Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

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The Little River Trail, Husky Branch Falls & Millionaire’s Row

Thursday July 12, 2018                                                                                    Most Recent Posts:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park                                                              Drama in Cades Cove
Tennessee                                                                                                        Laurel Falls and Beyond

Just beyond the Elkmont Campground, The Little River Trail, as you might guess runs right along The Little River.  The river is 60 miles long and the first 18 miles are all within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Early in our full timing we spent a few days in the Elkmont Campground.  We had an absolutely wonderful site right on the river.  Probably the most fabulous site we’ve ever had.  But of course the campground has no hook ups and is heavily treed so even if we’d had solar at that time we couldn’t stay long.  I have fond memories and was anxious to come back to this beautiful river.

The trail ascends a gentle grade along an old gravel railroad bed that parallels the  beautiful cascading river with large boulders and several cascades.  It has to rank as one of the loveliest hikes in the park


For the first part of the trail, there are many places to easily get down to the water for fishing or getting your feet wet.


IMG_7379The headwaters for the Little River are located just below the Appalachian Trail  along the northern slopes of Clingmans Dome, which is the highest mountain in the Smokies, . The river is now on the list of Outstanding National Resource Waters, which means it has the highest degree of protection.  I am thrilled to learn this.  The exceptionally clean water is habitat for a wide variety of aquatic life, including the eastern hellbender, a giant salamander that can measure more than two feet in length.  I can’t even imagine a salamander that large and sure didn’t see him on this hike.


With such a perfect habitat, I was hoping to see river otters around or in the water. Fourteen river otters were successfully reintroduced into the Little River between 1988 and 1990.  That’s given them 30 years to be fruitful and multiply.  But none were to be seen today.  I guess I’ll have to come back and keep  looking.  Next time I’m at the ranger station, I’ll ask where the last otters have been seen.  They are among my very favorite animals.

I may also take this picture with me and see if they can explain what made all the holes in this rock.


There are plenty of rocks including large ones jutting into the water for sitting on.  Nice picnic or contemplation spots if you don’t mind other hikers coming by.  The trail is well traveled especially later in the day.


The trail is lined with gorgeous rhododendron.



At about 2.2 miles I spot Husky Branch Falls beside the trail.  It’s a small 20’ falls that flows down the slope along a hill right next to the trail, runs under a bridge on the trail and tumbles into the river.


It’s pretty hard to get a picture of the whole falls other than from one side or the other without stepping back into the river.  I’m just too close to it straight on.


I try all different angles.  Love the rhododendron petals decorating its banks.


Here it comes under the bridge.


There it goes into the river.


And then I notice that I “might” be able to climb up along side the falls and see where it’s coming from.  So, since I was alone, and no one was looking and thus would follow me, I climb up for a better look.  

This is as far as I can get without serious bushwhacking so I have no idea whether there are even more cascades above me.


Looking down I can see the bridge below me as the water passes by in what is almost a trough before tumbling down.





One last look up at the wider cascade before heading down.


The sound is fantastic!  Wish I’d thought to do a video of it.  But I do have one of the river later on in this post.. 

I am able to get down the rock face I came up still without anyone seeing me.


I head on further up the trail which begins to pull away from the river so there are now trees on each side.  I must take the little look ins provided in order to see it.  But it is still making beautiful music for my hike.



By the time I decide to turn around and head back, the trail is leaving the river at the trail sign for the Huskey Gap Trail.  I really do just want a hike along the river today and 5 miles total will be sufficient.


Back I go, enjoying every minute of this simply wonderful place.


I’m passed by the cross country team from yesterday.  I talk to the wife of the coach as she waits for him to come running back down so she can join him.  They are here from Georgia for a week of training and “team building”.


I doubt you can find a much nicer spot for a run on a wide gentle sloped old railroad bed along a beautiful river.  “Almost” makes me want to run again but not quite.


Good thing the trail is easy going since my eyes are nearly constantly on the river and not on where I’m putting my feet.


I guess these are “I was here cairns”.  I thought they were cute.  They’ll be gone in the next heavy rain when the river rages.


If you’d like to see and hear this beautiful river, click here for a short video.


Elkmont Historic District

As I near the parking lot I pass by what was once Millionaire’s Row.  Though they were wealthy mostly Knoxvillians, no millionaires owned these summer cabins, it was just the tongue in cheek name for an area of the Elkmont Summer Community along with Daisy Town and Society Hill.  This map from the local news multipart story on the history and what happened to the “Elkmont Historic District” shows the location of the buildings as of 1992.  Their article, which I found on line, is quite eye opening.  You can read it here if you are interested.

In a previous blog on my hike up Jakes Creek to the Waterfall,  I talked about the Wonderland Hotel (Club on the map above) and cottages around it.  Since then I have found that the park service is the group that closed the hotel in 1992. They allowed it to deteriorate, then razed the hotel and some of the cottages in 2006, all but the Annex and other cottages which were also scheduled to be torn down  but that didn’t happen and they burned in 2016.  This was not a part of the major forest fire that year.  I remarked in that post that I was dismayed at what had happened.  The entire Elkmont Historic District including the Wonderland Buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.  How could they have been so abandonded and then destroyed?

Today my return to my car walks me by Millionaire’s Row.  Or rather what is left of it.  Only the Spense Cabin has been saved and restored.  Below is what I found.  .

