Trail: Little River Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Gravel Road (former railroad bed)
Distance: 4.8 miles
Time: 2 hours
Foot Traffic: Not Crowded
Restrooms: Elkmont Campground (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Wildflowers, Streams, Historical, Waterfalls, Cascades, Fall Foliage
Little River Trail Trailhead
From Sugarlands Visitor Center: Drive toward Elkmont on Fighting Creek Gap Road. Turn left onto Elkmont Road and drive 1.5 miles where you will turn left onto Little River Road. You will arrive at the Little River Trail trailhead after an additional 0.5-mile. Plenty of parking spaces are available; please use them.
Little River Trail Background
Elkmont started as a small farming area in the 1840’s when Jacob Hauser brought his family to the mountains. They named the spot “Little River”. Others followed, and the small group of people grew into a little community.
In the 1880’s, a Knoxville businessman began logging the area around Jakes Creek and transporting logs to a Knoxville area sawmill by floating them down the river. His operation ended in 1900.
In 1901, a Pennsylvania man by the name of Colonel Wilson B. Townsend purchased 86,000 acres of mountain land and founded the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company in Tuckaleechee Cove.
Preferring railroads to rivers for transporting logs, Townsend built an extensive railroad system throughout the Smoky Mountains. By 1908, Little River was a thriving logging camp known as Elkmont.
The logging ended and the railroad tracks removed in 1938. The buildings in Elkmont are what remain of the resort that sprang up during the later years of the logging efforts.
NOTE: Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is located in Townsend, TN and is free to tour year round.
Little River Trail Description
The trail begins on an old railroad bed converted for pedestrian use. It is wide and well maintained. Little River Trail parallels the Little River for more than 6 miles, and terminates at Backcountry Campsite #30.
However, the historical hike on the trail is much shorter, only 2.4 miles in each direction. If you choose to continue on Little River Trail past Cucumber Gap Trail, the trail surface gradually changes to a regular mountain trail.
The historic buildings you see near the trailhead are from the era in the early 1900’s when Elkmont was a hunting and fishing resort.
Huskey Branch Falls (pictured at the top), is located 2.1-miles from the trailhead. This waterfall is 20’ tall and is a great place for a photo. Another 0.3-mile further up the trail is a junction with Cucumber Gap Trail.
The historical section of Little River Trail is complete at this point. You can turn around and trace your steps back, or you may continue on the trail for as long as you wish.
Another option is to loop back using Cucumber Gap Trail and Jakes Creek Trail. The distance from the Little River Trail and Cucumber Gap Trail junction to the Jakes Creek Trailhead is 3.0-miles. The trailhead is close to your starting point.
Little River Trail Flora and Fauna
The wildflowers along Little River Trail in April and May are spectacular, some of the best in the park. If you happen to be hiking in the fall (October), the leaf colors are breathtaking. You will not find a more beautiful spot to see fall colors up close and personal in the Smoky Mountains.
Rhododendron is indigenous to the Smoky Mountains and Little River Trail has its share. Mountain laurel and azalea are both in abundance here. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 1,600 species of flowering plants, including 100 native tree species and over 100 native shrub species according to the National Park Service. Many of them are on this trail.
Fly-fishing is good here, as long as you have a fishing license. Butterflies are aplenty due to the wealth of wildflowers and you may just see a wild turkey or two.
More than 1,600 black bears live throughout the Smoky Mountains alongside white-tailed deer, elk, otters, squirrels, birds, and hundreds of other animals. Black bears are common, and hikers should not be surprised if they see one.
RELATED: What to Do If You Encounter a Black Bear
Nearby Points of Interest
It should go without saying that Elkmont is just waiting for exploration. Metcalf Bottoms Trail, which leads to the historic Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse and the Walker Sisters’ Place, is also close by.