In the busiest national park in the country, seeing more than 12 million visitors in 2019, it can sometimes seem difficult to find secluded places to visit. When some time apart from others and feeling like you have the entire trail to yourself is what you desire, we’ve got you covered. Check out our top 7 picks for seclusion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Walker Sister’s Cabin
While the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1928, many people don’t realize that people were living in the Smokies up until the 1990s! Some inhabitants of the land that now comprises the park were allowed to stay in their homes, despite being annexed into the park. The Walker Sisters were among those people. Living in their cabin in Little Greenbrier until the 1960s, the Walker sisters lived a primitive lifestyle while the world around them modernized.
You can visit this beautiful cabin with outbuildings from Metcalf Bottoms, easily accessed from Townsend, TN – “the quiet side of the Smokies”.
To reach the Walker Sister’s Cabin, you’ll have two options:
- Take the Metcalf Bottoms Trail. This trail is located on Wear Cove Road, just over the wooden vehicle bridge from the campground. This option adds an additional 1.5 miles round trip.
- Park at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse parking area. This is a one-lane road with two-way traffic and can be busy in the peak of summer and fall, so plan accordingly.
To reach the cabin from the Schoolhouse, take the Little Brier Gap Trail. This trail is an old road bed. It’s wide and well-worn, making a great walk for all the members of your family. Enjoy the sounds of the nearby streams as you hike. It is approximately 1.1 miles from the schoolhouse to the Walker Sister’s Cabin.
When you head back to the homesite, you’ll pass the springhouse and corn crib on your way. Feel free to explore the grounds of the old farm and imagine what it was like for these five sisters living in the cove.
Return back to your car the way you came, or make it a loop hike by heading uphill to the trail junction at The Little Greenbrier Trail. Take a left here and follow the trail for 2 miles back to the road. Follow the road back to your car. The loop is a total of approximately 5.5-6 miles.
Find out more details about the Walker Sisters, their cabin, and their legacy here.
Spruce Flats Falls
The Smokies is home to many waterfalls, but sometimes trekking to a waterfall can be crowded. Spruce Flats Falls is a wonderful hidden gem just outside of the Tremont Institute.
This area is steeped in history of some of the Smokies’ original inhabitants and was even the site of a CCC camp.
From the parking lot at the Tremont Institute, head up the hill approximately 25 yards. You’ll see the Buckeye Trail heads off to the right. Take this trail to reach your destination.
The Buckeye Trail is not on any park map, but don’t worry – it’s easy to follow. The wide and well-worn path travels uphill, steeply in spots, and can be rocky and root-filled. When you reach the top of the first hill, stop and take in the view of the lumbering Rocky Top and the Appalachian Trail – the large mountain looming above you.
From here, head downhill now, walking down a unique foot log and making your way carefully through the roots. The rushing sound of the waterfall gets louder as you reach your destination.
Spruce Flats Falls is a series of cascades – a total of four – with a total drop of approximately 30 feet. Many visitors prefer to enjoy the top two tiers. It’s a great place to cool off on a warm summer afternoon.
Return to your vehicle the way you came. The trail is approximately 1.6 miles round trip.
Find out more about the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont here.
Lynn Camp Prong Cascades or Thunderhead Prong
Keeping near the Tremont area, you can find Lynn Camp Prong Cascades and the Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway.
Instead of turning in to the Tremont Institute, continue 3 miles up the gravel road until it ends at the Middle Prong Trailhead. Cross the large, wide bridge to the fork in the trail and follow the river. At the fork, go to your left to stay on Middle Prong Trail and see Lynn Prong Cascades.
Walk a well-graded 0.4 miles until you see a bench on the trail and the cascades will be on your left. Enjoy the view from here, or walk another quarter mile up the trail and see a few more smaller cascades. Return back to your car the way you came.
If you haven’t had enough hiking after seeing the cascade, head to the right side of the fork up the Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway. Quiet Walkways in the park have no specific destination in mind and are designed for you to turn around when YOU’RE ready.
This trail is a total of 0.7 miles in one direction with a foot bridge in place over the largest of the stream crossings. Continue out to the end of the walkway and you’ll end at a bubbling mountain stream. To return to your car from this point makes the trail a 1.5 mile round-trip hike.
Midnight Hole & Mouse Creek Falls
Located just over the state line in the North Carolina section of the park you’ll find Big Creek and Midnight Hole. Big Creek is an often-overlooked, small, and beautiful group camping and day picnicking spot locals love, and is very often never crowded.
