Little Bottoms Trail

All you Smokies hikers out there looking for great little creek as well as backcountry campsite to camp out at need to look no further than the Little Bottoms Trail, a 2.3 miler on the Tennessee side of the park.

To get there, prepare to hike 1.3 miles by way of the Cooper Road Trail from the Abrams Creek ranger station. By the time you reach and hike Little Bottoms, you’ll have reached its junction with the Hatcher Mountain Trail.

To say that this trail gets its share of use would be an understatement. It’s THE people use to reach Abrams Falls from Happy Valley and a popular alternate route to the falls for those who wish to avoid the traffic of Cades Cove.

Starting out on the trail you’ll ascend a ridge of pine. The popular Indian Pipe blooms in abundance here from June through August in small clusters. Passing over the ridge, you’ll soon hear the flow Abrams Creek. Backcountry campsite No. 17 is reached at mile 1.6 on the trail and Abrams Creek moves musicly not far from here. An old Smokies homesite is still visible here and campers can use the creek as a water source.

The trail reaches its end at 2.3 miles at its intersection with the Hatcher Mountain Trail. Enjoy the Smokies!

Little Brier Gap Trail

As far as historical trails go in the Great Smoky Mountains, you’d be hard pressed to find a trail that packs as much history into as small a distance as the Little Brier Gap Trail.

It’s only a 1.4 mile trail, but during that time you’ll pass the Little Greenbrier School, as well as the Walker Sisters’ cabin and farm. It’s a great spot for taking shots of historic structures still standing that belonged to some of the region’s earliest settlers and some of the last to live in the park.

To get to the trailhead which is located at Little Greenbrier School, drive to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, or hike the 0.6 mile Metcalf Bottoms Trail to the school. From the school’s parking area, the trail starts just up the hill.

As you begin your hike on the Little Brier Gap Trail, take note of the trees that surround the trail. These same species were the ones that early settlers like the Walker family used to construct their homestead – tuliptrees, white oak, maple, and beech were all used in one aspect or another to build and maintain their cabin.

After hiking three quarters of way, notice that the grassy road continues on and a gravel trails back. The grassy way takes hikers on to the Little Greenbrier Trail, the gravel road takes hikers to the Walker Sisters’ cabin. Besides the cabin, the springhouse is also still standing at the site which stored items like milk and eggs. It was said that there used to be many outbuildings that once stood on the property due to the industriousness of John Walker. Today, all that remain are the springhouse and corn crib/gear shack. A barn, pigpen, smokehouse, apple house, and blacksmith shop are said to be among the buildings that once stood on the property.

In all, 5 Walker sisters lived on the property up until 1964 when the last, Louisa Susan, passed away. They even lived on the property after the land was designated as a national park through a “life-time lease” which allowed property owners to sell their land to the park, yet live out their lives there.

Back on the trail, continue on to the trails end at the junction with the Little Greenbrier Trail where you can head east to the Laurel Falls Trail, west to Wear Cove Road, or just circle back to Little Greenbrier School. Happy hiking!



The ramp or ramps are one of those regional plants that most visitors don’t get a chance to experience.  Part onion, part garlic and full of pungent flavor the ramp is one of those vegetables that you either love or hate.  This part of the wild leek family is celebrated in food and in events that are held throughout the year during the harvest season.

Classification:  Plantae – Angiosperms – Monocots – Aspasagales – Amaryllidaceae – Allioidea – Allium – Tricoccum


RampsThis variant of the wild leek has light-green leaves that tend toward purple at the base.  The bulb of the ramp is like a scallion and like the scallion the leaves and bulb leaves are all edible.  The arrival of the ramp in the spring signified that the harsh winters were over and the people looked to the ramp as a good omen.  In fact, the vitamin content helped get many of the Appalachian settlers over colds and physical problems they had due to the lack of fresh vegetables during the winter.

