On the Townsend side of the Smokies you’ll find one of the most charming sections of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. An area that was once a hustling and bustling logging community – complete with hotel, post office and tiny homes… Yes, tiny homes – before they were hip. You’ll find an area that once belonged to the Little River Lumber Company in the early 1900’s. In the 1930’s the area was a CCC camp for close to 200 men that built many of the trails and roads that we use now. Tucked away, just .2 miles from the WYE and very close to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park… You’ll find Tremont.
Tremont is the perfect location to escape from the crowd, fly fish, explore, take your children salamandering, hike to hidden history and breathtaking waterfalls. It is also home to one of the most beautiful backcountry campsites in the park. Tremont is by far one of the most perfect places in the GSMNP to connect to nature, in which ever of the following ways that you choose:
Trails of Tremont:
West Prong Trail
West Prong Trail is the first trailhead that you’ll come to on Tremont Road.. It’s located on the right, 2 miles into Tremont Road.
West Prong is a 2.7 mile trail that is absolutely gorgeous any time of the year. The best part? 2 miles in is backcountry campsite #18 – by far one of the most lush and gorgeous campsites in the Smokies.
Once you begin on West Prong, you’ll see two side trails to the right – both trails will take you to a maintained cemetery. Stay on the main trail to continue on West Prong.
At 1 mile, you’ll come to a junction with a trail that is no longer maintained by the park but is used by the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. It is at this junction that you’ll begin your 1 mile descent to campsite #18. This is the perfect campsite for your first back country trip – due to only being 2 miles from the parking area. #18 is also a wonderful area for a day hike. It’s a large area with 3 campsites and a log footbridge running over middle prong that works it’s way through the middle of the camping area. It’s a great spot for a picnic, to cool off or to just soak up the serenity of the mountains. In the summer, the area is often filled with hundreds of butterflies and bright orange mushrooms lining the the prong. At mile 2, when you reach the campsite.. You can choose to stay there and then return to the parking area when finished. You can also continue on the main trail until it connects to the Bote Mountain Trail. Once to Bote Mountain, you can hike down to Laurel Creek Road – approximately 1 mile away. Up for a longer hike? 6 more miles up will take you to Spence Field. If you want to skip both of those options, turn around and return to the parking area for a round trip hike of 5.4 miles.
Middle Prong Trail
Middle Prong is the trail to visit if you’re looking for an 8 mile round trip hike filled with waterfalls, cascades and history.
You’ll find the trailhead for Middle Prong at the end of the 3 mile gravel portion of Tremont Road. As you pull in, you’ll see a wooden bridge in front of you and parking to the right. Once parked, you’ll cross over the bridge to the trailhead. You’ll see trails on the other side of the bridge, Middle Prong is the trail to your left – it’s a wide trail, due to once being an railroad bed. The area was once a very busy place. In the early 1900’s Little River Lumber Company logged the area, they even set up a town – Stringtown.. Complete with a hotel, post office and small homes for employees families.
For the next two miles on the trail, you’ll pass by beautiful water areas, including a waterfall – as the trail takes you along the Lynn Camp Prong. At mile 2, you’ll see a pile of rocks in the middle of the trail with a small side trail to your right. This trail will lead you to an old Cadillac, most likely from the 1920’s or 1930’s. It is believed to have belonged to a member of the CCC(Civilian Conservation Corps) that was one of the close to 200 men that set up camp there in the mid 1930’s. The group of men that built many of the trails and roads that we use today.
After you check out the Cadillac, continue on the mail trail. You’ll soon come to a switchback on the trail and then pass over a very charming and wide wooden bridge. This bridge crosses over Indian Flats Prong, the water flowing under the bridge is coming from one of the most tranquil waterfalls in the park, Indian Flats Falls. Keep an eye out past the bridge for an unmarked side trail on the right – at the top of the switchback. This side trial will take you to Indian Flats Falls, within just a few minutes. Be prepared to have your chin drop – it’s absolutely perfect and better than words or photos could ever describe. However, as you stand in awe – watch your step.. The salamanders think it’s the perfect place to call home as well. Have a picnic, relax by the falls and then return to the parking area to complete your 8 mile hike.
Spruce Flats Falls
Spruce Flats Falls is also located in Tremont and is one of the nicer falls in the park as well. If you go to Middle Prong, you’ll actually pass the base of Spruce Flats flowing into the river to your left. Spruce Flats however, is not located on the park map. To access the trail to the falls, you’ll need to park near the Tremont gift shop. A little tip, the restroom at the gift shop is always open, even when the shop isn’t. A flushing toilet and running water next the the trail is something to celebrate, take advantage. The trail to Spruce Flats is only 2 miles long, however – be prepared with sturdy shoes and water. The trail does get rocky and steep in some areas. To begin the trail, walk up the paved area of the road going towards the GSMIT – once the pavement ends, the trail begins to your left. You’ll come to two junctions with other trails, at both – stay to your right. As your ascending the trail, you’ll get a beautiful view of Thunderhead Mountain to your right.
