Editor’s note: This information was gathered from two books, ‘Hiking Trails of the Smokies’ and ‘The Best of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Hiker’s Guide to Trails and Attractions’. These books, and others, are available at various visitors’ centers in and around the GSMNP. They are also available online through the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
As you explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), travel on Highway 441 over New Found Gap and into the Cherokee Reservation (also the North Carolina side of the park). When you reach the base of the mountain, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center will be on your left, just two miles outside of Cherokee.
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is also home to The Mountain Farm Museum, a collect of log structions from various locations in the GSMNP. Behind the visitor center is the trailhead to the Oconaluftee River Trail. This trail is a fairly easy trail that is 3 miles roundtrip with a total elevation gain of 70 feet. It is a peaceful, relatively level trail that offers a stroll next to the river while soaking in history from the Mountain Farm Museum.
Oconaluftee is derived from the Cherokee word “egwanulti,” which means “by the river.” It is a reference to one of the oldest Cherokee villages along the river. As European settlers arrived in the early 1800s, the spelling of the word and its pronunciation became altered and turned into Oconaluftee and eventually grew to mean the river itself, as it is now called the Oconaluftee River.
The majority of the log structures on-site were during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They depict a typical farm from the region during that time period. The farmstead includes a furnished, two-story home, large barn, pig pens, corn cribs, drovers’ barn, a working blacksmith shop, and several other outbuildings. The farm is surrounded by a split rail fence. The museum also demonstrates gardening and agricultural practices, including livestock, during that time period.
The home on site is The Davis House, which was built in 1900 from chestnut wood (this was before a blight destroyed the American Chestnut in the 1930s and early 1940s. The home was originally located North of Bryson City on Indian Creek in North Carolina.
Decades ago, the National Park Service poured gravel along the path due to the growing number of visitors utilizing the path. This trail is also one of two trails in the GSMNP where visitors are permitted to walk their dogs and ride bicycles on. The other trail is known as The Gatlinburg Trail, which is on the right side of Highway 441 just past Traffic Light 10 in Gatlinburg.
Aside from the Mountain Farm Museum, the trail offers views of Eastern Hemlock, Yellow Buckeye, Eastern Sycamore, White Basswood, Flowering Dogwood, and Tulip Trees. Late April tends to be the best time to hike the trail, as it is the best time for viewing the dozens of wildflowers along the river. More than 40 species of wildflowers have been identified along this trail, making it worthwhile to hike in the spring and fall. In the spring, hikers can expect to see numerous varieties of trillium and violets, Jack-In-The-Pulpit, squirrel corn, stonecrop, and May Apple. In the fall, you can see Asters along the trail.
According the GSMNP website, you can now participate in the Hike The Smokies Challenge. Join numerous hikers that have logged over 100-plus miles and the park will reward you with mileage pins. The challenge is to keep track and record the mileage from each trail excursion, even if it is the same trail day after day.
Pocket-sized booklets to record your mileage are available for $1 at any of the park’s four visitor centers—Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Clingmans Dome, and Cades Cover. When you have hikes 100 miles, 250 miles, and 500 miles, you can bring your mileage record to one of the visitor centers to receive a mileage pin and be recorded in the Hike The Smokies record book.
If you are looking to do something fun and active with your family, you can participate in the Hike The Smokies Challenge For Families. The challenge is the same—record your mileage and be rewarded with mileage pins and stickers. But the key to the family challenge is to hike with members of your family—whether it is a parent and a child, a grandparent and grandchildren, two or more siblings, or any other combination of people who are members of a family.
Family mileage booklets are available for $1 at the park’s four visitor centers as well. When the family has hiked 10 miles, 25 miles, 40 miles, and 50 miles, they can bring the mileage records to one of the visitor centers to receive a mileage sticker or pin and be recorded in the Hike The Smokies For Families record book.
Also according to the GSMNP website, you can join the Adopt A Trail program and assist the park with maintaining its trails. Maintenance can be anything from picking up trash to cleaning water bars and improving the trailhead. You can also rack up additional mileage towards your Hike The Smokies challenge. Families have the chance to join in too—there is an Adopt A Trail For Families. This program allows families to help the park with monitoring and light maintenance along some of the park’s short nature trails.
These projects were made possible partly by a grant from the National Park Foundation through generous support of the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Great Smoky Mountains Association.