Trail: Old Settlers Trail via Maddron Bald Trail
Type: Point to Point
Surface: Forest Trail and Old Wagon Road
Distance: 17.1 miles
Time: 9.5 hours
Foot Traffic: Few Hikers
Restrooms: None (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Historical Structures, Streams, Poison Ivy, Footbridges
Old Settlers Trail Trailhead
Maddron Bald Trailhead (Old Settlers Trail) from Gatlinburg: At traffic light #3 in Gatlinburg, drive east 15.7 miles on East Parkway (US 321-N) to Baxter Road. Baxter Road is not marked, so look for Magnolia Tree Restaurant on the left. After passing the restaurant, Baxter Road is the next road on the right. Turn right and drive 0.3-mile and turn right again. The Maddron Bald Trail trailhead is on the left.
IMPORTANT: Old Settlers Trail is a rather long point-to-point trail. Parking at the Maddron Bald Trail trailhead can be difficult and is ill advised. We recommend that you hire a shuttle service to drop you off at the trailhead and then pick you up at the other end. However, if you want to park at the trailhead, make sure you have transportation lined up to bring you back to pick up your vehicle. Also, do not block the road or the trailhead entrance with your parked vehicle.
NOTE: Optionally, you may begin your hike at the Greenbrier Cove area off Greenbrier Road.
Greenbrier Cove Area Trailhead from Gatlinburg: At traffic light #3, take East Parkway (US 321-N) 6.0 miles to Greenbrier Road, just before the Little Pigeon River Bridge. A Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance sign is on the right side of the road. Turn right at the sign and drive 3.1 miles to Ramsey Prong Road on the left. Next, you will turn left and drive 0.1-mile to the trailhead on the left.
Old Settlers Trail Description
Although this hike is included on our list of 38 Popular Day Hikes, you may want to finish it over two days. While it is possible to complete this hike in a day, we recommend that you spend the night at Backcountry Campsite #33, a good halfway point.
IMPORTANT: All overnight campers need to make a reservation at the National Park Service. It is illegal to camp in the park without a permit. Camping is allowed ONLY at designated backcountry campsites and shelters (complete list of backcountry regulations).
This hike begins on Maddron Bald Trail, an old wagon road. After hiking 1.2 miles you arrive at the junction with Old Settlers Trail and Gabes Mountain Trail. Trail markers mark the junction. Turn right onto Old Settlers Trail. The next 15.9 miles are a trip through Smoky Mountain history.
We recommend this trail to experienced hikers only. It is a long hike with a number of inclines and water crossings. Foliage is thick. Few hikers take advantage of this historic trail, so it will not be crowded. Our rating for this trail is “strenuous”, primarily due to its length and elevation changes.
The surface of Old Settlers Trail is a combination of forest trail and wagon road. Several footbridges and single-log bridges cross streams along the way. Be prepared to cross several streams using large rocks as your bridge.
Three Trail Characteristics
- Rise and fall in elevation. From end to end you climb and descend four inclines.
- Hemlock and rhododendron are in abundance on this trail. However, poison ivy is prevalent in late spring through autumn. In light of this, the best time to hike Old Settlers Trail is in early winter through early spring, when poison ivy is dormant.
- Old Settlers Trail has a high number of historical structures, some say the best in the Smoky Mountains.
Old Settlers Trail Historical Structures
Old Settlers Trail has more historical remnants than any other trail in the park. Early settlers flourished in this area.
Many communities were built, then abandoned when park founders took the land for the park through eminent domain.
With careful observation, old chimneys, stoves, stone walls, home sites, a cemetery, a smokehouse, and other remnants can be seen.
You need to take the numerous side trails to see many of the old home sites and historical ruins.
IMPORTANT: Do not remove or displace any stones in the stone walls. Not only is this disrespectful and illegal, it it can be dangerous.
Poisonous snakes are common in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they love to hide in rock piles and rock walls.
We have first hand experience encountering a poisonous copperhead in a stone wall. As we sat next to a stone wall for the synchronous firefly event at Elkmont, the snake decided to come out. Fortunately, it returned to its nest without causing any problems.
NOTE: It is illegal to kill any snake (venomous or not) in the park or anywhere in the state of Tennessee.
Nearby Points of Interest
Porters Creek Trail is in the Greenbrier Road area. It may be the best place for viewing spring wildflowers in the Smokies. Porters Creek Trail also is home to historic buildings including a cantilever barn, cemetery, and an old club house.