West Prong Trail
|Trail Features:||Quiet Forest Hike, Stream|
|Roundtrip Length:||5.4 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1375 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||509 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||2087 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||8.15 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.64095|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.69116|
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Townsend "Y" intersection, drive west on Laurel Creek Road towards Cades Cove. Roughly 0.2 miles from the "Y", turn left to go towards the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Drive another two miles and turn right into the parking area for the West Prong Trail, located just before reaching the Institute.
The West Prong Trail begins as a steady climb, ascending roughly 625 feet over the course of the first 1.4 miles, before descending towards the West Prong of the Little River.
At roughly 0.3 miles from the trailhead you'll reach a somewhat confusing trail sign at the junction of an unmarked spur trail. Stay left here (towards campsite 18) to continue on the West Prong Trail. The side trail heading downhill will take you to an old cemetery that's still in use by the families who once lived in this area.
This first section of the hike is very peaceful and quiet as it climbs along the north slopes of Fodderstack Mountain. However, once the trail begins its descent, the rush of the stream in the valley below becomes louder and louder.
Roughly 2 miles from the trailhead you'll reach a creek crossing without a footbridge - only a few rocks and logs. If your balance isn't all that steady you may want to bring a pair of trekking poles with you, or you could simply find a stick if the flow of the creek requires some assistance with balance.
Just beyond the creek crossing, sitting adjacent to the West Prong of the Little River, is backcountry campsite 18. The three campsites located here offer an outstanding place to spend a night or two under the stars. There are several large logs and boulders in and around the stream that make this a great place for a picnic lunch. The West Prong is also a popular stream for rainbow trout fishermen.
To continue on towards the Bote Mountain Trail you'll need to cross the footbridge located in the middle of the campground. Due to there being campsites on either side of the stream it can be a little difficult in trying to determine which way the trail goes after crossing the bridge. However, hikers should walk towards the right after arriving on the other side. After walking about 30 feet or so you'll easily pick up the main trail again as it heads up the hillside.
At 2.7 miles you'll reach the Bote Mountain Trail junction. A turn to the right would take you to Laurel Creek Road in 1.2 miles, while a turn to the left would take you up to the Appalachian Trail at Spence Field, roughly 5.7 miles away. Almost immediately upon reaching the junction you'll notice that the Bote Mountain Trail is a very wide path. This trail was once used as a roadway by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s.
From the junction, on our most recent hike, we could see the snowy summit of Thunderhead Mountain through the trees.