The name ramp or ramps may come from the Old English word Ramson.  Either way, the people that came to the mountains from their homes in Scotland and Ireland certainly were familiar with wild onions and wild garlic that they had back in their homelands.  This familiarity made the ramp a treat in the spring.


The ramp grows in the dark and moist areas of the National Park.  You will probably see ramp and figure it is a wild onion.  Outside of the GSMNP, people grow the ramp on their property to sell during the traditional harvest time in the spring.


Ramps and EggsEach year in Cosby, TN and Waynesville, NC the ramp gets its own celebration.  The festivals have a lot in common.  Art and craft shows give the people booths to browse through as they become hungry waiting for the ramps to get ready to eat.  The ramp is prepared for consumption and of course you can buy some of this aromatic edible to take with you on the way home.  Get ready to taste Ramps and Eggs – one of the best ways to eat this interesting plant.

Indian Creek Trail

The Indian Creek Trail in the Smokies simply has it all – waterfalls, wildflowers, old Smoky Mountain home sites, a majestic stream valley, and all on a trail that only 3.6 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

To reach the Indian Creek Trail, you’ll need to make your way over to Bryson City, NC first, traveling toward the Deep Creek Campground. Once you’ve arrived there, park in the Deep Creek Trail parking area then hike a little under a mile on the Deep Creek Trail to the Indian Creek Trailhead.

Of course, this trail is primarily used by campers and hikers to get to Indian Creek Falls, and we don’t blame them. It’s quite a sight. It’s a 200-foot cascade and one of the most picturesque in the entire Smoky Mountain region.

Continuing on the trail past the falls, hikers will cross Indian Creek by bridge before reaching the part of the trail where Stone Pile Gap Trail takes a right at 0.5 miles in. If you decide to follow the Stone Pile Gap Trail at some point, it travels 0.9 miles up to the Thomas Divide Trail. Keeping on the Indian Creek Trail, you’ll notice more maples and oaks dotting the forest before meeting the creek.

Loop Trail comes into view 0.8 miles on Indian Creek Trail and once you’ve hiked around 1.5 miles the trail encircles what was once an early Smoky Mountain homestead. Moving along, you’ll pass four of these such sites: the Beard farmstead, the Widow Styles place, the Hardy Styles place, and the William Laney farm. At one point these properties all had houses, barns, and various other buildings, though no more. The only real markings that remain are the clearings.

The trail eventually meets up again with Indian Creek which flows into cascades and various whirling pools as you move along the trail. Wildflowers can be seen by the hundreds in this area of the park so be sure to pack a camera.

Passing the final farmstead, the Indian Creek Trail turns back into a wooded hike before crossing Indian Creek again by bridge. The trail goes on a reaches the Deeplow Gap Trail at 2.9 miles. Four more bridges make up the final mile of the trail before reaching the junction with the Martins Gap Trail. Enjoy your adventure in the Smokies!


The Oconaluftee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located on the North Carolina side of the park.  The Oconaluftee River valley widens form Smokemont to the Oconaluftee area.  The river is part of the reason that this area has been so vital to the history of the North Carolina side of the park.  People settled in this valley early on and in modern times it became the perfect place to have a visitors center for the People entering the GSMNP from the NC side of the mountains.

The Cherokee people are only known to have had one village inside the park boundaries.  It is believed to have been near the current boundaries of the National Park itself.  The Ocnaluftee area was used as a hunting ground for the Cherokee.  The word Oconaluftee comes from the Cherokee word for river.  As the early settlers moved into the area the found a valley that was easy to farm and had a ready supply of water available from the river.  John Mingus came to the area in the 1790s and was the first European settler in the Oconaluftee area.

In the present day Oconaluftee area there are several historic sites that you can visit.  One of the most interesting of these locations is Mingus Mill.  This mill was built in 1886 and named for John Mingus and his family that was still in the area up until the time of the creation of the GSMNP.  Instead of being the overshot water wheel like you see on other mills around the park (Cable’s Mill in Cades Cove).  Mingus Mill is turbine driven which though it is not nearly as iconic as the overshot wheels, it was much, more efficient and therefore more profitable.  This mill has been restored and you can walk around it and see how this early industrial tool worked for the people that live din the area.

