Little River Trail is perfect for people with no hiking experience. We recommend it for families, and it’s a great trail for all ages, although not suitable for baby strollers or wheelchairs. There’s no need for hiking boots or any other special gear beyond a small backpack, some water bottles, and maybe some snacks. Wearing sneakers and shorts is fine.
Many people walk as far as the place where the Little River Trail crosses the Cucumber Gap Trail, and then they turn back and return, for a walk that is just under five miles round-trip. For this leg of the trail, there is a gradual elevation gain on the way out, and a relaxing down-slope on the return journey. The path is wide enough for people to walk side-by-side, and it has easy footing; the well-maintained trail was an old gravel railroad bed and road used for logging in the early 1900s.
If you are feeling more ambitious, you can continue the walk instead of turning back. There are many connecting trails to choose from. You could also go out on the Little River Trail and return on the Cucumber Gap Trail for a more challenging loop walk that is longer and harder than going both ways on the Little River Trail alone.
Although the trail is easy, walkers are richly rewarded with beautiful sights, sounds, and aromas. Throughout this leg, the trail runs alongside or near a pretty cascading stream where water rushes over large boulders. You will pass several small waterfalls. At 2.2 miles in, shortly before the turnaround point, you will cross a small footbridge that goes over Huskey Branch Falls, a 20-foot waterfall. There are also plenty of places along the river where you can stop and fish or dip your feet into the rushing water. You might even spot a river otter!
The trail offers different special treats for its visitors in different seasons. Mid-March through April is the Park’s famous wildflower season. You’ll see a host of wildflowers and maybe some butterflies as you walk along the trail. In the early summer, you may be lucky enough to see the renowned synchronous fireflies, where male fireflies flashing in unison create an unusual light show. The foliage along the path in spring and summer is a lush green that erupts into spectacular colors starting in October. At any time, you might see wildlife, including deer or turkeys.
An unusual feature of this trail is the sight of old ruined cottages that provide a taste of history. These were the summer resort homes of wealthy people from Knoxville, built in the 1920s. You can’t go inside – in fact there are severe penalties for trespassing in these historic buildings – but you can admire the cottages’ striking exteriors as you pass by. The trail is also known for the “troll bridge” a little off the trail – it’s unmarked but can be discovered by the adventurous, taking the gravel path to the right that appears just a few hundred feet into the trail.
Directions: Drive to the Elkmont Campground. Turn left at the entrance and drive 0.6 miles to the trail-head’s parking area. When you are done with your Little River Trail walk, there are lots of other great things to do in the Elkmont area, including exploring the nearby town of Gatlinburg.