The Elkmont Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Elkmont-spence-cabin-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-heysmokies…feeling great in ELKMONT!

Elkmont ranger district is one of the most popular areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and boasts a colorful and lively history. Rambling along the western base of Sugarland Mountain, the Little River has created a lush, beautiful, bottom land that has lured folks here for centuries. It’s here in Elkmont where each year in mid-June millions of synchronous fireflies light up the night sky for a couple of spectacular weeks. More information on the Firefly Event can be found below.

Elkmont Campground and Day-Use Rentals

Campground – A large and busy 200-site campground at 2,150 ft. elevation is located on each side of the Little River and is open mid-March through November for tents and RVs. Group camping and wheelchair accessible ADA sites are also available. The campground does not have electric, water, or sewer hook-ups. Potable water is available at spigots near each restroom facility with flush toilets. For more info and reservations, go to recreation.gov.

Camp Store – the campground offers a small outpost that sells firewood, basic dry foodstuffs and camping gear. There are vending machines for cold and hot drinks, snacks, and even ice cream!

The campground itself does not offer any day-use facilities; it is strictly for overnight use only. The nearest picnic area is Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, west of Elkmont on Little River Road. Elkmont does offer two recently restored historic structures for day-use rental for groups:

Spence Cabin “River Lodge” – Restored in 2012 to its true-to-original color scheme of pink and green, this 1920’s cabin in the Elkmont Historic District is a unique venue for small groups (40 or less) and offers a beautiful stone patio along the banks of the Little River. Day-use rental reservations can be made at recreation.gov.

Appalachian Clubhouse – Built in 1934, this beautiful 3,000 sq. ft. log clubhouse is located in the southern portion of Elkmont in an historic district referred to as “Daisy Town,” between the mouths of Jakes Creek and Bearwallow Branch. It can accommodate groups of 100 or less. Day-use rental reservations can be made at recreation.gov.

playhouse-elkmont-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-heysmokies

Elkmont Historic District

Elkmont Hiking Trails

Elkmont Nature Trail – Just up the road from the campground and ranger station is this self-guided trail that is less than mile long. You’ll find a brochure at the trailhead detailing the natural history.

Little River Trail – About a quarter-mile beyond the nature trail, the road forks. The left fork leads to Little River Trail, a wide and flat route, that is great for families. Little River Trail, which intersects with Cucumber Gap Trail at mile 1.3, follows its namesake for  6.2 miles and ends at backcountry campsite #30.

Jakes Creek Trail – If you follow the right fork in the road you can access Jakes Creek Trail. Jakes Creek Trail and Little River Trail are connected by Cucumber Gap Trail making a 5.1 mile loop that is a favorite for day hikers.

Cucumber Gap Trail – At 2.3 miles in length and connecting Little River Trail and Jakes Creek Trail, this easy trail is great for families. In springtime it offers a beautiful wildflower display.

Fishing in Elkmont

Superb back-country trout fishing can be found the cool waters of Little River, Jakes Creek, and other numerous streams for those who possess a Tennessee fishing license which can be obtained at tn.wildlifelicense.com.

Synchronous Fireflies in Elkmont

The unique Synchronous (one of 19 species in the park) Firefly is the only species that can synchronize their flashing lights. Peak time to view this phenomenon is usually mid-June, but weather conditions greatly effect the exact time. The event has become so popular that the Park Service now limits car access to the campground to registered campers, but others may visit the site via shuttles from the Sugarland Visitor Center. You must obtain a parking pass for Sugarland Visitor Center as shuttle service is available only to the occupants of cars with a parking pass. Passes are free, but a $1.50 reservation fee is required. To obtain parking pass along with reservations visit recreation.gov.

Getting There

From Sugarlands Visitor Center
Approximately 6 miles miles west on Little River Road, turn left at Elkmont Campground sign and travel 1.5 miles to campground office. Public transportation via the Gatlinburg Trolley is available to Elkmont seasonally, for more information, check out the National Park Tan Route.

From Townsend
Approximately 11 miles east on Little River Road.

Elkmont History

horace-kephart-elkmont-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-heysmokies

Horace Kephart, naturalist, author, and early park advocate.

It is hard to imagine today as you trek through this dense forest, but just one hundred years ago this area was clearcut by the Little River Lumber Company. Hundreds of men and families lived and labored here in primitive conditions to bring lumber to a growing nation. The land was left “wrecked, ruined, utterly vile and mean,” according to Horace Kephart an early park supporter.

Despite the ecological mess left by the lumber operation the beauty of Elkmont was sought by wealthy Knoxville socialites. Soon the area was a favorite vacation spot. The railroad that once removed millions of board feet of lumber now brought hundreds of visitors to escape the bustle of the city.

In 1910 plots of land were sold to a group of Knoxville sportsmen who established the Appalachian Club for wealthy hunting and fishing enthusiasts. By 1912 others visited the area to stay in the new Wonderland Park Hotel. This facility was purchased in 1929 and transformed into the Wonderland Club, and for the next 20 years both clubs provided an elite venue for wealthy East Tennesseans.

When the National Park was created in the 1930s many cottage owners in Elkmont were given lifetime leases. These were converted to 20-year leases in the 1950s and again in 1972. Leases were denied in 1992 and the park service made plans to raze the remaining structures. Fortunately, in 1994, several cottages, along with the Wonderland Hotel, gained a listing on the National Historic Register opening a 15-year debate over the fate of the historic buildings. Today the restored Spence Cabin and the Appalachian Clubhouse are nostalgic reminders of a bygone era.

