Trail: Metcalf Bottoms Trail to Little Brier Gap Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Mountain Trail
Distance: 4.2 miles
Time: 2 hours
Foot Traffic: Not Crowded
Restrooms: Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Streams, Historical, Walker Sisters’ Place, Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse
Metcalf Bottoms Trail Trailhead
From Gatlinburg: The trailhead for Metcalf Bottoms Trail is located on Wear Cove Gap Road just off Little River Road. From the Sugarlands Visitor Center turn onto Fighting Creek Gap Road and drive about 9.7 miles to Wear Cove Gap Road.
Turn right and park at one of the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Areas. The trailhead is located on the other side of the wooden bridge on the right.
NOTE: Fighting Creek Gap Road becomes Little River Road once you pass Elkmont Road.
From Townsend: At the famous “Y” intersection, turn left onto Little River Road and drive 7.7 miles to Wear Cove Gap Road. Turn left and park at one of the Wear Cove Picnic Areas.
The trailhead is located on the other side of the wooden bridge on the right.
Restrooms are located at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.
NOTE: Some websites refer to this picnic area as “Wear Cove Picnic Area.” This is not accurate. The name of the road is Wear Cove Gap Road, but the picnic site is Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.
Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Pavilion | Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Metcalf Bottoms Trail Description
Metcalf Bottoms Trailhead
The Metcalf Bottoms Trail surface is a typical mountain trail, packed dirt with occasional roots and rocks. The hike to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse is a short one, at just over half a mile.
Depending on how fast you walk, you can reach it in 15 or 20 minutes. We used every minute, maybe a few more.
We thought about classifying this trail as “moderate”, but we decided against it. While the trail begins rather easily, a section just before the schoolhouse requires a bit more effort.
Anyone not use to physical activity may need to stop two or three times to catch their breath. This trail is only half a mile, but it does have a bit of a rise in elevation over a short distance.
Hikers cross the stream three times on their way to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse. The footbridges are in good condition and provide a bit of fun.
Metcalf Bottoms Trail | Log Footbridge | Photo: Marc Bowman
I don’t know why, but walking on a log footbridge is always fun for me; as long as it is close to the ground. These are close to the ground and are easy to cross.
Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse
Local residents Gilbert Abbott, Ephraim Ogle, John Walker, and many others built the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse in 1882.
Mr. Abbott donated the land and Ogle donated the lumber. The community pitched in and provided the labor.
Classes began meeting in the Fall of 1882 and ended in 1936 when the National Park Service took possession of the land.
The National Register of Historic Places added the building to their list in 1976.
Primitive Baptist Church also met in the schoolhouse and created the cemetery on the opposite side of the trail.
Visitors to the schoolhouse are free to enter the building and look around. Unfortunately, hundreds of people have vandalized the walls and desks by writing or carving on them (see photo below).
Defacing the buildings and/or their contents is a crime. If you are caught, you could receive a fine, imprisonment, or both. Please don’t add to the graffiti and risk prosecution.
Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse | Interior Vandalism | Photo: Marc Bowman
Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse is a great example of the type of building used at the time. When you enter, you can just imagine what it was like full of mountain children.
Little Brier Gap Trail Trailhead
Basically, Little Brier Gap Trail is a continuation of the Metcalf Bottoms trail. The Little Brier Gap Trailhead is located where the Metcalf Bottoms Trail terminates, at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse.
There are two ways to reach the trailhead: 1) Hike the Metcalf Bottoms Trail to the schoolhouse and then continue on to Little Brier Gap Trail or 2) Drive to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse on Wear Cove Gap Road.
IMPORTANT: If you choose to drive to the schoolhouse instead of hiking, please take note. A narrow gravel road leads to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse from Wear Cove Gap Road.
The lane is only wide enough for one car. When two cars traveling in opposite directions approach, one will have back up. Since the road is a half mile, this can be a problem.
Little Brier Gap Trail Background
The Little Brier Gap Trail has tremendous historical significance for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When the precursor to the National Park Service began purchasing land for the park, many of the private landowners objected.
Walker Sisters | 1909
For nearly a hundred years, families bought land, cleared it, farmed it, and brought up their children in these mountains. This was their home.
John and Margaret Walker, along with their eleven children (seven girls and four boys) was one such family.
In 1921, five of the Walker sisters inherited the family’s 123 acres of mountain farmland. When the Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission approached them with an “offer” for their land, the sisters rejected it.
The sisters wanted to remain on their homestead and live out their lives. The commission wisely acquiesced in order to avoid a public relations nightmare.
The following year, in 1940, facing a condemnation lawsuit (eminent domain), the Walker sisters gave up their fight and came to an agreement with the National Park Service.
They accepted the $4,750 offer with the understanding that they could live out their lives on the land.
In January 1941, the National Park Service finally took ownership of the land, and then took control of it after the last Walker sister died in 1964.
The Walker sisters were the last private residents to live inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Walker Sisters’ Cabin | Little Brier Gap Trail
The National Park Service restored the Walker sisters’ home in 1976 and eventually listed it on the National Register of Historic Places. The sisters’ springhouse and corn crib are also listed and can be seen on the property today.
Little Brier Gap Trail Description
The Little Brier Gap Trail begins at the schoolhouse and ends 1.4 miles later at the junction of Little Greenbrier Trail. The hike should take approximately 35 minutes each way.
Of course, that does not take into consideration that you will want to stop and see the Walker Sisters’ Place. The side trail to the Walker sisters’ cabin is located approximately .9 miles from the schoolhouse.
Nearby Points of Interest
Elkmont, one the most fascinating places in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is just down the road. Elkmont is a former logging community converted into a vacation retreat for the elite of Knoxville and the surrounding area. Today, Elkmont is in flux as the National Park Service and historical preservationists decide what to do with the remaining buildings, some of which vandals burned.