By Leif Palmer
Looking for an easily accessible hike in the Great Smoky Mountains that's pretty easy and offers some gorgeous waterfall scenery? Consider spending an hour or so hoofing it along the Middle Prong Trail, which is located near the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, inside the national park.
Overall, the trail stretches 4.1 miles and generally follows the Middle Prong of the Little River. At the 2.3-mile mark, the trail intersects Panther Creek Trail then continues for another 1.8 miles, ending at the junction of Lynn Camp Prong Trail and Greenbrier Ridge Trail.
To get to the trailhead from Wears Valley Rd, drive to Lyons View Road in Wears Valley and take that road south until you enter the national park. The road will take you through the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area and eventually to Little River Road. Turn right on Little River Road, travel 10.6 miles and turn left onto Tremont Road to go toward the Great Smoky Mountains Institute.
Instead of turning off Tremont Rd. to enter the Institute, continue straight as the road turns from paved to gravel. Continue several more miles until the gravel road dead ends at the Middle Prong trailhead. Park wherever you can find space.
The trail is very gently sloping uphill for most of the way out, but the path is wide, because it once served as a railroad bed. In fact, you can still see a small length of rail still embedded in the ground not far from the start of the hike. Also note that this trail is often used by horseback riders, so you may want to watch your step, if you catch our drift.
Most of the scenery comes in the form of great views of the many cascades and falls that make up the turbulent journey of the Middle Prong waterway. At 4/10 of a mile into the hike, you'll see one of the largest cascades, and there's even a bench designating a scenic spot to sit and rest or take some photos.
At many other points along the trail, you can worm your way off the path and right down to the river itself, where you can cool off in summer or pose for some great photos year 'round. In winter, keep an eye out for cool icicle formations on the rock walls that will often come up to your right.
Another point of interest along the way is the cool rock formation on the left, where two giant boulder slabs are resting against each other, forming an arch. It's plenty big enough for hikers to walk through and pose for pics or gain access to the river.
At the two-mile mark, look for some hand-stacked rocks just to the right of the path. Turn off the path there and venture about 50 yards over a swell and into the woods to find the rusted shell of a vintage car from the early 20th century. There's also a huge fallen tree near the car that makes a great place to stop and have a snack.
This is just some of what's in store on this hike, and the good news is, it's all gently sloping downhill on your way back. And since there's no specific destination on the Middle Prong Trail, it's ideal for hikers who are interested in only biting off as much as they feel up to taking on.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in east Tennessee. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.