Little River Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Trail characteristics from trailhead to the 5,075 foot distance
Type of Trail Out and Back
Length 5,075 feet before it gets steeper
Trail surface Broken asphalt with >0.5 in. gravel cover for the first
¼ mile, then compacted medium gravel
Surface firmness Firm
Trail width 90 inches +
Maximum grade 8.9 % over 10-foot section
Typical grade < 3% to 7%
Typical cross slope 2%
Maximum cross slope 3.6 %
The Little River Trail begins just past the Elkmont Campground. Elkmont is an old lumbering, summer home, and resort area. The National Park Service does not list this trail as accessible. However, with cautions described below, this trail can be used by many adaptive hikers.
The trail begins along an abandoned access road to the old Elkmont summer home area. Elkmont became part of the national park as lifetime leases the original families ended. There is handicap parking at the trailhead and new accessible restrooms are nearby at the old “Appalachian Club” event center. To find them follow signs to “additional parking” past the trailhead.
Except for one original home that has been restored, the summer home remains have recently been removed except for safe reminders of where they were located. They provide an interesting aspect of this national park trail. Past the handful of ghost home sites, the trail runs adjacent to the cascades of the Little River as it churns over mossy rocks.
The trail surface from the trailhead gate is broken, remnant asphalt with medium aggregate cover (<0.5 in). Past the home sites (about ¼ mile), the trail is compacted medium aggregate with occasional rocks poking through. The surface is compacted firm because the NPS uses this trail for vehicle ranger patrols to a point where the trail is blocked with a boulder (at 5,076 feet distance). Beyond the boulder the trail steepens to non-accessible standards of 11.1% running slope with up to 7.1% cross slope.
We like the Little River Trail because of its scenery, river sounds, gentle slope, surface compactness, and solitude. We saw deer and turkeys. Unlike other trails described here in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is no adjacent highway with its visual and sound pollution.
Accessibility characteristics could easily be improved to the 5,075-foot distance by grading out the protruding rocks and broken asphalt, and applying a topcoat of compacted fine aggregate. This trail would then provide a more meaningful experience for those with disabilities, consistent with the historic and natural significance of the national park.
How to get there: The Little River Trail can be accessed from Gatlinburg by following US-441 into the park to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center follow signs toward Cades Cove to the west on Little River Road. In about seven miles, follow the sign toward Elkmont Campground. From the Elkmont Ranger Station follow signs toward the Nature Trail and find parking. There are two “accessible parking’ parking spots across the road from the trailhead gate.
From Wear Valley, Tennessee, take Wear Gap Road to Little River Road and turn left. Turn right at the sign for Elkmont Campground.
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