Smoky Mountain loop hikes are popular options for day hikers and backpackers alike. On a particularly sunny day in late November I set out on this 17.7 mile trek starting on Jakes Creek Trail near the Elkmont Campground. The other four trails that make up this loop include Miry Ridge, Lynn Camp Prong, Middle Prong and Panther Creek.
Elkmont Ghost Town
To start this Smoky Mountain loop hike you'll park next to some of the old vacation homes that make up Elkmont Ghost Town. The first 0.4 mile stroll on an old paved road goes through the remains of stone chimneys from the old Elkmont community; it was once called Daisy Town. You'll also pass a green house that was once leased by Col. David Chapman.Show Photos & Info
Below are transcriptions of some of the information provided on signs around this area. Click the titles to read more.
Back To Nature
In this small valley, where the Little River and Jakes Creek converge, lie the vestiges of Daisy Town, one of several resort enclaves established in the early 20th century by urban dwellers who crave the natural beauty and refreshing climate of the Great Smoky Mountains.
As you look down this road lined with cottages, imagine a time 100 years ago when visitors arrived by rail, seeking refuge from the pollution and sweltering heat of the city. This summer resort community offered a temporary escape from day-to-day routines and responsibilities. Families played outdoor sports, socialized at the clubhouse, or relaxed on their porches.
"I tell you something about Elkmont. It's a magical place. When I come up here I feel close to God. I love this place, my favorite place in the world to be." - Eddie Tipton, Elkmont Resident
Col. David Chapman was appointed first commissioner of the State of Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains National Park Commission to purchase land fro the proposed park. While some federal money was used in the latter stages of land acquisition, much of the funding came from the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, along with a matching $5 million from the Rockefeller Foundation.
National Forest or National Park?
The house before you was once leased by Col. David Chapman. A successful Knoxville Businessman and a member of the Appalachian Club, he became a driving force in the effore to create Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Not everyone agreed with his vision, however. One opponent was James B. Wright, a fellow member of the Appalachian Club, dedicated conservationist and attorney for the Little River Lumber Company. Wright advocated making the Smokies a national forest, which would allow for continued logging.
Protection of the forest prevailed and Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established in 1934. For his work in making the park a reality, Col. Chapman was given a lease to this cabin by the Tennessee Park Commission.
What's The Difference?
National parks focus on strict preservation of natural areas "unimpaired for future generations." Park rangers work for the National Park Service, in the Department of Interior. National forests are managed for multiple uses - providing a variety of services and commodities including lumber, grazing, and minerals. Forest Rangers work for the U.S. Forest Service, in the Department of Agriculture.
Letter from the Department of the Interior
This letter to Chapman from the Assistant Director of the National Park Service contains a veiled reference to John D. Rockefeller who provided funding that helped create this park.
Department of the Interior
Personal and confidential: 9-6-27
I've been keeping in touch with a New York friend regarding a prospective donation toward the Big Smokies park project, and have just had a letter promising his cooperation. Going a bit farther than that he has interested also another one of the richest men of the country in the matter. I am going to Maine about the middle of the month on a trip whose object will partly be clinching this matter, and am scouting to New York Thursday night for a conference with Major Welch to find out how much he has secured so that I can tell my friends what the balance is.
Things are looking better all the time.
Awfully sorry about Mrs. Johnson's passing - she left her mark in many ways, particularly in the fine things her many friends say about her and her many fine qualities. My sincerest sympathy to your wife.
Have just returned from Yellowstone and Glacier and am snowed under, so no more than this line at this time.
Wish me luck, old top.
Jakes Creek Trail (3.7)
Upon reaching the hiking portion of Jakes Creek Trail you will slowly start to feel the incline that makes up most of this hike. It starts off pretty moderately, but once you find the first stream crossing the trail starts to feel fairly difficult. You will continue to ascend until you reach Jakes Gap and the junction with Miry Ridge and Panther Creek trails.Jakes Creek Trail
Miry Ridge Trail (2.5)
Take a left on Miry Ridge toward the Appalachian Trail. For this Smoky Mountain loop hike you will only complete half of this trail. The first mile continues to climb uphill before leveling out nicely and eventually descending. At mile 1.2 you'll find a rocky knob on your left. Climb up some of the rocks for the best views of this entire hike.Miry Ridge Trail
June 2023 Update: The vantage point described above is the peak of Dripping Spring Mountain. In the summer you will find this area covered with blooming rhododendrons and mountain laurel. This makes for a nice spot to stop for lunch.
Lynn Camp Prong (3.7)
After 2.5 miles you will turn onto Lynn Camp Prong, a pretty forested trail with many stream crossings. You will continue to descend through this trail and the next; the incline is very manageable. We stopped for lunch here at one of the water crossings with ample amounts of large rocks to hop across and sit upon.Lynn Camp Prong Trail
Middle Prong (1.8)
Middle Prong Trail is a lovely and easy hike along a gorgeous mountain stream. We only had to hike 1.8 miles of it for this Smoky Mountain loop and didn't get the chance to see Indian Flats Falls. You can tell the relatively flat trail used to be a road; it's wide enough for a group to walk side by side. There are plenty of great spots for spectacular photos around the water.Middle Prong Trail
At this point my hiking companion and I were actually feeling a little bored with the trail and craving something a bit more challenging. I knew our biggest challenge had yet to come: the 2.3 miles up Panther Creek Trail, the steepest of all five trails that make up this Smoky Mountain loop.
Panther Creek (2.3)
Nearly 12 miles into our hike, we were faced with an unbridged river immediately after completing Middle Prong. Not a stream; a river. Panther Creek Trail is actually host to 10 different water crossings. The other 9 are easy to rock hop across, but the river is much trickier. Note for next time: bring extra socks. My calves and feet were soaked for the remainder of our journey.Panther Creek Trail
June 2023 Update: After hiking Panther Creek Trail a second time, I can confirm that this particular water crossing isn't always such a "river". It's actually Lynn Camp Prong, and it was easy to rock hop after a dry period. The first time I did it must have been after plenty of rain.
Panther Creek Trail was undoubtedly the hardest part of our hike. We had made excellent time up until that point, but the relentless and discouraging incline of this portion of the Smoky Mountain loop required us to take a handful of breaks before finally reaching the top. The trailhead marking the junction with Miry Ridge and Jakes Creek trails was a welcome site.
Back Down Jakes Creek
To complete this nearly 18 mile hike we traveled back down Jakes Creek and through the Elkmont remains. This was definitely a great hike that I would do again. Late November ended up being an odd season for the trail combo; I definitely would like to do it again (maybe the opposite direction) as a summer hike. The rhododendron tunnels and tall trees would provide lots of great shade, and the stream crossings would be a treat.
June 2023 Update: Nearly 3 years after hiking this loop for the first time, I have realized that the route from Jakes Creek is the much more difficult version of this hike. Starting it from Middle Prong Trail makes a lot more sense; it's a single, gradual climb for about 9 miles to the peak of Dripping Spring Mountain (on Miry Ridge Trail) followed by a 5.9 mile descent for 14.9 miles total. It's much more enjoyable than the up-down-up-down route starting from Jakes Creek Trail.
Caroline's GSM Hike Log