8 Hidden Gems in the
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
1.) The Townsend Wye
The beach in the mountains! But with a twist.
This is an authentic Appalachian "swimming hole", and precious Mother Nature provides it to us for free.
You'll find it where the Little River turns a corner at the intersection of "Townsend Entrance Road" and Little River Gorge Road. If you come in from Townsend, this is where the road ends. If you come from Gatlinburg, it will be on your right, about 20 miles from Gatlinburg.
Bring some chairs and towels, innertubes, floaties and life vests for those who don't swim. Warning: There are some deep areas. But most of it is shallow and you can wade in it, depending on rainfall the past week.
There are no bathrooms, but there are sometimes porta potties. No alcohol, but coolers are allowed. Come early, it gets pretty popular during hot summer days! And oh yeah - the water IS COLD!
Good parking is available. It is only wheelchair accessible if you have someone to help get your chair over and around the rocks and tree roots that line the path.
2.) The Sinks
About 12 miles west of Gatlinburg on Little River Gorge Road, (AKA Fighting Creek Gap Rd.) you will come upon a beautiful waterfall area known as The Sinks.
This is one of the few waterfalls you can drive up to. There is a small parking area, that is wheelchair accessible, and takes you to an overlook where you can watch the waves crash.
Some people go in the water, but I do NOT recommend it, even if you see others jumping in. There are signs there warning of people who have drowned because of the strong currents. But I do recommend it for its scenic beauty and also the trail that begins there, called Meigs Trail.
Meigs Trail is an easy and beautiful hike. Reminds me of a fairy tale forest. It's about 6.5 miles long. It's a very quiet, peaceful hike, with several creek crossings. It would still be a beautiful hike for a family even if you just went half a mile and came back.
3.) Laurel Falls
One of the only trails in the Smoky Mountain National Park that is paved. It is a bit rough and rugged, (see my video here) so it's not truly wheelchair or stroller friendly. It is an easy to moderate walk, although uphill much of the way to the falls, but pretty gentle slope. Plan about 2 hours unless you stop a lot, may be 3 hours. The way back is way easier.
You will want to keep a sharp eye on young kids because there are some drop offs. I'd recommend this for kids over 5. You may want to use a reversible child carrier such as the Ergobaby carrier with lumbar support for little ones. Also, it can get pretty crowded at times.
Arrive before 8 am for the best parking. The 80-foot waterfall is the main attraction, and a sight to see, but you will also find beautiful scenic views and a lot of wildlife!
4.) Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse
Take the trail, starting at Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area, and go for a 3/4 of a mile walk (1.5 miles roundtrip) to get here. Or you can drive to it by using the entrance on Wear Cove Gap Rd.
The little Greenbrier School is a one room schoolhouse, built in 1882, that also doubled as a church. It was built by the local residents, including John Walker, the father of the now famous Walker Sisters. The Walker Sisters Cabin is 1.5 miles further up the trail.
The Walker Sisters were a group of unmarried sisters who refused to leave their home when it became the National Park. They were very self-sufficient and lived in the cabin until 1964.
The old cemetery across from the Little Greenbrier School was utilized by the Primitive Baptist Congregation.
5.) Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area
Ample parking, public bathrooms, a covered pavilion and a pretty bridge and river access make this picnic area a winner. This is also one of the few spots you may take your dog. (Dogs cannot go on trails though, and must be on a leash at all times.)
See wildflowers and walk to a historic school called "Little Greenbrier School" and a very old cemetery (described above). You can look inside the school and imagine life there long ago.
If you want to go even further, you can hike from the school to the famous "Walker Sister's Cabin", but note that it is about 1.5 miles further up.
6.) Gatlinburg Trail
One of the few Great Smoky Mountain National Park trails that allows pets (must be on a leash). Stroller friendly and kid friendly trail. Wheelchair accessible for much of the way, but there is a footbridge and a slightly steep grade to contend with at certain points along the way. For wheelchairs and scooters, I recommend starting on the Gatlinburg town end, where there is parking as well.
The trail follows a creek that you can wade right into. You can see my video below of the first portion and how to get there. You can see wildflowers, Cataract Falls, historic remnants and abundant nature. I saw a gorgeous, colorful mallard swimming along and putting a show on.
This is not the quietest trail, and it is very popular; you can hear traffic from the road at times, but it is very worthwhile if you are looking to slip into nature easily and go on an easy walk with kids and pets.
As you exit the Gatlinburg main Parkway into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, it is the 1st pull off you come to on your right.
7.) Little River Trail & Troll Bridge
4 miles to the waterfall roundtrip (for an easy hike. The full trail which is over 12 miles round trip)
To find the Troll Bridge, go about 100 feet onto the Little River Trail, and look to the right for an unmarked gravel side trail. Follow the trail for just a bit to the Troll Bridge.
This is an easy hike if you go to the waterfall and bridge and turn around and head back. It starts out as a nice flat, wide road, next to a beautiful river, with a gentle incline, then narrows to a trail as you go. At about 2 miles, you will see 20-foot high Huskey Branch Falls. For kids, I recommend these first 2.5 miles, and the exploring the Elkmont Ghost town buildings themselves. This would make a great adventure for the day.
This trail starts in Elkmont, a very cool historical area. Known for its campsite and its
"Ghost town", it has buildings and remnants of a bygone era. It was a popular vacation spot where the wealthy came from Knoxville, to stay and play in the early 1900's.
April and May are the time to see abundant wildflowers and butterflies in this area! It is also notable for its brilliant fall colors. This area is also known for the world renowned synchronous fireflies.
From Sugarland Visitor Center, head west toward Elkmont on Fighting Creek Gap Road. Turn left onto Elkmont Road and drive 1.5 miles, then left onto Little River Road. You will see the Little River Trail trailhead in about half a mile. Good parking area available.
8.) Elkmont Ghost Town
See the lost community that was once a thriving vacation spot for the wealthy. Abandoned houses and cabins line the roads, some having been torn down and some have been rehabilitated. See the signs that talk about the fascinating history of the Wonderland Hotel, and the trains that used to bring the visitors.
Elkmont is also a thriving campground. The Elkmont Nature Trail is abundant with wildflowers or colorful fall leaves. and a footbridge as you walk along a peaceful river. This easy loop trail can be combined with others like Little River Trail and Jake's Creek Trail to Avent Cabin I have on this list. They are all in the same area. Parking and bathrooms at the Elkmont Campground.
Do one or do all 3 if you are feeling energized! There are benches to sit on and signs along the way.
From Sugarland Visitor Center, head west toward Elkmont on Fighting Creek Gap Road. Turn left onto Elkmont Road and drive 1.5 miles, then left onto Little River Road. It will be the 1st parking area you come to on the left.
To find out more about the Historic Elkmont Resort before you go, check out
It is quite fascinating!