I admit that I hesitate to reveal one of my favorite places in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s not a big secret or anything, it’s just an often-overlooked trail that I would love to keep all to myself. But if you’re looking for a nice little hike to really get to know the Smokies, you would do well to take this path.
At the top of Tremont Road you’ll find the trailhead to the Middle Prong Trail, the well-traveled mixed-use hiking/horse trail that will take you to Lynn Camp Prong Falls and beyond. It’s a worthy trail I’ve had the pleasure of passing countless well-spent hours on. But if you veer off to the right after crossing the bridge over the Middle Prong, you’ll find yourself on the hiking-only Thunderhead Prong Quiet Walkway.
A brief walk along the the rhododendron-lined path will take you to the bridge that crosses Sam’s Creek. This is where many folks stop to admire the tumbling waters, never venturing further. It’s certainly worth a look but be sure to press on. After a little climb just past the bridge, the trail eases and takes you along the banks above the creek.
Up here the trail becomes more intimate. Once you’ve stepped down onto the moss-covered rocks to explore the creek more closely, it’s easy to lose track of time. On this particular visit, with my camera in hand and my boots left behind on the bank, I got lost for probably close two hours. The yellows of early autumn rained around me and landed in the water for their dance downstream as I waded through the frigid, shallow water trying to capture what makes this trail magical. I was never able to get a shot that encompassed everything happening in this one little spot. I hope you’ll get the idea though and find your own spot along the trail to get lost.
So give yourself time here even though it’s a short trail. I often find myself quite alone up here. Feeling like you have the the wilderness to yourself in the most-visited national park in the country is an amazing treat. And even if you find you have fellow trail-lovers, simply hang out on the banks for a bit. They’ll move on and you can lose yourself in solitude.
Keep in mind Tremont Road is closed in winter. Time your visit for when it’s open and be sure to take the path less traveled… it’s the one to the right.