At a little over a half of a mile, you’ll begin the steep descent to the falls. The falls has many levels, however the main portion is 30ft high. Once you’ve finished exploring the waterfall, return the way you came and complete the 2 mile hike by stopping by the Tremont gift shop and supporting the amazing work being done at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
The Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont
The GSMIT is the only private, non-profit Residential Learning Environment inside of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. For 38 years GSMIT has been working to connect people of all ages to nature and to grow a love of learning through nature in our communities. With a 500,000 acre outdoor classroom, 4 seasons and 30+ programs in addition to their school group experiences. The GSMIT is the heart of Tremont. The trails, the waterfalls, the campsite and all of the beauty surrounding you in Tremont, is their classroom. GSMIT offers a wide variety of programs, including but not limited to: Teacher Workshops, Discovery Camps, Girls In Science Camp, Wilderness Treks, Backcountry Expeditions, Family Camp, Adult Hiking and Backpacking, Naturalist Certification, Wilderness First Responder courses, Photography Workshops and so much more. It’s where the fire inside begins, where the mountains become home for so many youth – from all over the country. Many youth that attend camp thanks to the need-based financial aid that Tremont is able to offer with the help of their sponsors and other fundraising methods. If you want to see where the magic happens, stop in when you’re in Tremont. Pick up a catalog in the gift shop or an edition of Walker Valley Reflections – a GSMIT newsletter that is packed with wonderful happenings and news of how the GSMIT is bringing people home to nature.
Bonus ways to experience Tremont and the surrounding areas
– In the winter, when the GSMNP roads close due to snow, Tremont is easily accessible. Park at the WYE or before the park entrance and take a stroll. The winter wonderland that you’ll find is unforgettable.
– The prongs are a wonderful spot for fly fishing. Take a hike, cast out, relax and soak it all up!
– Who will love Tremont? Everyone! It’s an excellent place for families, hikers of all ages and fitness levels and for those that want to get comfortable with solo hiking.
– When to visit? Year around. Like most of the Smokies, each season has something to offer.
– Want to enjoy a beautiful view before getting to the trailhead? Take time to watch the sunrise from the Foothills Parkway!
– Need to fuel up before the trails? Monday – Saturday, the Artistic Bean in Townsend is open and absolutely delicous! Looking for a bigger meal on your way out, just outside of the park you’ll find the Riverstone Family Resturaunt – a Mom and Pop’s delicious spot that serves everything from fried green tomatoes to frog legs.
One things for certain, once you’ve had your first taste of the Tremont section of the park, you’ll crave more… The frog legs? Maybe not so much.
- Make sure you are prepared for a variety of temperatures while venturing into higher elevations. Sun protective clothing is a great option for during the heat of the day and a light jacket is mandatory in the likely event you encounter cooler-than-expected temperatures, wind, or rain.
- The standard selection for hiking footwear is still wool, though some people do prefer synthetic options. Cotton is not ideal in the backcountry, primarily due to it’s poor moisture management properties.
- Extendable trekking poles are an invaluable tool when hiking long miles or steep terrain. They increase your balance significantly and decrease fatigue on the lower body.
- Plan out a nice lunch spot in order to ensure that you take time to fully sit enjoy the scenery.
- If you are going to be hiking past water sources, there is no need to carry a gallon of water. Instead, carry a water filter and refill as necessary. Never drink unfiltered/untreated water!
- Invest in a reliable headlamp that never leaves your pack. Make sure the batteries are charged! You’ll eventually be glad you did.
- Pack a first aid kit capable of treating a variety of issues you may encounter while in the backcountry; blisters, cuts/scrapes, stings, and common aches/pains.
- Leave a note telling where you are going, which trails you will be hiking, which trail head you have parked at, who you are with, and when you expect to be back.
- No matter how many times you have been on a trail, carry a map just in case.
- Take your phone and either turn it off or put it on airplane mode to conserve battery life. Put your phone in a zip lock bag or a waterproof container. If you really want to get fancy, invest in a Spot.
For more friendly advice, come by one of our locations, or give us a call at 1-888-707-6708 (Toll Free). Helping people get outside is what we love to do!
Kellie Walls Sharpe says
Tremont used to be called Walker Valley after the Walker family that came out of Cades Cove. Big Will Walker lived there and, he’s the guy famous for having fathered so many children around here….both legitimate and non-legitimate kids. he did odd jobs for the women in that area while their husbands were gone during the week for work either logging trees or, working in Knoxville. clearly he did lots of different kinds of odd jobs lol. anyway.. Big Will is my husband’s great great Grandfather. there’s more about him in books in any gift shop in the park. the man’s genetics are strong..my husband actually looks like him and, so does one of our sons. my husband’s family’s cemetery is the one that’s located at Middle Prong Trail and, his great grandmother, MaryAnn (Big Will’s daughter) is buried there along with a whole slew of other relatives.
loved this article! good read! sharing on my photography page 🙂