Millionaire's Row

Looks like a nice entry way to nowhere now.  I was the Murphy Cabin.


This interesting bridge still stands crossing a creek and leading to a now nonexistant home site, the Young Cabin.




Lovely stonework.  I wonder what was displayed on the shelves.


Clearly these were very nice cabins with entryways along the little creek parallel to the river.  Most were built between 1910 and 1930.


Stone Walls surround the outside patios.


Was this the front patio and entry stoop?



The stream flows just below the wall.  In the picture it is a white strip. 


Some very nice chimney work to still be standing in spite of everything.



A rather grand rock lined entry way.  This would have  led to the Miller Cabin.



spindle top townsend Cottage

This picture of the Miller Cabin known as Spindletop came from the Abandonded Southeast Website.  This is how it looked in 1992 when its owners left it to the park.  It didn’t look much different in 2017 when it was demolished.

This link to the journalist’s article has pictures of what some of the houses on Millionaire’s row looked like in 1992 when their owners left them to the park and what they looked  like in 2017 when  they were finally torn down after 25 years of abandonment.  Some of the owners offered to continue the upkeep on them but were turned down by the park.  IMO, the waste, lack of foresight and stupidity here are amazing.  Take a look.  It’s an excellent and touching story, amazingly thoroughly done.  I guess I’m glad I’m a year too late to have seen the sad deterioration.

IMG_7583The exit from the trailhead parking area takes me right through the heart of Daisy Town which contains closely spaced cottages on a road leading to the Appalachian Club.  These are the cottages that have been chosen for restoration.

IMG_7585From my view driving  slowly down this road,  I cannot understand why these structures were saved and Wonderland, its cottages, Millionaire’s Row and Society Hill were destroyed.  I guess I’ll have to come back and walk around to see if I can figure it out. 

They were all on the National Register.  Apparently that doesn’t mean much.  Was it all about money?  Where were the Tennessee philanthropists, Senators, Congressmen?


  1. Go figure, who knows why anything any more, but it does seems strange. It is so hard to imagine that those homes could just go by the wayside, fall into disrepair, be abandoned. The park service didn't have the funds to preserve these historic old homes? Why didn't they arrange some kind of concessionaire to maintain them. Just really sad.

  2. Such a beautiful trail along the river. I love that it's a nice smooth path so you can enjoy watching the water as you walk. I too would love to see the otters. The huge salamanders not so much. Lovely pics of the little cascades. That is a lot of buildings to maintain even after the cost of restoration. I imagine funding was the at least part of the decision to demolish them. Still, if some owners were willing to pay to maintain their cabin it begs the question of why they weren't allowed to. The setting of the homes chosen to spare doesn't seem nearly as lovely as the one that wasn't. Very interesting. The stonework is wonderful.

  3. That is such a gorgeous hike! I can see why you said it's one of the prettiest. River otters are one of my favorite creatures, too. We saw one yesterday while kayaking in a bay on Lopez Island. They seem equally at home in both fresh and salt water and always look like they're having a blast!
    The crumbling structures in the beautiful forest are haunting—it really is too bad that they weren't preserved.

  4. Two foot long salamanders? Holy smoke, I'd be afraid of losing a leg to one of them! :cO

  5. Wow, wouldn't that be a surprise to have your feet in the water and see a hellbender salamander! I remember camping in Elkmont on the river. That was April 2011. It was our 1st & last campfire - smoke got in your eyes and lungs and made it clear that was not good for you. Somehow we managed to stay 6 nights by my record. What a beautiful river, trail 7 falls! Wish I were there.

  6. All of our rivers should be Outstanding National Resource Waters. The song of the river is enchanting. It's been way too long since I walked next to flowing water. Sadly, NPS often lets structures deteriorate, usually due to lack of funding. It's complicated to accept money or labor from private people. Usually takes a partnership association to make it work. I am not making excuses, I don't like to see the history disappear either. Sure wish you'd seen the salamander and or otters.

  7. Trying to catch up now that we have decent cell service here in Skagway. Love your pictures! millionaire's row, what a shame all that's left is the chimneys.

  8. We must have hike The River Road Trail at least 4 times while we were there. Great photos and the video let me hear that special sound along a flowing river!!! Absolutely a beautiful place that calls you back again and again!!!

  9. Beautiful hike and interesting history. Too bad the cabins are pretty much lost. Back to nature, I suppose. Wish you could have seen some otters!

  10. That’s a fascinating and sad story about the Elkmont Historic District. I’ve started reading the article you linked to, but don’t want to be sidetracked before getting caught up with your blog! It’s very sad not to preserve the historic sites. But ultimately, I feel some satisfaction in letting nature have it back - at least it’s not being sold off/paved/developed!

    Seeing those old stone chimneys in the woods, and the crumbling steps leading to nowhere, is so haunting. But I would have absolutely loved to have a place like this to play when I was a kid— could have spent total days playing all kinds of imaginary games. I’m reminded of one of my favorite books!— Gone Away Lake by Eliz. Enright.

    Gorgeous trail and river. Would love to know that the otters are thriving - they are so wonderful!

  11. While I find walking through ruins fascinating why this area couldn't have been preserved is beyond me. Maybe someday, probably too late, government will wake up to our national treasures that are being left to ruin.


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