Also, in the Oconaluftee area, there is a visitors center.  Including a small museum, a mountain farm museum and access to park rangers, the visitors center at Oconaluftee allows you to plan your excursion into the national park.  Talk to the rangers, make reservations for the various camping spots around the park, walk through the museum and learn more about the creation of the national park and the people that used to call this area home or maybe you want to head outside.  Behind the visitors center is a replica of a small mountain farm.  The early communities of the mountains lived in clusters of small farms.  The people would have enough livestock and farm land to support their families during the year and have a little left over to trade with their neighbors as the bartered for the goods they needed.

The Oconaluftee area of the GSMNP is the entrance for most people coming to the park from the North Carolina side.  As you pass through this beautiful area realize that you are passing through an area rich in history and amenities.  Stop at the visitors center, speak to the park rangers and explore the museum inside.  When you are done head outside and explore the mountain farm exhibit and then head into the park to Mingus Mill. Explore the Oconaluftee area and see everything that it has to offer.

Little River Road

Little River Road runs from the Sugarland Visitors Center to Cades Cove.  This 18 mile stretch of road runs along the Little River and is actually built on the former railroad bed that the Little River Lumber Company used in its heyday.  This is a very popular route through the National Park.  Passing by many of the popular haunts of visitors to the Smokies it is also one of the ways to get to Cades Cove.


  • Little River RoadElkmont – Elkmont, formerly a vacation spot for the elite from Knoxville, is one of the neatest places to visit in the Smokies.  The homes that the people lived in and vacationed in are still there.  Along with the the history there is also a campground located in Elkmont.
  • Tremont – Home to the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont, this has become a place of research and education in the Smoky Mountains.
  • The Townsend Wye – Where Lamar Alexander Parkway and Little River Road meet inside the GSMNP, is the Townsend Wye.  This is a starting point for a lot of people that love to tube in the Smokies it is also a great local swimming hole.
  • Laurel Falls – This may be the most popular trail in the Smokies and is certainly the site of the most viewed waterfall in the Smoky Mountains.
  • The Sinks – Another popular swimming hole in the Smokies, the sinks are also one of the places where you will catch people diving off the rocks into the crisp mountain water during the summer.  This is not a suggestion, as this is a very dangerous activity, merely a comment on what happens at this area of the park.


Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont

The first people to settle in the area that would become known as Tremont was William Marion Walker and his family.  Walker, who gave his name to the valley that Tremont is in, came to the live in the area and became a bit of a legend in his own time.  Known for his skills with a gun, this mountain man kept his family fed through beekeeping.  Supposedly he kept his hives of bees (over 100) without the use of a mask or smoke.  He pulled the honey from the hives and sold it to those people living in the nearby communities.

As Walker’s reputation grew, he opened up Walker Valley to tenant farmers who moved into the area and a small community was formed.  This community included farmers and even gristmills to help the farmers process their grains.  In the late 1890s the area of Walker Valley saw the first large scale logging operation move into the area. In 1901 WB Townsend opened the Little River Lumber Company.  This operation started to log heavily in what would become the GSMNP.  The people of the community of Walker Valley either moved out or found a livelihood off the logging camps.  The logging company combined the words tree and mountain to form a new name for the area:  Tremont.

Eventually, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park became a reality and Townsend sold the land of Tremont to the Department of the Interior who were establishing the boundaries of the National Park.  The Tremont area had been a home for logging and then a vacation site for people coming to the mountains during the summer.  With the establishment of the GSMNP, Tremont was a destination for people hiking but not much more… until 1969.

