Little River Trail
|Trail Features:||Stream, Wildflowers, History|
|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 west along the Little River Road to the turnoff for the Elkmont Campground, which will be on your left. After turning into Elkmont, drive 1.4 miles until you reach the campground. Instead of proceeding into the campground, turn left and drive another 0.6 miles to the parking area for the Little River Trail.
From the Townsend "Y" intersection near Cades Cove, the turnoff for the Elkmont Campground will be 12.6 miles away.
The entire length of the Little River Trail climbs a gentle grade along an old gravel railroad bed that parallels the river with the same name. The river is a beautiful cascading stream with large boulders and several small waterfalls.
Near the beginning of the trail you'll pass by several old resort cottages. Most of these 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 National Park Service reopened the old Appalachian Clubhouse for public 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.
The Elkmont area of the park was heavily logged from the 1800s through 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.
The trail is best hiked between mid-March and April if you're goal is to spot 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.
During the summer months look for mountain mint, as well as orange and pale jewelweed.
If you're lucky you might spot an otter in or around the water. Between 1988 and 1990 park biologists released 14 river otters into 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 hikers will arrive at the Cucumber Gap Trail junction. This is the typical turn-around point for this particular hike; however, you'll have a couple of options if you wish to explore more of the terrain in this area. 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 create a loop hike by turning right and returning back to the parking area via the Cucumber Gap Trail.