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best easy hikes smoky mountains
Best Easy Day Hikes covers 22 hikes in the Smokies, including "Quiet Walkways," self-guided nature trails, and advice based on best views, nature lovers, history hikes, waterfalls. etc.

Little River Trail

Trail Features: Stream, Wildflowers, History Little River
Trail Location: Elkmont
Roundtrip Length: 4.9 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 412 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 168 Feet
Highest Elevation: 2637 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 5.72 (moderate)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.65365
Parking Lot Longitude -83.58018

Directions to Trailhead:

From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 4.9 miles on Little River Road to the Elkmont Campground turnoff on your left. After turning into Elkmont, drive 1.4 miles until you reach the campground. Instead of proceeding into the campground, turn left to reach the Little River Trailhead. The parking area for the Little River Trail will be 0.6 miles from the campground.

From the Townsend "Y" intersection near Cades Cove, the turnoff for the Elkmont Campground will be 12.6 miles away.

Trail Description:

The entire length of the Little River Trail climbs gently along an old gravel road that parallels the river with the same name. The river is a beautiful cascading stream with large boulders and several small waterfalls.

appalachian clubhouseAt the beginning of the trail you'll pass by a few of the old resort cottages of Elkmont. The cottages were built in the 1920s, and were used as summer homes by the affluent from Knoxville. As of this writing the homes are in disrepair and are off limits to the public. However, in the fall of 2008, National Park crews completed emergency stabilization to 18 of the historic cabins, as well as the Appalachian Clubhouse. The park plans to fully restore all 19 structures so that they can be opened and viewed by the public. As part of the first phase of the Elkmont restoration project, the Park Service reopened the old Appalachian Clubhouse for public day use rental in June of 2011.

At this time there is no indication when this project will be completed. Additionally, the park plans on removing the other 55 buildings in the area and returning those sites to their natural habitats.

little river railroadThe Elkmont area of the park was heavily logged from the 1800s up until 1938. In the early years, logs were hauled out by ox teams and then floated down river. Just after the turn of the century the Little River Lumber Company purchased nearly 100,000 acres of timberland along the Little River and its tributaries. They built rail lines to Elkmont, and eventually, a spur that extended all the way to Clingmans Dome. This spur would eventually become the Little River Trail. The rail lines allowed the company to extract timber at a much faster rate. After the Smokies became a national park, the lumber company ceased operations in 1938, and had rolled up its tracks by early 1940.

Along the early portions of the Little River Trail you'll stroll past several patches of rhododendron.

violetwhite trillium 

The trail is best hiked between mid-March and April if you're goal is to view wildflowers. During the early spring you can expect to see spring beauties and trailing arbutus. As the season progresses, look for hepaticas, yellow trillium, dwarf cinquefoil, stonecrop, Canadian violets and umbrella leaf.

little riverDuring the summer months look for mountain mint, as well as orange and pale jewelweed.

If you're lucky, you may spot an otter in or near the water. Between 1988 and 1990 park biologists released 14 river otters in the Little River as part of a successful effort to reintroduce the species throughout the Smokies.

At roughly 2.2 miles you'll reach Huskey Branch Falls, a small 20-foot cascade that tumbles into the Little River. The waterfall flows down the slope on the hill next to the trail before running underneath a small footbridge.

At just under 2.5 miles you'll reach the Cucumber Gap Trail Junction. This is the typical turn-around point for this particular hike; however, you do have a couple of other options if you're feeling up to it. You could continue following the Little River upstream for a couple more miles, or you could extend your hike up to Huskey Gap, or you could make a loop trail back to the parking area by turning right onto the Cucumber Gap Trail.