In 1969, Maryville College and the National Park Service founded the Tremont Environmental Education Center.  Over the years, this project has changed and it has changed names.  In 1980, the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association took control of this educational center and then in 1985 the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont was formed to further the education of people about this, the most visited national park in the country.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is located on the site of the old summer homes that were part of this area before the establishment of the park.  This facility now brings education opportunities to people of all ages.  The school age and above come to the institute to learn about the Smokies.  It is a residential location that allows day long and week long, overnight events.  Whether you are choosing to come and learn or donate your time to help keep the Tremont Institute a going concern, Tremont is a fantastic area in the Smokies.

Photographer’s Paradise

Fall FoliageThe Smoky Mountains truly are a photographers paradise.  From the wildlife that roams the area to the plants that help to make up the ecosystem to the formation of the mountains themselves, there is always something to take a picture of.  Getting out in the wilderness, driving through Cades Cove or taking one of the many hikes in the Smokies gets you into an environment to capture tremendous pictures.  If you are a photog, if you are someone that enjoys taking pictures, the Smokies hold all the wonder and excitement that you will be able to stand.

What to Bring:

  • SLR or DSLR Camera – Bring your phone camera for snapshots but if you are wanting to capture the best images that you can find, bring a good camera.  Also, if you are wanting to learn to use your camera and have a blast while you experiment,  the Smokies are one of the best places to break in new gear.
  • Tripod – For sunsets and low light conditions you are going to want a tripod.  The sunrises and sunsets in the Smoky Mountains are spectacular and a tripod will allow you to get those still images of the mountains that you will be showing off for years to come.
  • Hiking Boots and Clothes – Get off the beaten path.  If you see a tree that needs to have a picture taken of it.  Get out of the car and get up close.  Pull on the hiking boots and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and take a hike with your camera in hand.
  • Picnic and Plenty of Water – If you are really serious about taking pictures, you are going to be out in the wild for a while.  Bring a lunch and plenty of water and spend the day out in the elements.

Somethings to keep in Mind:

  1. If you can see it from your car… so has everyone else.  Get out of the car and get a different perspective on the scene you want to capture.
  2. Those baby bears are cute but I would bet that there mother is close by.
  3. Elk are not deer – they are bigger and much meaner.  They will charge you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get dirty.  Changing your perspective might mean the difference between a good picture and a great picture.
  5. If you have a macro lens, you have found your new home.  The opportunities for a macro photographer are second to none in the Smoky Mountains.  From insects and amphibians to plants and wildflowers, the shots are endless.

Ramsay Cascades

The rewards are great on this 8-mile round-trip hike in the Greenbrier section of the Park. The diligent hiker not only gets to enjoy the Ramsay Cascade falls–arguably the best waterfall in the Smokies– but also can view stands of old-growth trees which never suffered from the logger’s saw or the settler’s ax.

Summary: You have only to take this hike once to understand why it’s one of the most popular. The falls are ample reward not only for the hiker, but the artist and photographer as well. The trail starts out with a slight upgrade in the beginning, then becomes more challenging as you near the cascades. The latter portion of the trail is where you will find the old growth trees–some of which measure in record proportions. The round-trip is approximately 8 miles and can take a little over four hours, depending on whether you take children.

Directions: From Gatlinburg, drive east along US 321 (stop-light #3 in Gatlinburg) for approximately 6 miles. Turn right on Greenbrier Road and travel 3.1 miles along the Little Pigeon River to Greenbrier Cove. Turn left at Ramsay Prong Road and travel 1.5 miles to the parking area. The trail begins at the back of the parking area.

Your hike will start on the south side of the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River on the Ramsay Cascade Trail. You will cross the prong on a very long footbridge, and make your way past Ramsay Branch, which flows from Greenbrier Pinnacle on your left. At mile 1.5, the trail comes to a turnaround. The Greenbrier Pinnacle Trail turns off to the left. The Ramsay Cascade Trail continues forward and your climb becomes more steep.

Beside the Ramsay Prong is a primitive stand of chestnut oaks, poplars, black cherries, hemlocks, and yellow birch that forms a high canopy over the trail. Some of the largest chestnut oaks in the Smokies are found along this lower section of the trail. At higher elevations the black cherries and poplars grow to near-record sizes.

