Middle Prong Trail – 4.1 miles, from the end of the Tremont Road to junction. Lynn Camp Prong and Greenbrier Ridge trails.
Highlights: Cascades, wildflowers, Violets, Rhododendron, Foam Flower, Jack in The Pulpit, Toothwort, Anemones
Trailhead: Follow the signs from the Townsend “Y” toward Cades Cove. In 0.2 mile, turn left into the Tremont Road. At 2.3 miles, you will see the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont, an environmental education camp, on your left. Continue on the road, which quickly becomes a gravel road, and follow it for 3.1 miles to gate and parking circle. The last three miles of this road are closed in winter.
Middle Prong trail follows the railroad bed that carried the last logs out of the Smokies in 1939. Because of negotiations that made land purchase possible during the Depression, the Little River Lumber Company continued to log for five years after the establishment of the park in 1934. The company removed one billion board feet of lumber from this area between 1903 and 1930.
The trail starts on a high bridge just below where Lynn Camp Prong and Thunderhead Prong join to and from Middle Prong of Little River.
The flat area around the bridge used to be a lumber camp. The trail is a wide, graded roadbed with rock faces on the right and the Lynn Camp Prong down a bank to the left. Mosses and ferns grow from cracks in the rocks, and some trees perch on top with their roots snaking down. Toothwort, Jack in The Pulpits, Foamflower Anemones, Violets and other flowers bloom on the banks in the spring.
As the trail rises higher over the river, bigger rock faces appear, broken into great chunks with deep cracks. Trees, ferns, and flowers have anchored in the cracks. The prong and the road turn left together, and there is a bench to rest and look at a rockslide and pool. Tall jewelweed and wild ginger crowd a wet spot and sycamores, tulip trees and yellow birches line the prong.
Above the curve, the whole prong is forced into a fast chute, and a smooth rock mound occupies the middle of the prong. Two overlooks on the left provide views of the top of that chute and of a strong, short waterfall just upstream. Above the falls, the prong is a jumble of rocks with water zigzagging and tumbling through. Then the trail becomes level and the prong becomes less violent, with some clear, deep pools.
There is a bench near a three-step waterfall composed of three solid ledges across the prong. This is the remains of a splash dam. Before the railroad was built, loggers built dams on creeks to get the big timber out.
The trail runs level with the prong for a while. Look for an old bridge foundation, you’ll see a log on the far side, and stone near the trail. The trail moves away from the prong after passing a house sized rock flanked by yellow birches. It ascends a bit and then levels out in a wide, flat area. At 2.0 miles look for a narrow trail to the right and follow it about 50 yards to an old car frame.
At 2.3 miles Panther Creek Trail goes left and crosses Lynn Camp Prong. Middle Prong Trail goes straight, narrows a bit and rises. On the left stands an old chimney, probably the remains of a cabin owned by William Walker, a farmer and patriarch who fathered 27 children.
The trail becomes rocky and a little steeper as it swings up around a switchback. Small hemlocks, a few black locusts and one white ash grow in the angle. In a few yards, there is another switch back and a good example of the erosion damage hikers can go when they make a shortcut across switchbacks. The trail is now quite high over the river. And both Fraser and umbrella magnolias grow here. Then it rises into drier woods. Soon you cross a side creek and drop down across Indian Flats Prong on a fine flatbed bridge. Look for old bridge timbers on the right bridge, there are some muddy spots, but the trail turns away from the creek and climbs steeply through grapevine and Dutchmen’s pipe vine. You turn around three switchbacks in quick succession.
At the junction of the three trails, the sign points right for Sams Gap via Greenbrier Ridge trail 4.2 miles. And Derrick Knob Shelter 4.4 miles.