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.

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.

Synchronous Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains June 2019

Synchronous Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains June 2019. It’s never to early to start making plans to see the Synchronous Fireflies (and the Blue Ghost Fireflies) that will light up the night sky in late May and early June 2019 in the Great Smoky Mountains. Firefly viewing in the Smokies has become such a popular event that there are now several venues available to enjoy the spectacular shows.

Smoky Mountain Synchronous FirefliesThe Synchronous Firefly (Photinus carolinus) and the Blue Ghost Firefly (Phausis reticulata) are two species that are found only in the Southern Appalachian Mountains which include the Great Smokies. And during the short mating season in late May and early June, both firefly species put on quite a show to behold! The male Synchronous Fireflies flash their little green-yellow bioluminescent lanterns in unison for about 6-8 blinks and then they go dark for a few seconds creating a sublime wave of light throughout the forest. The male Blue Ghost Fireflies don’t flash their blue-white lanterns, instead they glow continuously just a few inches above the ground. The ethereal experience of either nighttime show should be on everyone’s bucket list!  National Park scientists mostly use air and soil temperatures to predict the timing of each year’s mating season.

Synchronous Fireflies with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
One of the most popular places to view the Synchronous Fireflies is in Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This event has become so popular that a free lottery system was instituted this year for the $1.50 parking passes for the eight-day shuttle period to Elkmont. During this time of peak viewing, Elkmont is closed at nighttime with the exception of shuttle users and campers in Elkmont Campground. Dates for the 2018 Lottery and Elkmont Shuttle will be announced sometime in April 2018. HeySmokies will keep you updated, so be sure to check back with us. We’ll provide you all the details of what you need to know to register for the lottery. For more information in the meantime, visit Recreation.gov.

Synchronous Fireflies with Discover Life in America in Gatlinburg, TNBlue ghost fireflies
For a few nights during peak firefly viewing time, Discover Life in America hosts a fundraising event featuring nightly presentations and field walks at the Norton Creek Sanctuary near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tickets for the event are $100 each and the event is geared toward persons ages 10 and older. For reservations for this exclusive event, call Discover Life in America at 865-430-4757 or email todd@dlia.org.

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Smoky Mountain Service Day Volunteers Needed

Smoky Mountain service days

Lend a hand and make a difference in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Smoky Mountain Service Day Volunteers Needed.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are excited to announce the popular “Smokies Service Days” volunteer program resumes this month.

This is your chance to lend a hand in much needed national park restoration projects. Park staff will lead service opportunities beginning June 9. Individuals and groups are invited to sign up for the scheduled service projects that interest them. Service Days will provide opportunities to help care for park campgrounds, native plant gardens, and other natural and cultural resources in the Smokies.

The goal of these programs is to complete much needed work across the park and is ideal for those seeking to fulfill community service requirements. High school and college students, scout troops, civic organizations, visitors, families, and working adults are all encouraged to participate! Each project will provide tasks appropriate for a wide range of ages and skill levels. Volunteer projects begin at 9:00 a.m. and last until noon on Saturday mornings. Each project will conclude with an optional enrichment adventure to immerse participants in the natural and cultural resources of the park.

Park staff will provide tools and safety gear, including gloves and high visibility safety vests. Wearing closed-toe shoes is a requirement and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may be provided as necessary.  You will definitely want to bring a sack lunch if you plan to stay for the optional enrichment activity.

Those interested in volunteering should contact Project Coordinator, Logan Boldon, at 865-436-1278 prior to the scheduled event date to register. Space may be limited.

Current service opportunities include:
June  9  : Campground Clean-Up at Elkmont
June 16  : Campground Clean-Up at Smokemont
June 30 : Gardening at Oconaluftee
July    7 : Picnic Area & Campground Clean-Up at Deep Creek
July  21  : Campground Clean-Up at Cosby