the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, with over 11.4 million visitors annually. This is as many visitors as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon combined! A popular national park can have big crowds. If you’re want to see the park and want quiet time, here are some favorite hidden places to explore.
Elkmont Troll Bridge
Elkmont has recently gained fame as the secret ghost town of the Smokies. This once very wealthy community of vacation homes is beginning to see renovation from the park service, and is still accessible to the public.
In the days before the national park was established, this community was popular among the wealthy city dwellers of Maryville and Knoxville. Once boasting two separate country clubs, summertime residents of the area would take the train from the city. It is said that the two country clubs were so exclusive that often times members of opposing clubs wouldn’t even ride together in the same train car!
To reach the historic homes, follow the signs to Elkmont Campground. Once you turn in off Little River Road, drive back past the campground and follow the signs for Little River and Jake’s Creek Trailhead.
Park your car in the lower parking lot at Little River Trail. You’ll only need to venture in on trail about 100 feet and take a small side trail on your right with stone walls toward the water to find the Troll Bridge! This historic bridge used to connect two cabins in the area – the second and third cabins on the road to be exact!
In recent years, the park service has removed many of the more dilapidated structures. While exploring the homes is tempting, it’s important to not trespass. Many of the buildings still standing in this area are unstable for the time being. Admire them from the road or the nearby yards.
Walker Sister’s Cabin
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1928, but most people don’t realize that people were living in the Park until the 1990s! Some inhabitants were permitted to stay in their homes. The Walker Sisters were among those people. Living in their cabin in Little Greenbrier until the 1960s, the Walker sisters lived a primitive lifestyle while the world around them modernized.
You can visit this beautiful cabin with outbuildings from Metcalf Bottoms, easily accessed from Townsend, TN – “the quiet side of the Smokies” and the Little River Road in the Park..
To reach the Walker Sister’s Cabin, you’ll have two options:
- Take the Metcalf Bottoms Trail. This trail is located on Wear Cove Road, just over the wooden vehicle bridge from the picnic area.
- Park at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse parking area. This is a one-lane road with two-way traffic and may be busy in summer and fall.
To reach the cabin from the Schoolhouse, take the Little Brier Gap Trail. This trail is an old road bed. It’s wide and well-worn, making a great walk for all the members of your family. It is approximately 1.1 miles from the schoolhouse to the Walker Sister’s Cabin.
On the way, you’ll pass the springhouse and corn crib. Feel free to explore the grounds of the old farm and imagine what it was like for these five sisters living in the cove.
At Metcalf Bottoms, there are 122 picnic sites with tables and charcoal grill.
Find out more details about the Walker Sisters, their cabin, and their legacy here.
Spruce Flats Falls
The Smokies have many waterfalls, but sometimes hiking to a waterfall can be crowded. Spruce Flats Falls is a great waterfall just outside of the Tremont Institute.
This area is a historical area of the Smokies’ original inhabitants and was the site of a CCC camp.
From the parking lot at the Tremont Institute, go up the hill about 25 yards. You’ll come to the Buckeye Trail head on the right. Take this trail.
The Buckeye Trail is not on any park map, but is easy to follow. It’s wide path is uphill, steep in spots, and can be rocky and with roots. At the top of the first hill is the lumbering Rocky Top and Appalachian Trail – the large mountain above you.
Heading down the hill, you will go down a foot log and go through roots. You will be able to hear the sound of the waterfall.
Spruce Flats Falls is a series of four cascades and a drop of 30 feet. Most hikers like the top two tiers. It’s a great place to cool off.
The trail is approximately 1.6 miles round trip.
Find out more about the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont here.
The national park isn’t the only place you’ll find a scenic drive. The Foothills Parkway is only a short drive from the Townsend entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Take Highway 321 from Townsend toward Maryville. Or, experience the new Foothills Parkway Extension from Wears Valley. When you reach the older part of the Parkway, follow the signs to Look Rock.
The trail head will be on the west side of the Parkway. It is a short paved trail, about a half mile. The view from the observation tower is breathtaking where you can see up to 40 miles on a clear day! You’ll even see Clingman’s Dome – the highest point in Tennessee.
After a day of sightseeing and hiking, head back to your amazing cabin! My Bearfoot Cabins offers two family friendly cabins. Bearfoot Adventure, 2br/2ba and Bearfoot Paradise, 3br/3ba/2 – 1/2ba. Each cabin is a different experience, so there’s a cabin for every taste.