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Dates Announced

Smoky Mountain synchronous firefly dates announced.

Smoky Mountain synchronous firefly dates announced.

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Dates Announced. Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Since 2006, access to the Elkmont area has been limited to shuttle service beginning at Sugarlands Visitor Center during the eight days of predicted peak activity in order to reduce traffic congestion and provide a safe viewing experience for visitors that minimizes disturbance to these unique fireflies during the critical two-week mating period.

The lottery will be open for applications from Friday, April 26 at 8:00 a.m. until Monday, April 29 at 8:00 p.m. Results of the lottery will be available on Friday, May 10. A total of 1,800 vehicle passes will be available for the event which includes: 1768 regular-parking passes (221 per day) which admit one passenger vehicle up to 19’ in length with a maximum of seven occupants, and 32 large-vehicle parking passes (four per day) which admit one large vehicle (RV, mini-bus, etc.) from 19’ to 30’ in length, with a maximum of 24 occupants. Lottery applicants must apply for either a regular-parking pass or large-vehicle parking pass and then may choose two possible dates to attend the event over the eight-day viewing period.

The lottery system uses a randomized computer drawing to select applications. All lottery applicants will be charged a $1.00 application fee. Successful applicants will automatically be awarded parking passes and a $24.00 reservation fee will be charged to the same credit or debit card used for the application fee. The parking pass permits visitors to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and allows occupants to access the shuttle service to Elkmont. The $24.00 reservation fee covers the cost of awarding the passes, event supplies, one red-light flashlight per pass, and nightly personnel costs for managing the viewing opportunity at Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont.

Parking passes are non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one lottery application per household per season. All lottery applicants will be notified by e-mail by May 10 that they were “successful” and awarded a parking pass or “unsuccessful” and not able to secure a parking pass.

Continue reading…

Updated Great Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Lottery Dates

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Fireflies

The Smoky Mountain synchronous firefly lottery, you can’t win it if you            are not in it!

Updated Great Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Lottery Dates. The dates for the 2019 Synchronous Firefly shuttle operations calendar will be announced April 22, 2019. Evening access to the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont campground will be restricted to those possessing parking pass confirmation. Elkmont access will be limited to those utilizing the firefly shuttles and campers.

The parking passes will be awarded via lottery. The lottery opens Friday, April 26, 2019 at 8:00 a.m. and closes on Monday, April 29, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. The parking confirmation passes lottery can be participated in at Firefly lottery. Parking passes are only valid for a specific date. You will be allowed to enter your preferred date and one alternate date on your lottery application.

Continue reading…

New Foothills Parkway Raises 2018 National Park Visitation

New foothills parkway raises Smoky Mountain attendance.

New Foothills Parkway Raises National Park Visitation In 2018.

New Foothills Parkway Raises 2018 National Park Visitation. Great Smoky Mountains National Park reported 11,421,203 visitors in 2018. The 0.7% increase over 2017 is attributed to the opening of the new section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley in November. Nearly 200,000 visitors experienced this new park opportunity which resulted in record-setting visitation in both November and December.

“The new section of the Foothills Parkway is a spectacular scenic driving destination and we’re pleased that so many people have already enjoyed it,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We hope that people take the time to explore it across the seasons.”

Great Smoky Mountains Foothills Parkway

Great Smoky Mountains Foothills Parkway

Park visitation across the park remained relatively stable compared to 2017. The highest visitation occured in July, followed by June and then October. Monthly visitation records were set during June, September, November, and December. Visitors spent approximately 400,000 nights camping in the park,  down 3% from 2017, but still within the 5-year average. The park offers 9 front country campgrounds and 100 backcountry campsites for visitors to enjoy. The most popular campgrounds include Cades Cove, Elkmont, Smokemont, and Cosby.

Smoky Mountain Paving Project Slows Traffic

Smoky Mountain travel advisory

Smoky Mountain Travel Advisory.

Smoky Mountain Paving Project Slows Traffic. Great Smoky Mountains National Park will begin paving on Little River Road between the Townsend Wye and Sugarlands Visitors Center Tuesday, February 19, 2019.  A thin pavement overlay will be applied to the entire length of the 16.5-mile roadway including pull-offs and parking areas. The 1.5 -mile Elkmont road leading to the campground will also be paved. The work is projected to be complete by September 20, 2019. Locals know the finish line for a project of this size always depends on many factors like weather.

Visitors may experience weekday, single-lane closures and traffic delays from February 19, 2019 through June 14, 2019 and again from August 19, 2019 through September 20, 2019. Single-lane closures are permitted from 7:00 a.m. on Mondays through 12:00 p.m. on Fridays. The lane closures will be flagged. Parking areas and pull-offs will be closed as necessary for paving. No lane closures will be allowed during the peak summer months, weekends, or holidays including the week before and after Easter from April 12, 2019 through April 26, 2019.

The Federal Highway Administration awarded $6.5 million to implement the project. The park is also overseeing tree removal work along various roadways in the park including Little River Road between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, Elkmont Road, Cherokee Orchard Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and the Gatlinburg Bypass. Motorists will experience delays due to single-lane closures associated with this work through April, 2019.

For more information about temporary road closures visit www.nps.gov/grsmor or follow SmokiesRoadsNPS on Twitter.