Elkmont Loop and Husky Branch Falls, Elkmont Campground - Jakes Creek Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Elkmont Loop and Husky Branch Falls - 5.6 Miles
Elkmont Campground - Jakes Creek Trailhead
Elkmont Loop and Husky Branch Falls
|Round-Trip Length:||5.6 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||2,325' - 2,325' (2,980' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+655 net elevation gain (+742' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
The Jakes Creek Trail, Cucumber Gap Trail, and Little River Trail form a 5.6 mile loop through the Elkmont Historic District and luxuriant hardwood forests of the Little River basin. Moderate grades and mild trail conditions are ideal for families and runners. Visitors will enjoy ecological diversity, Husky Branch Falls, and excellent fishing and swimming along Little River.
You may begin the Elkmont Loop at one of two trailheads on the south end of Elkmont Campground: Little River Trailhead or Jakes Creek Trailhead. The following description begins at Jakes Creek Trailhead and runs counter-clockwise, preferable for light crowds in the forest and easy, downstream travel beside Little River:
The Jakes Creek Trail rises gently by homes in the Elkmont Historic District to a gated split and veers left behind it (.35 miles : 2,410'). It continues steadily to the Cucumber Gap Trail split and veers left on steeper grades into an absorbing forest (.65 miles : 2,560').
The Cucumber Gap Trail narrows on smooth singletrack under a vine-draped canopy. It shifts quickly in a diverse hardwood forest accented by rhododendron, laurel, and a variously thick understory. The trail wraps around steep contours and deep coves between Burnt Mountain (3,373' - north), and Bent Arm ridge (4,219' - south). Look for bear, which are particularly common in this area.
The trail crests through Cucumber Gap (1.7 miles : 2,980') and drops on winding, moderate grades into the capacious Little River basin. It crosses Husky Branch - a relative trickle at this point (2.7 miles : 2,602') - and continues down to the Cucumber Gap Trail - Little River Trail junction (3.05 miles : 2,615'). Turn left on the Little River Trail to continue the loop.
The trail closely follows the river on wide, packed dirt to a bridge spanning the lower tier of Husky Branch Falls, which spill directly into Little River (3.4 miles : 2,592').
While arguably unremarkable, a short scramble leads to two hidden upper tiers that are highly worthwhile. Upper Husky Branch Falls tumble through tight quarters lined by rhododendron, mosses, and fern. Damp rock crevices in this secluded area are ideal places to find salamanders and skinks.
The main trail continues downstream with frequent access to idyllic pools, cascades, and fishing locales. Some small islands in the river can be reached with relative safety. Towering hardwoods line the way, notably uniform stands of yellow poplar, which are among the first trees to reclaim logged areas.
The trail glides easily back to the Elkmont Historic District and Little River Trailhead (5.45 miles : 2,278'). Continue on the access road back to Jakes Creek Trailhead to complete the loop (5.6 miles : 2,325').
About the Elkmont Historic District
Buildings in the Elkmont Campground area were once part of the Appalachian Club vacation community. It formed near the logging town of Elkmont when the Little River Lumber Company sold land to individuals to create a private social and hunting club. It soon became a summer escape for affluent Knoxville families.
In the 1920s and 30s when Tennessee and North Carolina were acquiring property for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, most of these homes were purchased outright, and residents required to vacate upon transfer of deeds. However some Elkmont Club and town residents negotiated lower payments in exchange for life time leases on their property. Leases for all but two expired in 1992, and the last in 2001.
In 1982 the Park management plan called for the removal of structures upon lease expiration, and the area to be rehabilitated to its natural state. In 1994, Elkmont was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district, granting it special status and pre-empting that action. A study currently is underway to determine the future management of the Elkmont District.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N35 39.110 W83 34.890 — 0.0 miles : Jakes Creek Trailhead
- N35 38.624 W83 34.960 — .65 miles : Jakes Creek - Cucumber Gap Trail split
- N35 38.536 W83 34.652 — 1.0 miles : Steady climb on soft path in dense forest
- N35 38.452 W83 34.299 — 1.5 miles : Near crest on Cucumber Gap
- N35 38.416 W83 33.863 — 2.0 miles : Winding descent through busy understory
- N35 38.338 W83 33.383 — 2.5 miles : Valley opens into wide river basin
- N35 38.168 W83 32.922 — 3.05 miles : Cucumber Gap - Little River Trail junction
- N35 38.325 W83 33.079 — 3.4 miles : Bridge over middle tier of Husky Branch Fall
- N35 38.795 W83 33.396 — 4.0 miles : Mild downhill travel beside Little River
- N35 39.018 W83 33.871 — 4.5 miles : Level travel beside Little River
- N35 39.204 W83 34.781 — 5.4 miles : Little River Trailhead
- N35 39.110 W83 34.890 — 5.6 miles : Jakes Creek Trailhead
- Five forest types within the park support over 1,500 species of flowering plants and at least 4,000 non-flowering varieties. There are 100 native tree species and over 100 native shrub species associated with 5 distinct forest types. The Elkmont Loop passes primarily through Northern Hardwood Forests, with some exposure to Pine-Oak forests on drier slopes.
- Ideal habitat and proximity to the Elkmont Campground attracts bears to this area. Be mindful of your surroundings, and follow proper protocols if encountered.
- These are popular trails located in a busy campground. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- There are no designated backcountry campsites or shelters on the Elkmont Loop Trail.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit for all backcountry camping in the park. Backcountry permits are free and available at 14 visitor centers, campgrounds, and park office locations.
- Permit registration facilities are open 24 hours a day. Permits must be picked up in the park at designated locations. They are not available on the internet or through email.
- Advance reservations are required to camp at all Shelters and Backcountry Campsites 9, 10, 13, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 36, 37, 38, 46, 47, 50, 55, 57, 60, 61, 71, 83, 86, 90, 113.
- Reservations for backcountry campsites may be obtained only by calling the Backcountry Office (865.436.1231). They are not available online or through email.
- If you do not plan to camp at a shelter or reserved campsite, then you only need to complete a permit.
- There is a 3 consecutive night stay maximum at any given campsite, and 1 night maximum at any shelter. The use of tents at shelters is prohibited. The maximum group size is 8 persons for sites and shelters.
- Open fires are prohibited except at designated sites and in established fire rings.
- All food and trash must be suspended at least 10' off the ground and 4' from the nearest limb or trunk, or stored as otherwise designated (e.g. bear box).
- The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily.
- Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.
- The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
- A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.
- Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
- Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.
- Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.
Rules and Regulations
- It is illegal to move, remove, or enter historical objects and structures within the Park unless otherwise noted. Enjoy historical remains from a distance.
- Horses are not permitted on the Elkmont Loop as described above. Horses are permitted on the Jakes Creek Trail.
- There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.
- Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but are not allowed on park trails.
The Elkmont Loop Trail begins on the south end of Elkmont Campground, 7 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. You may begin the loop at one of two trailheads connected by an access road: Little River Trailhead or Jakes Creek Trailhead.
From Sugarlands Visitor, travel 4.9 miles west on Little River Road to the Elkmont Campground turnoff (south side of road). Continue south into Elkmont Campground for 1.5 miles to the split for Little River and Jakes Creek Trailheads.
Veer left and travel .6 miles to the Little River Trailhead, or continue another .15 miles to the Jakes Creek Trailhead. Note that no matter where you start, you must walk this short piece of road to complete the loop.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Visitor Information - Recorded Message
Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)
Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)
Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)
Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)