It’s easy to miss the Elkmont Historic District even if you’re an avid traveler through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But after your first visit, it will become a destination you’ll return to every time you enter the national park. That’s exactly what happened with me – and years later I still return for a walk through Daisy Town.
What is the Elkmont Historic District?
The Elkmont Historic District is a section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that includes a campground, Daisy Town, and hiking trails. The area began in 1908 as a logging village by the Little River Lumber Company. Small box houses were shipped in on railroad cars, off loaded on either side of the tracks, and served as home for the lumberjacks.
The Elkmont Campground is one of ten “frontcountry” campgrounds in the national park. It’s the closest located to Gatlinburg – about twenty minutes away on Little River Road.
After turning off Little River Road, the road winds along the river for about a mile. Ahead, you will see the entrance station for the campground. But for an adventure in the Elkmont Historic District, stay to the left. The road passes around the campground to a parking area, and then loops through Daisy Town. You have arrived.
Elkmont Nature Trail
The first parking area in the Elkmont Historic District is for the 0.8-mile Elkmont Nature Trail. The easy trail loops around a small creek and takes about ten or fifteen minutes to walk. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and easily accessible from the campground.
Little River Trail
The second parking area – just after crossing a small bridge – is for accessing the Little River Trail. The 4.9-mile out-and-back trail winds along the bank of the Little River, ending at a backcountry campsite called Three Forks.
Along the way, the trail passes Husky Branch Falls and Upper Little River Falls – both waterfalls are small but still interesting to visit. The beginning of the trail, however, passes through a more interesting area.
A dull pink one-story house on the left side of the trail stands out as something peculiar in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That’s because it predates the founding of the park. The home is the only remaining structure along the Little River Trail from a time period when wealthy visitors from Knoxville visited as a summer retreat.
Keep an eye out for the remains of former structures along the first half mile of the trail. All that remains of those former cabins are gorgeous stone chimneys towering over remnants of something forgotten long ago.
About 2.2 miles from the trailhead you’ll find Huskey Branch Falls, a nice 20′ cascade among giant boulders. A footbridge crosses over the top of the waterfall and gives you another perspective to enjoy the sight.
Just beyond the waterfall is the junction with Cucumber Gap Trail. From here you are 2.5 miles from the trailhead. This makes a good turn around point to hike back to your parked car. After all you don’t want to miss Daisy Town.
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The annual synchronous fireflies event has grown in popularity in recent years – leading it to become something I no longer recommend for visitors to the national park.
Each year for about two weeks sometime between the third week of May and third week of June, thousands of fireflies synchronize their light flashing patterns as a mating call. It is a spectacular event – one I have not been able to witness.
With the advent of social media – particularly Instagram – the popularity of the event went viral. After a year during which thousands of people descended on the Elkmont Historic District and trampled the Little River Trail, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park took full control of the event.
Vehicles are no longer allowed in the historic district after dark during the event. Instead, visitors need to purchase a $2 pass to ride a shuttle bus from nearby Sugarlands Visitor Center. However, as the popularity of the event grew beyond capacity, the national park had to institute a lottery system for gaining passes. The lottery passes cost an additional $25.
The final parking area is the largest and the point where you would park to take a stroll through Daisy Town. The town is a collection of late 1800s and early 1900s cabins leftover from the time of logging and recreation before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established.
The buildings were moved by railroad or constructed on site. The Appalachian Club – a large building at one end of the town – was built as a lodge and eventually used as a community building. Today, that original clubhouse has been renovated as an event rental space.
The one-lane road passing through Daisy Town is open for pedestrians and vehicles alike. It’s often a peaceful stroll through the old town. Most of the buildings are off limits – dilapidated and unsafe – but others have recently been renovated. The national park’s plan is to rent the cabins as overnight lodgings in the near future – a future in which I will be booking a stay just as soon as possible.