Shortly after the first crossing, the trail passes through a stand of cucumber trees. These trees are particularly enjoyable in the spring when they are sporting their bright, yellow blossoms. At the 2-mile point, before the trail crosses back to the Pinnacle Lead side of the creek, the undergrowth falls away, leaving the trail flanked by a grove of tall buckeyes, hemlocks, red maples, poplars, and tall black cherry trees, from which the section gets its name–the Cherry Orchard.

A winding passageway through huge boulders identifies the approach to Ramsay Cascades–arguably the most spectacular waterfall in the Park. Here, two streams converge to tumble nearly 100 feet over the eight stair-step ledges. It’s a marvelous place to spread out a lunch or set up the tripod and camera, or simply relax and recover from the trail.

The graded trail ends at the cascades (“Ramsay Cascades” by Gatlinburg watercolorist Vern Hippensteal at right), but more reward waits for the intrepid hiker, for approximately one-half mile above Ramsay Cascade–if you make your way through dense rhododendron–the trail approaches the creek at a memorable location known as Drinkwater Pool. Drinkwater Pool is the largest of a succession of basins on the Ramsay Prong, where the water collects in pools before continuing on to charm the visitors at the cascades. Drinkwater Pool is surrounded by ledges covered with overhanging rhododendron above which towers a stand of virgin birch. We stood in this area and imagined being the first to discover the sight. We are truly blessed to be able to enjoy such as this!

Don’t quit yet! About a half mile above Drinkwater Pool is a second cascade, which is higher and nearly as enjoyable as Ramsay Cascades. On the face of a two-hundred-foot cliff are more than a dozen small, wispy waterfalls. They catch the eye and hold it, for these falls are not aligned one after the other. Each fall has a separate ledge where the water pools before falling to the next.

For the hardiest of hikers, the Appalachian Trail waits above these falls—should you want to continue another 1.5 miles.

Greenbrier Auto Tour

Greenbrier Auto TourA lesser visited area of the Park, the Greenbrier section is one of our favorites. Besides the Ramsay Cascades, the visitor has the opportunity to view large stands of virgin growth such as northern red oak, eastern hemlock, and red maple. When the Park was created in 1934, old-growth forests were saved from the lumber companies and preserved for Smokies visitors.

The Greenbrier Valley is in the northern portion of the GSMNP.  The auto tour through Greenbrier is a little more rustic than the Blue Ridge or Newfound Gap but it is no less spectacular.  You drive through forests that have remained untouched for decades, maybe centuries. When you pull into Greenbrier you are pulling into history.  Here are some of the points of interest inside this 6 mile loop (some are on trails that break off from the auto tour):

  • John Messer Barn – This is the only remaining pre-park structure in the Greenbrier Cove.  Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, this double cantilever barn is a gem tucked into the mountains.
  • Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin (SMHC) – This cabin was constructed by the SMHC between 1934 and 1936.  This is one of the few structures in the park that was not built by the National Park Service.  Designed by the same architect that built some of the buildings for Arrowmont in Gatlinburg this was used by the SMHC until 1981.
  • Tyson McCarter Place – A Barn, a corn crib, a smokehouse and a springhouse are what remains of the Tyson McCarter Place. Located along the Old Settlers Trail, this area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976
  • Baxter Cabin – This is all that is left of the Baxter spread in the Greenbrier area.  Originally consisting of 2 cabins, a barn, a corn crib, smokehouse, hogpen, chicken house and blacksmith shop, this cabin and the chicken house were left.  In the 1950s the chicken house was moved to the Oconaluftee area to the Mountain Farm Museum.  This structure is typical of the homes in the mountains in the 1880s.

To get to Greenbrier Road, leave Gatlinburg at light #3 and head east on Hwy 321. Travel for approximately 7 miles and turn right on Greenbrier Road.