over the footlogs to the Little Greenbrier School.
You can eliminate this portion of the hike by driving to the Little Greenbrier School. Just drive over the bridge at Metcalf Bottoms, and follow the road until you come to a small gravel road on the right. A small white sign points to the school. Be careful and drive slowly. The road is one lane and accommodates two way traffic. If you don't get in a hurry you'll be fine. You can park at the school.
The schoolhouse is interesting. Don't be surprised to find a class in session. Many local schools have field trips to the Little Greenbrier School, enabling children to experience firsthand what pioneer life was like. This building also served as a church, and a graveyard is nearby. It serves as another reminder of the difficulty of life in a remote community.
From there, a sign indicates the trail to the Walker house, along a wide, pleasant., and relatively level trail! From the school, it's just over a mile to the Walker Sister's Cabin. Once you arrive, you can rest on the porch and try to imagine how the land appeared while the sisters were alive. The barn and springhouse are still here, so children can be shown how folks survived without grocery stores or electricity.
This is one of our favorite walks. Sometimes, on the way back, we imagine that it's Sunday morning and that we're going to a meeting at the schoolhouse. Plan on 2-3 hours for the short trio or 4-5 hours for the long, so you'll have time to set a spell at the house!
Gladys Trentham lived on this property with her family prior to the founding of the Park. She documented life in the community with several books, including "Call Me Hillbilly." Most of her family are buried in a small plot just off of the Newfound Gap Road near Gatlinburg.
To find the cemetery, enter the riding stables just South of Gatlinburg and park in the lot. Walk South, towards the highway and you will find the plot. It's a great reminder that real people were born, lived, and died here. What a tremendous sacrifice it must have been for them to leave their beloved homes, but now we all are the beneficiaries of their forfeitures!
Cataloochee is now very difficult to get to, due to the crowds who want to see the elk. Please try to plan your trip there in the off-season, January or February.
Cataloochee is only accessible by using one of two winding, narrow, steep, gravel roads. One is substantially longer than the other. If you plan to go to the trouble of getting there, you should consider spending a night or two at the campground.
This is a great place for mountain biking. Although nearly all park trails are closed to cyclists, there are many tens of miles of roads in Cataloochee that are available to both automobiles and bicycles. Since there is very little auto traffic here, the riding experience can be very pleasant.
Although most of the valley's structures were razed, a few remain to instruct us about life in the mountain valleys in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Explore, relax, enjoy and treasure the beauty of the Cataloochee Valley!
I made many trips to the Park without realizing the existence of the Lufty Baptist Church in Smokemont. Concealed by trees and foliage, you won't see it from the road unless you know where to look.
Turn off the Newfound Gap Road at the Smokemont campground, cross the Oconaluftee, and park in the clear area just past the bridge. Look across the road and up the hill and there it is! Founded in 1832, and rebuilt in 1916, the Lufty Baptist Church serves as a reminder that this was once a community in which people lived, worked, and prayed.
There is a spring in front of the church. You can just imagine having a cool drink after a long morning of preaching and singing, next to the tumbling waters of the Oconaluftee.
Back in 1943, it was decided that a second road into Cades Cove from North Carolina was needed, so construction began on Lakeview Drive. Naturalists fought the move, fearing traffic and pollution would disturb the sensitive ecosystems of the area. The environmentalists won, and although a viaduct over Noland Creek and a tunnel had already been completed, construction was halted.
The Road to Nowhere is an enigma now, a lovely winding highway with great views, lots of wildlife, and solitary trails. From the Courthouse in Bryson City, turn North at the traffic light, straight past the high school, and soon you'll enter the park. Continue five miles until the road abruptly ends.
The tunnel is a scary place, so you may want to use the bypass trail to get to the opposite side. Also, the solitude and proximity to the high school makes vandalism a problem, so don't leave valuables in your car.
After the timber cutters left Elkmont, lots were sold to residents of Maryville, Alcoa, and Knoxville who built summer homes in the area. They called themselves the "Appalachian Club," and their village became known as Clubtown.
Located just above the Elkmont wye, Clubtown remains very much the way it was, shaded streets lined with cabins. A few leases are in effect until 2001, and it is illegal to trespass on the lots and houses, but you can walk down the street and get a feel for what it must have been like on a Summer weekend many years ago!
Did you know that there ate three backcountry campsites in the Park that are only accessible by boat? Gunter Branch, Double Island and and Jerry Hollow require a ride over Lake Fontana to get there!
If you want to spend a morning or afternoon really getting away from all of the traffic and noise along highway 441, you must try Heintooga-Roundbottom Road. Essentially, it is a trail for automobiles that descends from the high altitudes of the Balsams down into the coves of Roundbottom and Cherokee.
To get there, take the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Cherokee entrance of the Park. Continue all the way up to the mountaintop, and make a left turn at the Balsam Mountain Campground sign. There is also a sign pointing to the Masonic Memorial. Continue on, enjoy the overlooks, until the paved road dead ends just beyond the campground. The road starts here, and what you see is what you get, a narrow gravel trail that practically touches the forest on all sides!
Don't make this trip if you get in a hurry. This is a one-way road so once you start there is no turning back. The first fourteen miles are bumpy, winding, and sometimes steep. In Summer, the lush, second growth forest obscures the vistas beyond the trees. Be cautious, there are drop-offs and cliffs just off the road bed. As you enter deeper and deeper into the woods, notice the variety of tress and shrubs. Count the varieties of wildlife that you encounter. Pause, cut off the engine, and listen to the sounds of the forests. This is one of the most peaceful places in the Park that you can visit by car.
Cataloochee is not far from here. That is, if you walk. The Palmer Creek Trail can deliver you into Cataloochee after a hike of less than 5 miles. If you wanted to drive to the same spot, the trip would be over 50 miles!
One of the most entertaining aspects of this trip is the ford over Straight Fork. You come out of the woods, and it looks like the road dead ends into the water. Look closer, you drive right through the water on a concrete ford. Park here, take your shoes off, and enjoy the ice cold waters!
From here it's a two way gravel road back to Cherokee. When you dead end into Big Cove Road take a left turn and you will descend all the way to Cherokee!
When you experience the Park today, it's hard to believe that at one time this entire region was heavily logged by lumber and paper companies. Sawmills were constructed, and small towns surrounded them. Railroads moved the logs from the timbering areas to the mills. A lot of the forest was devastated.
When the states of Tennessee and North Carolina began purchasing land for the new National Park, a lot of the natural features of the land were devastated. Franklin Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps to create jobs during the depression and to help restore some of our national parks and monuments.
Just north of Smokemont, a CCC camp was established to help restore the Great Smoky Mountains to their original pristine beauty. You can still observe some of the remains of that camp. A chimney, a drinking fountain, a fire hydrant, a sign board and many other artifacts are visible in the ever thickening forest.
It's easy to get there. From Cherokee, head North past the Smokemont Campground. Proceed a few miles until you see a small parking area with a foot bridge over the Oconaluftee. This is the Kephart Prong trail. It leads from here to the Kephart shelter on Mt. Kephart. Cross the river and keep your eyes open. You'll soon come face to face with the recent past.
Copyright 2000 by Richard Weisser, all rights reserved.