Elkmont Loop and Huskey Branch Falls, Elkmont Campground - Jakes Creek Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Elkmont Loop and Huskey Branch Falls - 5.6 miles
Elkmont Campground - Jakes Creek Trailhead
|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)|
Elkmont Loop and Huskey Branch Falls - 5.6 Miles Round-Trip
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, Huskey 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 Huskey Branch Falls, which spills 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 Huskey 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 the water. Small islands in the river can be reached with relative safety. Tall 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.
- 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
BACKPACKING IN THE SMOKIES
Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.
Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/
Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.
Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.
General Backcountry Regulations
1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.
2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.
3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.
4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.
5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.
6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.
7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.
8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.
9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.
10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.
11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.
12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.
13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.
14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.
15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.
16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.
17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park
18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.
- 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.
Directions to Trailhead
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)