Trail: Middle Prong Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Old Gravel Road (former railroad bed)
Distance: 8.2 miles
Time: 4 hours
Foot Traffic: Not Crowded
Restrooms: Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains Association Store (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Waterfalls, Cascades, Streams, Historical Remnants, Fishing
Middle Prong Trail Trailhead
From Townsend: Middle Prong Trail is located in the Tremont area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Drive towards Cades Cove. After passing through the famous “Y” intersection, drive 0.2-miles to the turnoff for Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont on the left.
Turn on Tremont Road and drive 2.2-miles to Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. After passing the institute the road becomes Upper Tremont Road. It is a gravel road with numerous potholes and several single car bridges. Drive 3.1 miles on this road to reach the Middle Prong Trail trailhead. Park in the spaces provided.
Middle Prong Trail Background
By now you know that Middle Prong Trail is located in the Tremont area of the mountains. The word Tremont comes from combining the words “tree” and “mountain”.
The irony in this name is that the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company, based in Townsend, harvested most of the trees in this area in the early 1900’s leaving the area with hardly any trees at all.
Tremont, Tennessee | 1930 | Photo: Blount County Library
Quite a few people lived in the Tremont area, especially during the logging years. While not much is left, remnants of past life remain.
Middle Prong Trail Description
At the trailhead you cross over the river on a footbridge. Equestrians must dismount and lead their horse across the bridge.
The loud sound of the cascading water and the crossing of the river take you into another world of thick, luscious trees, rushing water, and a wide trail.
The surface of Middle Prong Trail is hard dirt topped with gravel. Exposed roots and large rocks occasionally challenge your footing, although most of the trail is quite smooth.
Immediately after crossing the trailhead footbridge, the trail forks. The signage between the trails could be confusing for some hikers since it does not tell you which trail to take.
Just stay to the left and follow the trail next to the river.
Middle Prong Trail Fork | Proceed on the Left | Photo: Marc Bowman
Middle Prong Trail is an old railroad bed. After the National Park Service put an end to commercial logging in the park, they converted the railroad beds into trails.
We hiked this trail after a heavy rain, and about halfway up we discovered an old rail sticking out of the ground. The rain washed away just enough dirt that we could see a bit of buried history.
Nearly all the guides rate this trail as “moderate to strenuous”. However, while reading hiker’s reviews, we found that many hikers found it to be an easy hike, even for beginners.
Having hiked this trail with my wife to the abandoned Cadillac, it is hard to rate this trail anything but “easy”.
In my mind, the slight incline is the only thing that makes this trail “challenging”. But in light of the fact that we did not hike to the end, there could be challenges of which we are unaware, so we rated this trail “moderate”.
The gravel and rocks can be an issue for weak ankles, so wear good hiking boots/shoes. Do not underestimate the pounding your feet will receive walking on gravel, rocks, and roots.
Middle Prong Trail Highlights
When it comes to Middle Prong Trail, the point of this hike is the journey and not the destination, because there really is not a destination (unless you count the old Cadillac).
This truly is the trail to nowhere. Since horses frequent the trail, watch your step! On our hike we didn’t see any horses or their droppings.
The main highlight of Middle Prong Trail is the beautiful water. The entire length of the trail shadows the river. From beginning to end you will see and hear the rushing river, waterfalls, and cascades.
While Abrams Falls Trail is by far the more popular trail, the waterfalls and cascades of Middle Prong Trail are much better. If you want to see and experience the best trail in the Smokies for amazing water, this is the trail.
About 1.5 miles in, you will cross the small footbridge pictured below. It crosses over a small contributory stream. Although the bridge looks a little worn, it is stable. The ground leading up to the bridge is especially rocky.
Middle Prong Trail | Small Footbridge | Photo: Marc Bowman
Another highlight of this trail is the old 1920’s Cadillac 1.9-miles in. The car was abandoned more than half a century ago.
No one really knows who left it or why, but speculation is that it broke down sometime during the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps and no one went back for it.
Since you cannot see the car without walking down a short footpath, hikers marked the footpath with a pile of rocks in the middle of the trail.
Rock Pile Trail Marker | Middle Prong Trail | Photo: Marc Bowman
Walk on the footpath about 50 feet. The car is sitting in a clearing behind a couple of fallen trees. The walk to the car is quick and easy.
If you are like my wife and me, you will want to take a photo. It is hard to imagine someone leaving a car up here all those years ago.
Old Cadillac | Middle Prong Trail | Photo: Ann Bowman
Middle Prong Trail ends 4.1 miles in, where it converges with Greenbrier Ridge Trail. If you continue hiking on Greenbrier Ridge Trail for another 4.2 miles, you will arrive at the Appalachian Trail.
Since Middle Prong Trail is all about the journey, hike as far as you want and then turn around. You may see something on your return trip that you missed the first time out.
Fishing Lynn Prong
Lynn Prong, the stream next to Middle Prong Trail, is the best place in the park to fish for Brook Trout. A restoration project is bringing back the populations of Brook Trout in the park.
RELATED: Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Nearby Points of Interest
Townsend is a small community with hotels, restaurants, and events planned throughout the year.