Taking Big Creek Trail, you’ll be welcomed to the woods on a wide, well-graded trail that once served as a logging railroad bed before the national park was created. This gentle grade is a pleasant walk in the forest with plenty of birdsong and the sound of water to keep you company.
At approximately 1.4 miles, you’ll see the side trail to Midnight Hole on your left. Head down to the river and see a small cascade and the deep pool – a stunning dark blue or bright emerald green depending on when you visit.
Take a dip in the stream (keep a close eye on children as the current can be strong) and enjoy a summer afternoon.
When you’re done swimming and splashing, be sure to check out Mouse Creek Falls less than half a mile ahead on the left. Continue your walk up the old rail grade until you see the hitching post. Just beyond the hitching post, you’ll see a trail off to the left heading over to the stunning 45-foot waterfall emerging from the moss covered rocks and lush trees.
Return to your car the way you came. It’s a total of almost 4 miles to the waterfall and back; approximately 3 miles if you just go to Midnight Hole.
From exit 451 – Waterville Road, on I-40, you’ll follow the signs from the exit over the state line into North Carolina. Drive next to the Pigeon River and follow the road until it comes to a four-way intersection. Go straight through the intersection and you’ll see the Big Creek sign just ahead. Driving back a little further, just before you get to the parking area you’ll see the trailhead for Big Creek Trail on your right.
Abrams Falls the “back way”
Abrams Falls is one of the most popular sites in Cades Cove. Parking and crowds can be a challenge when you do this busy day hike. But, did you know there’s a “back” way to avoid the crowds?
If you’re a stronger hiker and are prepared for a full day of hiking, the “back way” to Abrams Falls is a little more than 10 miles round trip, and begins at the Abrams Creek Ranger Station.
Note: If you’re not camping at the campground, you’ll need to park in the hiker parking lot here and walk the road, which does add an extra mile to the hike.
Hop on the Cooper Road Trail at the back of the campground and follow the wide, well-graded road bed for nearly 1 mile to the junction of campsite 1 and Little Bottoms Trail. Turn right at Little Bottoms Trail and begin an uphill climb to a ridge with plenty of American Chestnut saplings. You’ll soon head downhill and next to Abrams Creek.
Pass campsite 17 and continue until you come to the Abrams Falls Trail junction. Continue straight at this junction and follow this trail until you see the junction with the waterfall a little more than 5 total miles in.
Abrams Falls may only be 20 feet high, but due to the deep pool underneath it’s a thundering sound to hear. Back in 2008, Backpacker Magazine listed this as one of the 10 Most Dangerous Trails in America due to the high number of downings in this pool. So avoid swimming here.
Cosby Nature Trail
For a family hike everyone will enjoy, you’ve got to check out the quiet and secluded Cosby Nature Trail. This one-mile loop has foot bridges to help you keep feet dry, but is also streamside for those who don’t mind really getting close to nature.
Following the loop takes you through the woods and past rock walls. These walls mark former homesites of the settlers who lived in this valley after the Cherokee and before the National Park came in to existence. With plenty of opportunity to splash in the water and explore the surrounding trails, you can make this 1 mile loop longer by exploring the Low Gap Trail on the way back to the car.
For the experienced hiker, Mt. Cammerer in Cosby offers solitude, challenging trail, and breathtaking views. This 11.1-mile round trip hike takes you up one of the steepest trails in the park. Along the way, you’ll even set foot on the famous Appalachian Trail.
From Low Gap Trail, you’ll immediate begin a steep hike uphill for a total of 2.5 miles before reaching the Appalachian Trail. Grab a breath here at the trailhead and follow the AT to the left. The famous white blazes will be your guide for 2.1 miles until you reach the Mount Cammerer Trail on your left. It’s only 0.6 miles to the terminus of the trail from here.
When you reach the end of the trail, after a few ups and downs and one rocky section, you’ll be treated to a “western style” fire tower – the only one of it’s kind in the park. The round tower has 360-degree windows and a deck for views all the way around.
Return to your car the way you came to make the hike a total of approximately 11.1 miles.
Book Your Stay
After a beautiful day in the Smoky Mountains, you’ll need a comfortable place to stay. Keep the solitude and book yourself a secluded Gatlinburg or secluded Pigeon Forge cabin with American Patriot Getaways. Our properties even offer a steamy hot tub on your cabin’s porch to allow for a little more relaxation and pampering after you’ve been out on the trails all day. Take in the mountain views from your private deck and enjoy a meal on your cabin’s grill or in the fully equipped kitchen.
With so many secluded locations to visit in the Smokies, you’ll feel like you had the mountains all to yourself on your next vacation.