Little River Road

Trail at Metcalf Bottoms

Little River Road Description

Little River Road is an 18 mile drive following the Little River from the Sugarlands visitor center near Gatlinburg to the park entrance at Townsend. At Townsend, the road changes names to Laurel Creek Road (sometimes called Cades Cove Road) and continues another 7 miles, passing Tremont and ending at Cades Cove. Little River Road is one of the most popular drives in the Smokies. It offers numerous places to stop and hike, camp, picnic, fish, swim, see waterfalls, and enjoy everything the park has to offer. The road stays at a relatively low elevation, so it does not offer the scenic mountain views that you will find on Newfound Gap Road or the Foothills Parkway.

Along the Little River Road, 7 of the pulloffs are marked with signposts like the one shown to the right. The signposts mark special points of interest. There are many more pulloffs along the route. The 7 marked areas are listed below. The numbers increase as you travel west from Sugarlands visitor center toward Townsend. The 7 marked areas are:

  1. Maloney Point is stop #1 on Little River Road. It is an overlook with a paved parking area and a mountain view. There is another overlook just before you get to Maloney Point. It is not marked, but also has a paved parking lot and the view is better than Maloney Point.
  2. Laurel Falls trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Smokies. See the hiking section below for more details. Drive slowly through here because it is often crowded. There are parking areas on both sides of the road, so people are often crossing the road.
  3. Elkmont was once a logging community and vacation spot. It now has a campground and several nice hiking trails. Elkmont is 1 1/2 miles off Little River Road at the end of Elkmont Road.
  4. Metcalf Bottoms is a very nice picnic area beside the Little River. It has plenty of parking, picnic tables, grills, and restrooms. A short hike leads to Little Greenbrier School and the Walker sisters' cabin, both built in the late 1800s.
  5. The Sinks is a short waterfall leading into a very deep pool. (see picture on right). It has a small, often crowded, parking area. It is a popular swimming hole in the summer (but we don't recommend swimming here for safety reasons). There is also a hiking trail starting at the Sinks parking area.
  6. Meigs Falls is one of a very few waterfalls that is visible from the road. It can be hard to find because it is not clearly marked. Look for a small parking area along the river side of the road about 1.2 miles past the Sinks. Trees partially block the view in the summer. Late fall and winter is the best time to see it from the road.
  7. Townsend "Y", also called Townsend Wye, is where the middle and west prongs of the Little River join. It is a wonderful and very popular water playgound. The river is wide and peaceful, great for wading or tubing. A grassy hillside overlooks the water and is the perfect spot to spread out a blanket. There is a large parking area here, but due to the popularity of this spot, it is often full in the summer.
View map of the Little River Road with the 7 pulloffs marked.


Click for Townsend, Tennessee Forecast

Best Hiking along Little River Road

There are several hiking trails along Little River Road:

  • Laurel Falls is one of the most popular hikes in the Smokies. The 2.5 mile round trip hike leads to one of the prettiest waterfalls in the park. The trail is paved, making to possible to push strollers or wheelchairs. There is a parking area at stop #2 along Little River Road. The parking area often fills up, in which case you can park off the road a little bit past the parking area and walk up, or you can park at Maloney Point, stop #1, and walk up.
  • The Elkmont self-guiding nature trail is a loop just less than a mile long at stop #3. The Little River trail, also at Elkmont, is a nice wide gravel trail following the Little River.
  • From Metcalf Bottoms, stop #4, a short 0.6 mile walk leads to the historic Little Greenbrier school. The trail continues another mile past the school to the Walker sisters' cabin. Plenty of parking is available at Metcalf Bottoms.

Best places to Picnic along Little River Road

There is a large developed picnic area at Metcalf Bottoms beside the Little River. The picnic area has picnic tables, grills, and restrooms. There is generally plenty of parking available. You can also spread out a blanket and have a picnic at any of the many, many pulloffs along the river.


Restrooms with running water and flush toilets are available at the Sugarlands visitor center, the Elkmont campground (stop #3), Metcalf Bottoms (stop #4), and at the Townsend visotors center (off Hwy 321 near the "Y").

Best times to visit

  • Fall, when the leaves are changing, is a great time to visit any part of the park. At this elevation, the leaves are usually at their peak in late October.
  • Early summer is when the mountain laurel and rhododendron bloom along the Laurel Falls trail.
  • The synchronous fireflies at Elkmont put on their show for about 2 weeks in early to mid June.
  • The Little River at the Townsend "Y" is a great place to cool off in the heat of the summer.
  • Map of Little River Road with designated stops marked

    View Larger Map

    Recommended Reading

    Trails Illustrated Topo Map is an excellent map of the Smokies, showing roads, hiking trails, camping areas, picnic areas, ranger stations, and more. It is waterproof and tearproof, so it is very durable to take with you camping or hiking, even if it rains.
    Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains A beautiful wildflower guide with many full page full color pictures. The pictures and informative descriptions help you identify wildflowers in the Smokies and surrounding areas.
    Great Smoky Mountains: A Vistor's Companion describes and illustrates in full color dozens of plant and animal species in the Smokies, including a wide variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, mammals, and plants. It also explores the park's geology, climate, and history.

    For More Information

  • Smokies Bookstore
  • Cades Cove

  • Back to www.smokies.ws